It's math and history vs. Pirates' McCutchen
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Andrew McCutchen was the National League's Player of the Month in June, you might have heard, and then, in July, the National League's Player of the Month was Andrew McCutchen.
Nothing like that has happened in the big leagues since 2006, and no Pirate has been player of the month twice in the same season in nearly a quarter of a century, since Bobby Bonilla in 1988.
But, when the National League Player of the Month for August is announced next weekend, it undoubtedly will be someone other than Andrew McCutchen.
So naturally, everyone is furious at Andrew McCutchen.
How dare the center fielder not continue to hit .373?
Doesn't he know what's at stake?
I mean even beyond my fantasy team?
Most of its habituates would agree that this space has been a reliably fertile landscape for florid Pirates criticism, if only for about the past 30 years, but, when it comes to McCutchen's performance ...
Truly, I got nothin'.
I've got a ready reserve of acidic comments for management, plenty of slights for rotating rosters of uniformed personnel, and we're thoughtfully non-rhythmic enough around here so that we're not above taking a gratuitous swipe at a racing pierogi in some circumstance apropos of nothing, but Andrew McCutchen can fully expect to make it to October without a discouraging word from me.
I'm sure he's relieved.
As for everyone else, the available conduits for commentary never have been more plentiful or accessible, of course, and with the endless churn of churlishness that is social media now accompanying the wonderful idea of sports talk 24/7, it's amazing anyone still has time to craft such inspired name-calling for the comments section of this very website.
But please, not for Andrew McCutchen.
In the first place, who hits .373 for an entire season?
No one in this 21st century.
Four people in the past 50 years.
There's probably no surer method of hitting .320 for the season than hitting .370 through July. All .370 means is that a big correction is coming. It's a batting average, not a body temperature.
Even when McCutchen was hitting .446 for June, no reasonable person could have expected him to hit .373 for the season.
Yet around here it seemed people not only expected it, they wanted it. Badly. They were somehow entitled to it. And -- this is my favorite part -- they wanted it on a consistent basis, as though McCutchen merely would go 37 for 100 about six consecutive times and that would be that.
No fluctuations, please.
At game time Tuesday night in San Diego, McCutchen had six hits in his previous 29 at-bats, 12 of them ending in strikeouts. He was still hitting .352. He was still hitting .328 after the All-Star break. In fact, had McCutchen gone 0 for 160 from Tuesday night until the end of the season, he'd end up hitting .259, the very figure he hit last year, after which the Pirates gave him a new $51.5 million contract.
None of this should be interpreted as though I think McCutchen is the same player he has been all year (which doesn't mean it won't be). He has begun to fade as he did in the second half a year ago (.216), fouling off the same fat pitches he murdered for four solid months. He has not always managed to keep his offensive struggles out of his defensive game. I didn't like the way he played Skip Schumaker's 17th-inning single Sunday, sliding for a backhand web-gems moment when he would have caught it had he kept his feet and sped through the ball. Instead, that hit helped St. Louis get the tying run home and extend the game to 19 innings. And, yeah, he probably hasn't stolen enough bases for someone with so much speed and such a high on-base percentage.
These are things that can be overlooked in someone hitting .352, .357 with runners in scoring position, and with an OPS of 1.005, someone who still isn't even 26 years old. Furthermore, would we even be talking about the Pirates Aug. 22 if it weren't for the wondrous performance of Andrew McCutchen?
Some of the vitriol aimed at the best player on the club is rooted in a ridiculous fear that his performance of late, aside from jeopardizing Pittsburgh's always dubious station in the postseason, casts doubt on his MVP credentials.
I likely can think of a few things in this life that are less significant than who is or is not the Most Valuable Player in the National League, but not without considerable effort. Really, what are we afraid of here? Doesn't Andrew have any trophies in his house? I'll bet he's all set that way.
Barry Bonds was MVP seven times while his San Francisco and Pirates teammates were winning zero World Series.
If these Pirates had even one more McCutchen, you could almost put "Pittsburgh" and the "World Series" in the same plausible sentence, and, lest we've forgotten, that's actually a slightly more enduring reward than even back-to-back National League Player of the Month.
First Published August 22, 2012 12:00 am