Though most of Andrew McCutchen's skills bring him attention and recognition, his mastery of the deadpan can go unnoticed.
Asked near the end of the season whether he felt he was the National League's most valuable player, McCutchen replied, "I don't know. I was OK."
McCutchen's definition of 'OK' must come from a different dictionary. His fantastic 2012 season made him a finalist for the NL MVP award, which will be announced tonight, along with the American League MVP, in a broadcast that will start at 6 p.m. on MLB Network.
McCutchen hit .327 in 157 games and had 31 home runs, a .400 on-base percentage and a .553 slugging percentage. He earned a spot on the NL All-Star team for the second consecutive season and was named the NL player of the month in June and July. He hit .370 in June, .446 in July and had seven home runs each month.
"It's good to even be in the running for it," McCutchen said. "I could have been a lot better than I am now. I'm not worried about it."
McCutchen faces tough competition for the award, the results of which are determined by votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley also are finalists.
Posey, 25, who hit .336 and won the batting title, appears to be the favorite. He had a .408 on-base percentage, played a defensively demanding position and played in a difficult home ballpark for batters. After adjusting the on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) to normalize for league and ballpark, Posey's OPS ranked first in the league.
Braun, the 2011 MVP, hit 10 more home runs than McCutchen, though he did so in homer-friendly Miller Park. Molina hit .315 with 22 home runs, had 45 walks compared to 55 strikeouts and threw out 48 percent of potential base-stealers. Headley also hit in a tough ballpark for batters, San Diego's Petco Park, but managed 31 home runs.
Posey ranked first in the NL in wins above replacement (WAR), an imperfect but instructive statistic that attempts to quantify how many more wins a player provided his team than what they would get from a "replacement-level" bench guy or minor leaguer. Posey's eight wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs.com, ranked above McCutchen's 7.4, Braun's 7.9, Headley's 7. 5 or Molina's 6.5.
If McCutchen wins, he would become the sixth Pirates player to win or tie for the award, joining Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, Dave Parker, Willie Stargell and Barry Bonds. Bonds won two MVPs with the Pirates, including the franchise's most recent one in '92, and Stargell tied with the Cardinals' Keith Hernandez in '79.
McCutchen appeared the front-runner at the trade deadline, when he was hitting .371 with a 1.057 OPS. He hit .253 after Aug. 1, however, and his on-base percentage after that point dipped to .354.
"It's still a tremendous year considering what I did last year," McCutchen said. "To be able to come off of what I did last year and have the year I had this year is definitely a stepping stone for me. I'm really going to enjoy that."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @BrinkPG. First Published November 15, 2012 5:00 AM