One of the game’s most dynamic talents, McCutchen coasted to the National League Most Valuable Player award by a surprisingly wide margin Thursday after leading a baseball revival in Pittsburgh with his speed, power and defense.
The center fielder received 28 of 30 first-place votes from a Baseball Writers’ Association of America panel to finish far ahead of Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina in a race that many thought would be tight.
”I’m floating right now,” McCutchen said in Pittsburgh. ”But I definitely didn’t expect it to be a landslide with those other guys — Goldschmidt and Molina. They were great candidates and I didn’t know what to expect.”
Seated in a sweater and tie, a smiling McCutchen juked a sort of stationary shimmy when he was announced as the winner on MLB Network.
”If I could get up and dance right now I would, but I don’t have much room to do that,” he said. ”When I get off camera, I probably will.”
Miguel Cabrera took the American League prize for the second straight year, once again winning by a comfortable gap over Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
A season after posting the majors’ first Triple Crown in 45 years, Cabrera came back to lead baseball in hitting at .348 and finish second with 44 home runs and 137 RBI.
”To even be mentioned and to be in it with him is definitely an honor for me,” said McCutchen, who grew up emulating Ken Griffey Jr.
Cabrera got 23 of 30 first-place votes, becoming the first player to win consecutive AL MVPs since Frank Thomas for the Chicago White Sox in 1993 and 1994.
”This is unbelievable,” Cabrera said. ”I’m so excited right now.”
McCutchen ranked among the NL leaders by hitting .317 with 21 home runs and 84 RBI. He also scored 97 runs, stole 27 bases and had a .404 on-base percentage.
The 27-year-old with the long, flowing dreadlocks helped the Pirates stop a record streak of 20 losing seasons and make the playoffs for the first time since 1992.
Drafted 11th overall in 2005 out of a Florida high school — the landmark moment in turning around the moribund Pirates — McCutchen didn’t pay much attention to all the losing that was going on in Pittsburgh as he worked his way through the minors.
Little did he know what a challenge awaited him when he arrived in the majors four years ago.
”I never put that on myself,” McCutchen said. ”It didn’t really sink in until I was actually in Pittsburgh in 2009 to where winning meant a lot more. That’s what it was all about. That’s when I started to feel the losing and the years of it. I started to really be a part of that and feel it. I definitely felt I could be a big part of it (a turnaround) and I definitely felt we had the guys and the tools to be a winning team. It was going to take some time, but I knew eventually it was going to happen.”
McCutchen, third in MVP balloting last year, got 409 points this time. Goldschmidt finished second with 242, while Molina received the other two first-place votes and came in third.
”In a sense, yes, I was surprised. I thought it would be closer than it was,” McCutchen said. ”I thought there was a chance of it being a really, really close race.”
Goldschmidt hit .302 with 36 homers and 125 RBI. Molina batted .319 with 12 homers and 80 RBI, and virtually shut down opponents’ running games. Molina and Goldschmidt each won a Gold Glove, too.
”It’s a huge honor just to be one of the finalists,” Goldschmidt said in a statement. ”I want to say congratulations to Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera and all of the other winners. It was a good year, and, hopefully, we’ll move on and get a little bit better as a team next year and strive towards making the playoffs and winning the World Series.”
McCutchen’s win came two days after Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was picked as the NL Manager of the Year. McCutchen was the first Pittsburgh player to win the MVP since Barry Bonds in 1992.
The Pirates went 94-68 this year, a season after going 79-83. Along the way, McCutchen became the face of the franchise and heard loud ”MVP!” chants when he would step to the plate at PNC Park this summer.
”I’d lie to you if I said it didn’t enter my mind ever,” he said. ”It’s awesome to hear something like that.”
Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati in the NL wild-card game, then lost to St. Louis in a division series that went the full five games.
McCutchen is sure the team’s success played a major role in his MVP award, which earned him a $125,000 bonus.
”Especially considering the numbers I had all-around definitely were down from last year when I ended up being in third place,” he said. ”I wouldn’t have been able to do it without those guys. It’s most valuable player, but I feel like you’ve got to make that `player’ plural. It’s most valuable players. That’s what it means to me. It’s not only my award, it’s a team award.”
Cabrera won the AL MVP last year after hitting .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs. The 30-year-old third baseman from Venezuela topped Trout 22-6 in first-place votes in that balloting.
Trout got five first-place votes this time and came in second, 103 points behind Cabrera. The difference was 81 points last season, when Trout was AL Rookie of the Year.
Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis, who led the majors with 53 homers and 138 RBI, was third. Davis and Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson each received a first-place vote.
”I think all three guys deserve this trophy,” Cabrera said.
Despite an assortment of injuries that slowed him down the stretch, Cabrera took his third AL batting title in a row. He also drew a $1 million bonus for winning a second MVP during his current contract with Detroit.
The Tigers have virtually owned the major postseason awards during a three-year run of success. Justin Verlander was the MVP and Cy Young winner in 2011, Cabrera took the MVP last season and Detroit ace Max Scherzer won this year’s Cy Young Award on Wednesday.
”I’m on the right team,” Cabrera said.
Hard to argue that. Even though Boston beat St. Louis in the World Series, no one on the Red Sox or Cardinals won any of the major BBWAA awards.