Andrew McCutchen, who put the Pirates on his broad back for most of the 2012 season and tried to carry them to their first winning record in 20 years, was recognized by his peers on Monday night with National League Outstanding Player honors.
The Players Choice Awards, through the Major League Baseball Players Association, have been presented since 1992 -- coincidentally, the most recent season the Bucs have ended with a record over .500.
For his determined efforts to help them over that hump, McCutchen was an upset winner in league-wide balloting over Buster Posey of the World Series-champion Giants and reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun of the Brewers.
"It means a lot just to have this recognition," McCutchen said upon being announced as the award's recipient on MLB Network. "For the guys you play against every single day to recognize what I've done, it's a great honor."
All Players Choice Awards come with a cash grant of $20,000 toward a charitable organization of the winner's choice. McCutchen was unprepared to designate a recipient, but said he would present it to a Pittsburgh charity.
McCutchen was also a finalist for the MLBPA's top prize, Player of the Year, which went to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, the choice as AL Outstanding Player. The Angels' Mike Trout, the easy selection as AL Outstanding Rookie, was the only other nominee for that award.
The award is resounding recognition of McCutchen's quick breakthrough into superstardom. At 25 and in only his third full big league season, McCutchen reached career-highs with 31 homers and 96 RBIs, while also earning his first Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence. He also led the league with 194 hits, while finishing runner-up in the batting race to Posey with a .327 average.
Remarkably, those outstanding final numbers represented a considerable downturn over the season's final two months for McCutchen, who was batting .372 on Aug. 7, with 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 81 games.
McCutchen hit .240 over his final 52 games, doubtless the reason he said on MLB Network's presentation show that he "can do better."
"It might sound crazy," McCutchen said, "but I know I've got more. That's the beautiful thing about baseball, you can always improve. I had a great year, and definitely enjoyed it, but I'm going to spend the offseason on trying to improve my game."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.