COMMENTARY | It's hard to pinpoint who is most responsible for the success this year being enjoyed by the resurgent Pittsburgh Pirates.
Surely, it's a collaborative effort between the front office, coaches and players that has produced such entertaining baseball and, as of August 5, the best team in baseball. Nor should all the credit go to one person, player or otherwise, for the success everyone has worked to achieve.
With that said, there are plenty of players deserving right now to be called the most valuable on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Still, with 50 games left and in the heat of the most exiting pennant chase in baseball, let's step back for a second and look at the players most responsible for the Buccos being in first place.
The man who's been the face of the franchise for several years has to appear on this list, if only to contradict fans who are dead set in believing that Cutch is having a down year. An All-Star again in 2013, the speedy center fielder is batting .307 in 108 games played this year, the most games by any player on the team. Indeed, McCutchen is the only player batting above .300 on a team that has its shares of offensive woes.
But still, the stats don't lie. He leads the team in hits and doubles and is second in about every other category. He has the second-most home runs on the team (15), the second-most RBIs (62), the second-most stolen bases (23), and the second-most runs scored (69). Not to mention he still makes dazzling plays with the glove manning the vast expanse in center field. Add in his de facto status as one of the team's leaders, and Cutch deserves to be on this list.
What can be said about Liriano? The crafty lefty certainly deserves to have his name in consideration for the National League Cy Young Award, given that he owns the second-lowest earned run average in all of baseball (2.02). He doesn't yet qualify for the award, however, given that he hasn't reached the minimum amount of innings pitched needed. He will surely reach the amount to qualify in the next start or two, however, and his name should start to pop up in those conversations.
Liriano has had simply an amazing year. The man already has won 12 games this season despite missing a month with a broken arm. Those 12 wins put him in the top 10 for most in all of baseball. Indeed, Liriano is only the third Pirates pitcher since 1912 to win at least 12 games in his first 16 starts, all while posting an ERA lower than 2.25. He has to be a lock for Comeback Player of the Year and, in my opinion, has to be considered for the Cy Young.
El Toro leads the National League with 27 home runs. So, there's that. His value cannot be overstated in an offense that's been stagnant for most of the year. There have been several instances where Pedro has compiled more RBIs in a game than the entire opposing team, single-handedly providing all the offense needed to win the game. His bat does go into prolonged dry spells, but most of his dingers come when the Pirates need them most.
Sure, he's only batting .241. And in classic Pedro fashion, he has the sixth-most strikeouts in baseball with 131. But he also hits one home run in every 13.5 at-bats, meaning the Pirates are never far away from putting some runs on the board. Alvarez has also displayed a heightened ability to flash the leather at the hot corner, playing some stellar defense in 2013.
Talk about a performance coming out of nowhere. Jeff Locke barely cracked the starting rotation on opening day after a heated competition during the spring. He quickly became the most reliable, consistent and healthy member of the starting five and even earned himself an All-Star nod in the process.
In his first full season in the majors, the 25-year-old lefty from New Hampshire owns a 2.36 earned run average which, amazingly, isn't even good for best on the team, even though it is good for the fifth-best in all of baseball. His secondary stats won't wow you: He has the second-most wins on the team (9), the third-most strikeouts (94) and the most walks on the team with 58. Regardless, it is obvious the Pirates wouldn't be where they are now without Locke's performance this season.
The fifth and final MVP spot has to go to Martin, who is perhaps the biggest offseason acquisition in many years. The man didn't have huge shoes to fill in replacing Rod Barajas, the catcher who couldn't hit and certainly couldn't throw. What a turnaround. Martin leads Major League Baseball with 26 base runners he has caught stealing, a year after Barajas only threw out six all year. Six.
His offensive stats won't blow anyone away. He's batting .252 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs, which is good for third-highest on the team. But Martin's worth to the team can't be measured in terms of numbers and stats. He is indisputably one of the best game callers in the league, is a master at framing pitches, and definitely deserves credit for the pitching staff being as solid as it is. His numbers might not turn heads, but Martin is definitely one of the team's most valuable players.
So what do fans think? Who listed above deserves to be named the Pirates' MVP at this point in the season, a season that could very well end with the team in the playoffs?
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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