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.
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 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.
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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