Los Angeles Dodgers: Can Clayton Kershaw win NL MVP?

Last year, Andrew McCutchen deservedly won the National League MVP award. McCutchen had a great season and led his Pittsburgh Pirates to the postseason for the first time since 1992.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw finished seventh in MVP voting, four spots ahead of Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who was the next highest voted pitcher.

Many baseball pundits believe that the MVP award should go to a position player, and the best pitcher should be determined by the Cy Young award, which Kershaw has won in two of the last three years. And really, he only lost in 2012 because R.A. Dickey was a great story.

However, this is more of a tradition and less of an actual rule. Justin Verlander won the AL MVP in 2011, and Dennis Eckersley won it in 1992. Maybe the National League is more traditional, because no pitcher has won the NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968.

To be fair, Gibson had an obscene season in 1968. His ERA was 1.12. That’s not a typo. Gibson is one of the reasons I don’t like the pitcher wins-loss stat. Gibson lost nine games in 1968. Five of those loses ended with a final score of 1-0. It’s not Gibson’s fault that the Cardinals’ offense was horrible that year.

The last time a pitcher won NL MVP, photos were still in black and white

The last time a pitcher won NL MVP, photos were still in black and white

The Cardinals had one hitter hitting over .300 that year- Curt Flood hit .301. Orlando Cepeda led the team with 16 home runs, and Mike Shannon led them with 79 RBI. Lou Brock was the only true threat on that offense with 62 stolen bases.

Yet, that team went to the World Series. Gibson threw games one, four and seven against the Detroit Tigers. Game one, a complete game shutout with 17 strikeouts. In game four, Gibson allowed a run (gasp!) but still threw a complete game with 10 strikeouts. In game seven, Gibson proved to the world that he was human. Gibson still threw a complete game, but gave up a whopping four runs (shut the Tigers out until the seventh) and only struck out eight in a loss.

So that’s basically what a pitcher has to do to win the NL MVP award. Fast forward to 2014, and Clayton Kershaw is actually in the neighborhood. Kershaw signed a 7-year, $210 million dollar contract in the offseason, and it still seems like he’s egregiously underpaid.

For those who love the win-loss stat, Kershaw is 14-2 this year. Last year, he wowed everyone with a 1.83 ERA. This year, it’s 1.78. His strikeout/walk ratio is 8.58, which is almost double his previous high. In less mathy terms, Kershaw has 163 strikeouts this season, and 19 walks. His fielding independent pitching, which basically says what his ERA should be if it wasn’t for his defense, is 1.75. It’s no mistake that Kershaw is pitching this well.

Kershaw missed almost all of April after his back flared up in the Dodgers season opener in Australia. Despite missing a month, which equates to about five starts, Kershaw is still tied for the NL lead in wins, ERA and WHIP, is fourth in strikeouts, and has allowed the least runs among qualified starters. Cardinals fans will always argue that Adam Wainwright is better, and Waino is actually one of my favorite pitchers. But it’s not even close. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. I would even say that Felix Hernandez is the second best pitcher in baseball, but Kershaw is still comfortably at the top.

Why could  2014 be the season Kershaw finally gets an MVP award? There aren’t any standout candidates in the NL. Troy Tulowitzki is clearly the best position player in the NL, but he’s on his annual trip to the DL and the Rockies are way out of the playoff race. If Matt Kemp didn’t win the MVP after almost going 40-40 in 2011 because his team wasn’t in playoff contention, Tulo shouldn’t win it this year. Same goes with Giancarlo Stanton, who might be my favorite non-Dodger in baseball. Unfortunately, MVP voters take teams into account when choosing a most valuable player.

McCutchen is putting together another great season, but will be out for a while with an oblique injury. Can’t see the MVP award going to someone that’s missing a lot of the playoff chase. If you’re into the WAR stat, Jason Heyward is in second in the NL behind Tulo, but that’s mostly due to his stellar defense. Can’t see the MVP going to a guy hitting .270 with nine home runs. Sorry Braves fans.

Yadier Molina is another guy that’s always in the MVP discussion, but he’s been hurt a while as well. Jonathan Lucroy is also in the conversation, but there is no reason Kershaw shouldn’t be a frontrunner for the MVP. He’s the best pitcher in the game. He goes all out every time he’s on the mound. He threw the second highest single game score in baseball history with his no-hitter against Colorado on June 18th. His stats are other worldly, but then he does stuff like diving to catch a squeeze bunt and double off a runner on third, and it reminds you that this guy could even be better than his stats show.

