There has been some debate this year about who should be the MVP of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Do you go with the reigning MVP, and the leader in WAR, Andrew McCutchen? How about Russell Martin, who is right up there in WAR, and provides a ton of value with his game calling, pitch framing, and defense behind the plate? Or there’s Josh Harrison, who has been a huge surprise this year, and has filled in everywhere the Pirates needed him.
Over the last few days we’ve seen a small sample of how these three are all stepping up at times when the Pirates need them. Tonight it was Andrew McCutchen with a solo homer to give the Pirates a 1-0 victory. On Sunday it was Russell Martin with an RBI single up the middle, leading to the winning run. Martin also had the huge home run on Friday night, giving the Pirates a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning after the offense was quiet all night.
Josh Harrison has also had his moments in the last few weeks. A little over a week ago he tied the game 3-3 with a two RBI double against the Cubs in the fifth inning, sparking a six run inning. Then there was Friday’s game, which saw Harrison contribute ten assists at third base. You could take that for granted if not for the fact that Pedro Alvarez made everyone appreciate how nice a night of flawless defense at third base could be.
In any given year, one of these three players would be an easy choice for the team MVP, and a strong candidate for the NL MVP. But this article isn’t about splitting hairs and picking the best from the group. Instead, it’s to note just how rare it is to have three players performing so well.
I wanted to take a look at the best three player combos around baseball to see how the McCutchen/Martin/Harrison trio matched up. I quickly found that after tonight’s games, the Pirates’ group ranks first in combined WAR among position players. They combined for a 16.2 WAR. The next best came from the Angels, who combined for a 16.1 WAR thanks to Mike Trout (8.1), Howie Kendrick (4.1), and Erick Aybar (3.9).
I then included pitchers, to see how the Pirates ranked among all trios (no Pirates pitcher ranked in the top three in team WAR, which shouldn’t be surprising). There were a few other teams who jumped ahead of the Pirates, but they still remained high in the standings. The ranks were as follows.
1. Indians – 18.3 (Kluber, Brantley, Gomes)
2. Mariners – 16.9 (Hernandez, Seager, Cano)
3. Angels – 16.5 (Trout, Richards, Kendrick)
4. Pirates – 16.2 (McCutchen, Martin, Harrison)
If you were to pick the best three players from any team this year, then the Pirates’ trio would have given you the fourth-best results in baseball, and the best results in the NL. Think about that. No National League team can boast a trio of players that have been more productive this season than McCutchen, Martin, and Harrison. The closest team would be the Dodgers, who have a combined 15.3 WAR from Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and Juan Uribe. Behind them is the Washington Nationals trio of Anthony Rendon, Jordan Zimmermann, and Jayson Werth, combining for a 14.9 WAR.
To recap, the Pirates have the best trio of position players in baseball, along with the best trio of players in the NL.
It might be difficult to pick the best of the group for the Pirates’ MVP this year, but it’s not hard to see that the group as a whole has made a huge impact. Maybe rather than debating which one should be the MVP, we can start referring to the collective group as the #MV3 (Side note: When looking up that tag, I noticed some people call Dwyane Wade “MV3” for some reason, although since I don’t acknowledge the NBA or basketball as a sport worth caring about, I’m going to go ahead and use the term for the Pirates).
Obviously it takes more than the best three player combo to be the best team. That’s probably why the Dodgers and Nationals are two of the best teams in the NL, while the Pirates are in the next tier behind them, despite having a better top three. The top three does allow a team to contend, and this trio has been a massive reason for the Pirates contending this year, along with their recent hot streak over the last few weeks. You hope that they keep this up throughout the playoffs, and that enough players from the rest of the team step up around them to give the Pirates a good chance at making a post-season run.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.