In many respects, it’s hard to name an MVP for this year’s Pittsburgh Pirates team. There isn’t one name that truly sticks out — for once, center fielder Andrew McCutchen won’t be topping this list.
So, where does that leave us?
The following had good seasons, but they still weren’t the team MVP, so apologies to:
David Freese: On the surface, this appeared to be a desperation signing by Pittsburgh. At the very least, it was a concession that third baseman Jung Ho Kang wouldn’t be able to start the season. Freese fought for and earned his starts at third base while also playing across the diamond at first base for the first time in his career. Freese’s defense was a pleasant surprise, but his stellar clubhouse presence wasn’t. He was rewarded with a well-deserved extension.
Starling Marte: In the first half of the season, team MVP seemed to be a two-horse ranking between the left fielder and Gregory Polanco. But injuries derailed Marte’s season; he wasn’t healthy down the stretch. While his arm was as strong as ever, his power seemingly vanished. Marte was an All-Star selection — and for good reason — but his second half wasn’t up to snuff. (Marte was team MVP selection of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.)
Gregory Polanco: You could use the same reasoning for not selecting Polanco as you was used for Marte above. This season, Polanco really started to show the power everyone knew he was capable of, but injuries crept in all season and held him out of several games. The right fielder was robbed of an All-Star bid, but in the second half of the season, pitchers figured him out, and the proper offensive adjustments weren’t made.
Jordy Mercer: This is a sleeper pick. Mercer’s defense is always there, though he had a couple of off-games. He led the National League with 95 double plays turned and had a .985 fielding percentage. In a Pirates season riddled with injury, it helped that Mercer was very durable, tying his career high by playing in 149 games. His offensive numbers were also among his career highs.
So those guys were pretty good, but there was someone better.
My pick for MVP is Sean Rodriguez.
First, it’s worth noting that my MVP wasn’t routinely in the starting lineup until Josh Harrison’s injury toward the end of the season.
But Rodriguez brought a fire to the end of the season that was undeniable. Anyone who doesn’t know the passion with which Rodriguez plays the game is as oblivious as a Gatorade cooler. He isn’t afraid to stand up for his teammates, and when an issue arises, he’s one of the first guys out of the dugout.
All throughout the 2015 season, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle sang Rodriguez’s praises, calling him a backyard ball player who could take his glove and excel in any position on the diamond.
In 2016, Rodriguez appeared in seven different positions. And, for the first time since 2012, Rodriguez didn’t have a negative defensive WAR. His flexibility also extended to the plate, where he batted in all nine spots in the batting order.
He approached career high offensive totals and walked 33 times, the second highest total in his Major League career. He had a .270 average in 140 games and had 18 home runs and 56 RBIs, all of which are career-highs. (Rodriguez batted .261 in the first half of the season and .281 in the second half.)
This season Rodriguez had 342 plate appearances and, of his 81 hits, 37 were extra-base hits.
This season, Rodriguez had an offensive WAR of 1.5, his highest total since 2011 and a marked improvement over his -0.5 output in 2015. Additionally, Rodriguez had a wins above average of 0.8, 19 runs above replacement player, was eight runs better than average and was nine runs better than the average player. 2016 was the first time in his Major League career where he has a positive total over the average.
To sum it up, Rodriguez was Pittsburgh’s most dependable two-way player on a consistent basis this season and extended that voice to the clubhouse, a role he has embraced more.
Fans seemed indifferent when Rodriguez was re-signed this past off-season, but those same fans will be the ones now begging for the Pirates to bring him back. Whether or not Rodriguez his priced himself out of Pittsburgh remains to be seen, but he’s my clear choice for team MVP.
I didn’t want to have all of the fun, so, on social media, I asked who fans would choose as their team MVP. These were among some of the answers I was given:
@ZacharyMWeiss Freese brought in to hold down 3B became best option at the dish and was able to play multiple positions on a struggling team
— Uncle Mike (@TheRealMikeMulk) October 3, 2016
@ZacharyMWeiss The fans who went to home games for the last month of the season or Sean Rod
— Chris Dazen (@TopherDaisy) October 3, 2016
“David Freese or Sean Rod for me! Marte and Polanco were both injured multiple times throughout the year. Freese was most consistent player. Sean Rod was a huge surprise.” –Zack Smith
“Would only be fitting to name an MVP who wasn’t even on the team anymore. Melancon, perhaps…” –Dom Errico
“Taillon, no doubt. He was practically the one consistent through the downward spiral. Sure, toss Ivan Nova in there, too. Not sold on S-Rod like everyone else is.” – Joey Cinello
“Jordy Mercer plays above-average defense. Hits for average and power. Grossly underrated and a huge key 2 the team all around.” Camden Kelly
“Financial flexibility.” – Alan Saunders