PNC PARK – Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen entered Tuesday as the MVP favorite in the National League, according to oddsmaker Bovada.com. And who is to argue with Bovada.com? Bovada gives McCutchen 5/7 odds to win the award, with Joey Votto 3/2, Paul Goldschmidt (5/1) and Carlos Gomez (15/1) also in the running.
McCutchen looked very much again like an MVP in the Pirates’ 4-3 win over the Marlins on Tuesday.
McCutchen went 2-for-3 with a key two-run double in the second and then made perhaps a game-saving play with two on and one out in the seventh when he fully extended to rob Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria of a run-scoring hit in the left-center gap.
It was a perfect defensive play as you can observe in this GIF
It was the perfect jump, it was the perfect angle, it was rare athleticism in his timing to intercept the ball.
McCutchen is second in the NL in Wins Above Replacement player (5.9 — trailing only Gomez) in large part because of his defense. His defense is in part innate athleticism but it’s also in large part instinctual. And instinct isn’t innate, McCutchen tells us after the game, it’s learned.
“It’s something you’ve done your whole life so it becomes second nature to you,” McCutchen said. “It’s like anything you’ve done your whole life, do it over and over an over, it becomes an instinct
It’s Malcolm Gladwell‘s 10,000-hour rule on display in center field in PNC Park.
To McCutchen instinct isn’t innate it’s experience: tracking and projection thousands and thousands of flyballs since youth baseball, learning how to dive and when to dive.
“I know he hit it off the end of the bat so I was just trying to get myself in good position to have a chance to catch it and that’s what I was able to do,” McCutchen said. “You work on those things during batting practice. When the game starts you just let your instincts take over. I feel I felt I got myself in the best position to be able to catch it. I feel like I made it look fairly easy because it didn’t really hurt.”
McCutchen finished 4th in MVP balloting last season. Vegas thinks he’ll finish first this year, and the Pirates pitching staff is no doubt in agreement after plays like that on Tuesday.
WHY MONDAY WAS A GOOD DAY FOR MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Some defined Monday as a black day for Major League Baseball as a dozen players were suspended for their connection to Biogenesis. It was a reminder that PEDs are still a part of the game, that at least a select group of players continue to seen an edge.
But I’d actually define Monday as a very good day for the sport.
The game is not sparing its best players. Former MVPs Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez have been targeted by the commissioner’s office. The game was able to gather enough evidence through investigation to have these players suspended despite not a single player fail a drug test. The game is serious and motivated about cleaning up its sport. A number of athletes in other sports were tied to the Biogenesis clinic, but only baseball has, to date, been interested in investigating those on the list. And perhaps most important is players are simply not protecting their own anymore: they are speaking out for the good of the sport.
Said Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon:
“In the long run I think it will be a good day. Most people are wanting this game cleaned up. And baseball has done a really good job thus far and continuing to keep an eye on it and do a good job. We are role models for a lot of people. Morally, I’d like to see things stay in a positive light.”
Players speaking out for the best interest of the game is a great step for the sport. Lessons have been learned from the steroid era.
Are some players going to continue to seek an edge? Yes. Are the cheaters usually ahead of the the testers? Yes.
But there is more deterrence in the game today. It is a cleaner game. Owners and the league office are serious about it as are the players. They’ve found common ground on important ground.