Up to the time of his injury, Jose Reyes was the hands down, stop even debating, foregone conclusion, lock for the National League MVP. Now though, Andrew McCutchen is giving him a run for his money. And here’s the biggest difference; McCutchen is playing for a first place team (as of end of play on Friday).
Let’s take a quick look at their stats coming into Saturday, then we will jump into the meat and potatoes of our discussion.
Jose Reyes’ batting average blows McCutchen out of the water, but how about the on-base percentages? McCutchen is sitting on a .390 OBP while Reyes has a similar .398. Reyes has more hits and more stolen bases, but McCutchen has more walks and more home runs. But here’s the kicker, McCutchen has 24 more RBI’s than Reyes. Jose Reyes has accounted for 97 runs between RBI’s and runs scored. McCutchen has accounted for 110.
Really, these two players are so evenly matched, the normal stat line doesn’t do this debate justice. It’s like picking between scrambled eggs or an omlet. It’s like choosing curly fires or straight cut. Forget about the large gap in batting averages for a minute and just look at those stat lines. Reyes and McCutchen have the exact same amount of doubles. Reyes has 11 more triples, but McCutchen has 11 more home runs. The difference between slugging percentage is only .021. And the difference between OPS (slugging percentage plus on-base percentage) is just .030.
Let’s take a look at Fangraph’s WAR rating for each of these two. Not suprisingly, they both rate at a 5.2 WAR for the 2011 season.
So what distinguishes these two talents. Their position in the field? Maybe. Andrew McCutchen’s defense in the outfield has given him an 8.3 Ultimate Zone Rating by Fangraphs. This rating measures the runs above the MLB average saved by defense. (The MLB average used for the purpose of this stat is 0). Jose Reyes is currently rated 1.0. However, this stat can be somewhat misleading. If we use career averages, McCutchen’s three years and Reyes’ eight years, we get a much different picture. Jose Reyes’ UZR for his career is 17.6. However, McCutchen’s is only -6.7.
The true test of an MVP candidate’s impact on the game are not just the statistics he puts up. They are the intangibles. Andrew McCutchen is leading a Pittsburgh Pirates team that lost 105 games last season to first place coming into Saturday. Jose Reyes is the best player on a Mets team that is so deep in financial problems some might consider them the Junior Varsity version of the Dodgers. McCutchen is 24 years old with many more productive years ahead of him. Jose Reyes is often viewed as injury-prone and at 28 years old, likely has about six good years at shortstop left.
McCutchen hits for power and average. He draws walks. He is well-liked. While Jose Reyes is having a great season, is well-liked himself, and has had a productive major league career to date, the very definition of Most Valuable Player precludes him from consideration in my book. The Most Valuable Player is the player that contributes the most to his team and provides the most value. Jose Reyes is absolutely the MVP of the Mets. Hands down. But, Andrew McCutchen is the MVP of the league.
History tells us a team’s record has little to do with the MVP voting, but in this case preference points need to be awarded. The Pirates have, for eighteen years, been a team so deep in disappointment, their opponents could almost guarantee themselves a series win each and every time out. Andrew McCutchen has helped turn that around. He has helped the Pirates climb to the top. Whether they stay there or not is up in the air, but 91 games is a pretty good sample size when gauging success.
Jose Reyes may be earning himself a fat paycheck after this season, but McCutchen may be earning much more; Success and pride for a team that’s been missing those two things for almost two decades.