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Sports Illustrated: Andrew McCutchen A Potential MVP Candidate In 2011

As a Pirates fan, I love Andrew McCutchen, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see any Pirate receiving praise in a national publication, but this Sports Illustrated story is a bit too enthusiastic, even for me. It names McCutchen as a "dark horse candidate for National League MVP honors" next year (which I suppose is possible, but come on) and, even more ludicrously, compares McCutchen to a young Ken Griffey Jr.:

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Obviously, McCutchen is a long way from being the type of impact player Griffey was during a Hall of Fame career that included 13 All-Star selections, 10 Gold Gloves and more than 600 home runs. But both were first-round draft picks and both compare favorably at similar points in their careers. Below is a look at how the two players did in their second seasons.

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McCutchen 23

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PlayerAgeYearGamesAverageHome RunsRBIsSBsRuns
McCutchen232010154.28616553394
Griffey211990155.30022801691
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The only vast discrepancy was in RBIs, and that was a result of Griffey playing on a better Seattle team and McCutchen leading off for most of the beginning of the year.

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Yeah, well, there was also the fact that Griffey was actually 20, not 21, when that season took place. As a 20-year-old, McCutchen was playing for the Altoona Curve. At age 21, Griffey posted a .926 OPS and finished ninth in the American League MVP race; at age 21, McCutchen was playing for the Indianapolis Indians. In terms of predicting a player's future performance, here's a cavernously huge difference between posting good numbers as a 20-year-old and doing it as a 23-year-old.

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Even comparing McCutchen and Griffey by saying they were both first-rounders is misleading - it's a little like saying a Mazda6 is like a Bugatti Veyron because both can go faster than 65 MPH. McCutchen was the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft, which is good; Griffey was the first overall pick in the 1987 draft, when he was widely regarded as the once-in-a-decade type of talent he eventually became. To be fair, the author does try to keep the comparison at arm's length before he even starts making it, but it's a ridiculous comparison on its face, at least in terms of the two players' talent level.

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That said, the central idea of the article - that McCutchen is an excellent breakout candidate because he's an athletic, well-rounded player about to begin his third year in the majors - isn't wrong. The comparisons to guys like Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Beltran, and Curtis Granderson do make some degree of sense (although even comparing McCutchen to a young Beltran is more wishful thinking than anything else, at this point). McCutchen isn't a Griffey, but the author is right that if you're looking for a guy who could step forward and become a fairly big star over the next few years, McCutchen is a great pick. I'd highly endorse taking him in your fantasy league next year, just as I'd heartily endorse a real-life extension for him this offseason.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.