We have long been accustomed to seeing Miguel Cabrera at the forefront of the MVP discussion, and we should get used to doing the same with Andrew McCutchen. Those two players won the American and National League Most Valuable Player awards, respectively, on Thursday in voting that was neither close nor surprising.
For Tigers third baseman Cabrera, it was his second straight AL MVP and the fifth straight time and seventh overall in his 11-year career that he has finished in the top five of the voting. McCutchen, who just completed his fifth full season as the Pirates' centerfielder, won it for the first time one year after finishing third.
Neither player got much of a challenge in the voting. Cabrera handily defeated Angels outfielder Mike Trout again, going from a 22-6 edge in first-place votes and an 81-point margin a year ago to a 23-5 advantage and 105-point edge this year. McCutchen, meanwhile, received 28 of 30 first-place votes to easily beat a group that included Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (the runner-up) and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (who finished third but received the only other two first place votes) as well as Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw and Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez, who deserved to finish higher than seventh and ninth, respectively.
McCutchen was clearly the correct choice in the NL. I favored Trout for the AL award, but the selection of Cabrera, who was the second-best player in the league, is far from an egregious one.
It's also historic. Cabrera is the first American Leaguer to win back-to-back MVPs since Frank Thomas in 1993 and '94 and just the sixth ever to do so in that league. Last year, Cabrera became the first hitter to win the Triple Crown in either league in 45 years. This season, he was better across the board, falling two RBIs short of his 2012 total of 139 and matching his home run output of 44 in fewer plate appearances while posting career highs in batting average (.348), slugging percentage (.636) and OPS+ (187).
While his traditional Triple Crown last year drew more attention, this year Cabrera became the first American Leaguer since George Brett in 1980 to lead the majors in all three slash stats (the Slash-Stat Triple Crown), doing so with the batting average and slugging percentage shown above plus a .442 on-base percentage. He's also just the second player in either league since Brett to lead the majors in all three slash stats and OPS+, joining Barry Bonds, who did so in 2002.
Over the last four seasons, Cabrera has hit .337/.425/.612 (177 OPS+) while averaging 39 home runs and 127 RBIs, and there's every reason to expect he'll come very close to those numbers again next year at the age of 31. Given his dominance over Trout in the voting the last two years, Caberera would now seem to stand an excellent chance of being just the second man ever to win three straight MVPs. Thus far only Bonds has done that, and those MVPs (he actually won four straight) came during his tainted 2001 to 2004 seasons.
As for McCutchen, he was actually better last year, when he hit .327/.400/.553 with 31 home runs and 96 RBIs, compared to .317/.404/.508 with 21 homers and 84 RBIs this past season. His award caps a 2013 to remember for the Pirates. They broke a 20-year streak of losing seasons with 94 wins and a playoff berth, beat the Reds in the Wild Card Game in front of a raucous home crowd, pushed the eventual pennant-winning Cardinals to the limit in the Division Series and saw their manager, Clint Hurdle, named Manager of the Year on Tuesday.
In McCutchen, Pittsburgh has its first NL MVP since Bonds in '92 and someone who, like Bonds, can be classified as a superstar. Over the last two seasons he has hit .322/.402/.531 (160 OPS+) while averaging 102 runs, 190 hits, 26 home runs, 90 RBIs and 24 stolen bases per season, all while playing a strong centerfield. Even better for Pirates fans, he just turned 27 last month and is only now entering his prime (Cabrera's four seasons referenced above were his age-27 to -30 seasons).
With McCutchen locked up for the next four seasons, the Pirates have a very good chance continuing their newfound success, just as the Cabrera-led Tigers have an excellent chance of extending their run of AL Central titles to four in 2014. Even if you disagree with one or the other of these selections (as I do), there is no doubt that the voters honored two of the game's best players, both of whom are very likely to be back in the MVP discussion next year.