There’s been an argument in baseball for decades about the value of a pitcher vs. the value of an every-day player. And that has resulted in confusion over just what the Most Valuable Player award should be.
The Cy Young Award goes to the pitcher deemed to be the best in both leagues. Many believe that because only pitchers are eligible for the Cy Young, they should not be in the discussion as MVPs.
That’s crazy talk. According to businessinsider.com, 11 of the 27 players in MLB who are making at least $17 million this season are pitchers. There is nothing more valuable to an MLB owner of general manager than a gifted right or left arm.
Which is why there is no more valuable player in the National Leauge this season than left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s one of the three or four most-dominant pitchers of the past 25 years and despite missing April this season with an injury, Kershaw is 15-3 with a 1.82 ERA. In 153.1 innings, he has allowed only 106 hits and struck out 184.
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And in a season in which no position player is having a dominant season - you can make a strong argument for Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton - Kershaw stands out as the best. In fact, if the Cincinnati Reds hadn’t fallen out of contention, you might be able to make a case for starting pitcher Johnny Cueto as the strongest contender to Kershaw.
There is precedence for starting pitchers receiving MVP awards, although it hasn’t happened in the National League since the St. Louis Cardinals’ Bob Gibson won with his historic 1.12 ERA. That same year, Detroit Tigers 31-game winner Denny McLain won the MVP (and the Cy Young) in the American League.
On 23 occasions, a pitcher has won an MVP award in either the National or American League. Three - Walter Johnson, Carl Hubbell and Hal Newhouser - are two-time MVP winners. Just three seasons ago, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander won the American League MVP Award after a dominant season.
Kershaw is having a dominant season, to say the least. And I see nothing wrong with a hurler having an opportunity to double dip as a Cy Young and MVP winner, provided it’s warranted.
Stanton is clearly the only other strong contender in the National League, although there is a month remaining in the regular season. With respect to players like Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen, Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton, Stanton is the only player at this point who can mount a serious challenge to Kershaw.
It helps that Stanton has helped keep the Marlins on the edge of wild-card contention. The Marlins, 65-66, are just four games out of the second wild-card spot and he’s a dynamic hitter. Stanton leads the National League with 33 homers and 97 RBI and is batting .296. There is a case to be made, for sure.
For me, though, the case falls apart when you consider the kind of season Kershaw is having. Consider that he didn’t even make his first start until May 6 and he was rusty. In five May starts, Kershaw had an ERA of 4.08 and was 2-2. In 15 starts since, Kershaw is 13-1 with a 1.30 ERA. He has given up only 70 hits in 118 innings during that span, walked only 14 and struck out 138.
Kershaw is the most dominant player in baseball today and there’s nothing wrong with heaping awards on him. Unless, that is, you believe Stanton’s season has been stronger. I don’t think it has. With a month to go, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Kershaw as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.