Over the last few weeks, we've offered introductions to our Best Players of 2015 series. We set the stage for the whole endeavor, and we then revealed the players who landed between 45th and 11th on the list. If you need a refresher on the methodology, nine of our writers ranked players based on how well they thought players would perform during the 2015 season. They ordered them from No. 1 to No. 20, and those players got point values (20 for first, 19 for second, etc.) and were ranked by the sum of their points. The highest possible score is 180. We're already told you Anthony Rendon ranked 10th, Jose Bautista finished ninth, Miguel Cabrera landed at eighth, Josh Donaldson ended up seventh, Buster Posey was sixth, Felix Hernandez took fifth, Giancarlo Stanton nabbed fourth, and Clayton Kershaw slid into third.
No. 2: Andrew McCutchen, Center Fielder (Pittsburgh Pirates)
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Well, I guess this takes the mystery out of who finished first, but if you couldn't see that coming earlier, you've probably only been alive for five months. If that is the case, congratulations on learning to read at such a young age. Today, we're here to acknowledge the best player in baseball who isn't Mike Trout. That award goes to Andrew McCutchen, who comfortably edged out Clayton Kershaw for the honor.
McCutchen already has an MVP to his name and has been one of the most indispensable players in the sport for half a decade. Entering 2015, he's 28 years old and on a very team friendly deal. The awesome dreadlocks are gone, and while that might limit your ability to recognize him from great distances, it seems like a plus as far as aerodynamics are concerned. He's the best player in the National League and an MVP frontrunner.
Why We Love Him
Sabermetrically-inclined sites typically like players who have good defensive metrics because we like numbers and we know defense matters. McCutchen's numbers have been uneven during his career, which is a good topic of conversation, but even when the metrics don't love him, he's still great. That's why he's second on this list.
The Pirates star can handle center field, runs the bases with the best of them, and has emerged as one of the best hitters in the game. You buy a 5' 10" outfielder as a serviceable defender and good runner, but since the start of 2012 he's second in fWAR among position players and third in wRC+ among qualifiers. It's Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and then McCutchen.
We like McCutchen a lot because of his all-around ability, but take that all away and he's still been a better hitter than Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto, Yasiel Puig, David Ortiz, and everyone else. He's a great hitter who does the other stuff well too! Hard to beat at age 28 unless you're all of those things at age 23. McCutchen walks, he doesn't strike out a ton, and he sprays the ball all over the field while hitting for power. It's kind of a slam dunk vote and he's only going to cost the Pirates $51.5 million over the next four seasons. When it's all said and done, the extension the Pirates worked out with him might wind up being one of the best of its era.
To no one's surprise, the projections are fond of McCutchen. Steamer says 6.2 WAR in 659 PA while ZiPS goes out on a limb and forecasts 6.2 WAR in 659! Disagreement!
Seriously though, PECOTA is a jerk and says 4.9 WARP in 647 PA.
Where He Fits In
McCutchen wasn't a unanimous vote for number two on the list, but his 168 points beat Kershaw by 12. He got one fourth place vote and one third place vote to go along with his seven runner-up votes. He's the top vote-getter in the National League.
When I polled our voters on projected WAR they said he'd be close to 7 WAR for the upcoming year. Maybe that's a little bullish, but just barely. And that probably says it all. Our consensus is that a healthy McCutchen is a seven-win player and there's virtually no dissent.
For the Pirates, it's encouraging news as they hope to break free of their early October exits and challenge for an NL pennant. They're obviously looking at some stiff competition, but no one else can in the NL can put a player on the field that matches what Pirates have in center.