Most seasons, this question is easy. It's Andrew McCutchen, obviously. Now let's go on with our lives. Last season, though, Russell Martin and Josh Harrison turned the question of who the Pirates' MVP should be into an actual conversation, and this year, that conversation continues, with Francisco Cervelli, Jung-Ho Kang and Gerrit Cole all contributing in a big way. Here are this season's top contenders. Who's your choice?
-P- Andrew McCutchen is the most obvious candidate. He suffered through a miserable first month in which he dealt with knee trouble, but he's been himself since then, batting .308/.420/.511 since May 1. McCutchen has been a .300/.400/.500 hitter so consistently in the past four seasons that sometimes we can almost take him for granted. His power has deserted him in September, but he still has a .405 OBP this month, thanks in part to his drawing a ridiculous 14 walks in a four-game stretch against the Dodgers and Rockies. Overall, McCutchen has unquestionably been the Pirates' best hitter this season; if there are cases against him, they're either that Cole was just too good or that Cervelli or Kang provided more defensive value.
-P- Francisco Cervelli lags behind McCutchen in WAR and doesn't have his power, but he's somehow followed Martin's sensational .402 OBP in 2014 with a .375 OBP of his own, and he's provided the Pirates with pitch framing value that isn't captured by a quick glance at his stats. Pirates pitchers rank second in MLB with a 3.26 ERA, and Cervelli is part of the reason why. According to StatCorner, Cervelli has ranked best in the big leagues with 26.7 runs saved above average. Baseball Prospectus has him at 14.4 runs. Even if we assume he's closer to the lower number, and even if we dock him a bit for all the passed balls and wild pitches he's allowed, that's a lot.
-P- Jung-Ho Kang wasn't even a regular when the season started, and of course he got Coghlaned a couple weeks ago and won't help the Bucs in the playoffs. But he was brilliant in his first season in the big leagues, handily surpassing expectations and providing the Pirates with infield help that turned out to be badly needed. Jordy Mercer hit terribly in April and May and then got hurt; Harrison failed to follow up on his terrific 2014 season, and then he got hurt. Kang got off to a slow start in April himself, perhaps partly due to cultural adjustments and to irregular playing time. After that, though, he was crucial to the Pirates' offense, and he looked like a ballplayer in other phases of the game, too -- he was steady defensively, and impressively aggressive on the bases. Last January, Kang caught a bit of flak for implying that he was better than Mercer, but now that his season is over, let's give him credit: He was right, and not just about Mercer. He's better than most other big-leaguers too.
-P- Gerrit Cole's first two years in the big leagues were already perfectly good, but we saw Cole's blazing fastball, terrific breaking stuff and fiery demeanor and imagined there could be more. There was. Actually, Cole's strong 2015 season has partially been a consolidation of gains he made last year, when he increased his strikeout rate from 7.7 K/9 to 9.0 K/9. This year, he's whiffed 8.7 batters per nine innings while dropping his walk rate to a career-low 1.9. Meanwhile, he's stayed healthy all year after missing part of the 2014 season with shoulder and lat issues. This season, he's been very consistent, allowing more than three runs in a start only five times all year, and never since June. He also ranks eighth in the NL in strikeouts, whiffing at least seven batters in a start 16 times.