Can Clayton  Kershaw be the next NL MVP?

Can Clayton Kershaw be the next NL MVP?

There’s nobody I would rather root for in baseball than Clayton Kershaw. He’s the ultimate professional, extremely humble, a great person on an off the field. He’s the best pitcher in baseball and he makes it look easy. The most terrifying thing is that he is only 26, and there is still room to grow. It’s incredibly difficult for a pitcher to win the MVP award, but I would be shocked if Kershaw doesn’t win one in the future.



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  • Nick Kopke

    Mike Stanton is your NL MVP. The media gets too caught up on the sexy pick ala Verlander several years ago ala Kershaw right now. Stanton in that ball park is putting up sick numbers and keeping the Marlins in the wild card hunt basically by himself. Take him out of that lineup and the Marlins are at least 15 games under .500. WAR is the most decieving stat we go by today because as Harold Reynolds pointed out tonight, Jason Heyard who is a talented player but does not have near the offensive impact Stanton has somehow have the same WAR number. Let us hope the voters get it right this season. Kershaw has Puig, Kemp, Gonzalez, Hanley, Greinke all major contributing to a first place Dodgers team. I would argue that Puig is up in the top 5 along with McCutchen and Carlos Gomez despite his antics.

    • Alex Campos

      First off thanks for reading. I commented on Stanton below, and I do agree that WAR is highly misleading. It’s obvious Heyward doesn’t have the offensive impact that Stanton has, but Heyward is absolutely incredible defensively, and that should be taken into account. I think I saw a stat during their game on ESPN last night about him having saved 35 runs with his defense this season.
      And yes, Kershaw has a much better supporting cast than Stanton does. I do think this should play more of a factor. But the voters usually care more about a team being a playoff team.
      Here’s a question for you. Take Felix Hernandez out of Seattle’s rotation, and they’re nowhere near playoff contention. Take Mike Trout out of the Angels lineup, and they’re still probably in the hunt with Pujols, Hamilton ect. Would you argue in favor of Felix on that one?

  • Typhill

    Missed too much time to be an MVP as a pitcher he probably won’t even make 30 starts this year, which isn’t even all that much for an ace.

    • evan

      Why does him missing 5 starts mean he shouldn’t be MVP??? 14-2 1.78 ERA 0.86 WHIP 163k’s and a 5.6 WAR!!! Clayton Kershaw is the best, most dominant player in the NL, so I for sure believe he is both the CY Young and MVP winner!

      • Nick Kopke

        Please stop. This man has an excellent point. Kershaw was out until mid to late May!! You media writers get too caught up in the sexy pick. He pitches every 5 days and missed almost 2 months. Ido not intend this as an attack against you but seriously Stanton, Gomez and McCutchen have got to be ahead of him. If Cutch misees more than 15 games take him out of the discussion thats fair but come on now. Stanton in that park is having the biggest impact in the National League.

        • Alex Campos

          First off thanks for reading. I obviously don’t have a vote, but if I did it would go to Stanton. I just don’t think he’ll get the love from the media if the Marlins fall out of the race. If they stay hovering around .500 and in the wild card contention, and Stanton keeps his current pace, it would be hard to justify him not getting the MVP. Gomez is another guy I love (can’t be a fan of Puig and hate on Gomez’s antics) but I just don’t know that he’s putting up the sexy numbers that voters will love. Cutch’s injury is definitely hurting his chances. I think voters weigh games down the stretch heavier than they do games in April. If an MVP is going to miss a chunk of time and still win the award, it’s more likely to happen in April. There’s still a lot of season left and if Kershaw keeps up on this historic pace, he has to be in the conversation.
          I don’t know that I like the five day’s argument though. Kershaw starts impact not only his start, but also the start before or after. Mattingly can be a lot more free using his bullpen knowing Kershaw is on the hill the next day, and the day after a Kershaw start the bullpen is usually pretty well rested. Take this with a grain of salt, but despite missing 5 weeks Kershaw has faced 512 batters this season, while Stanton has 514 plate appearances. I do think an ace pitcher has more of an impact on a season than an outfielder, but I’m not sure the MVP voters agree with me

        • Sean

          Biggest impact in the NL? His team won’t even be in the playoffs. Even pitching every 5 days and missing a month his total number of batters faced will be equal or greater than the mlb leaders in plate appearances. Pitchers control the offensive environment equal or more than position players considering the record for plate appearances is 778 and Kershaw has an average of 884 Batters Faced a season.