|'Cutch' may just be the best player in baseball, and he's still underrated. (Getty Images)|
KANSAS CITY -- "Who is the best player in baseball?"
It's one of those sports-bar arguments where there's really no correct answer, but still fun to kick around nonetheless. I'm guessing if you hopped around random bars in America and asked the question to casual baseball fans, a sampling of the following names would come up: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Joey Votto, Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun. Depending upon where you were, geographically, obviously some others would come up, too.
But would Andrew McCutchen's name ever get mentioned -- aside from the areas surrounding Pittsburgh? Not nearly as much as it should. He's criminally underrated across most of the country. In fact, a great case could be made that he was the MVP of the National League in the first half of the season.
Just ask the man who won it last year.
“I think probably Andrew McCutchen, with Joey Votto a close second," said Brewers outfielder and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun, when asked who was his first-half NL MVP. "Both of those guys have had phenomenal first halves. David Wright's gotta be up there as well.”
Indeed McCutchen has been phenomenal. He leads the majors in batting average and total bases. He's hitting .362/.414/.625 with 18 homers, 60 RBI, 58 runs, 17 doubles, five triples and 14 steals. He plays excellent defense. He's the focal point of a first-place team. Basically, the 25-year-old doesn't have a weakness.
“[McCutchen is] on the very short list right now of the best players in baseball," said Reds right fielder Jay Bruce. "He's had a first half that almost tops anyone. You're talking about a center fielder with almost 20 home runs and stolen bases and when he plays center field, he's just not out there. He's a great fielder."
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And yet, I still feel like he's underrated, at least nationally. His All-Star teammate, closer Joel Hanrahan has faith that it's about to change.
“His time is coming; the credit is coming," Hanrahan said. "I think if you ask anybody in this room here they're gonna tell you how good he is. He's been unbelievable and people are starting to talk about the Pirates and when they talk about the Pirates, they talk about Andrew McCutchen. That's how it should be. He's unbelievable right now.”
McCutchen and the Pirates stormed into the All-Star break in first place. They throttled Tim Lincecum and the Giants Sunday, with McCutchen going 3-for-5 with two home runs. Giants catcher Buster Posey had a front row seat.
“I don't think he's far off from getting his due," Posey said, agreeing with Hanrahan. "(Last weekend) he was locked in. He looked calm and controlled at the plate. He hit a ball in the gap and watching him run the bases is sickening, especially as a catcher that can't run.”
Unbelievable. Sickening. Phenomenal. Underrated.
"I just think it's the market we play in," he said. "If we played in a large market, we'd get tons more coverage."
"We." I asked about Andrew McCutchen and he answered "we," talking about the Pirates as a whole. That's McCutchen. He cares more about his team as a whole getting credit than himself -- and both deserve a lot more.
The winning will cure that. If the Pirates keep playing like they are right now, McCutchen will easily be a household name by the end of the season -- as well he should already be -- and the Pirates just might be the best story of the 2012 season.
Of course, I said "if."
Therein lies the issue. The Pirates fell apart in the second half last season. Both Hanrahan and McCutchen were adamant that these Pirates are a totally different team (and they are correct). Still, the Pirates haven't had a winning season since McCutchen was in elementary school. If the Pirates start to go through a losing streak, how will he react?
“No matter what happens during the day, there's always something you can reflect on, as my Dad taught me," McCutchen said, with a smile of course. "In high school, I tore my ACL and I thought that was it. But then I just kept thinking, 'it's all gonna work out. It's all gonna work out.' And I think about that when we go through those bad times. 'It's all gonna work out.' I know, truly, that it is all going to work out.'"
He speaks softly. He carries a big stick. He's Andrew McCutchen.
And he just might be the best player in baseball. Even if not nearly enough people know it ... yet.