Clayton Kershaw is well on his way to establishing himself as the best pitcher in baseball. At just 25 years old, he already has a Cy Young award (2011), a second place finish for another (2012), and in 2013 is well on his way to winning a Cy Young which would be his second in just five major-league seasons. Kershaw has also thrown for the pitcher’s Triple Crown (wins, strikeouts, ERA) once and could very well do it again this season. At a 2.63 ERA for his career, Kershaw also owns the second best mark in baseball history in that category (minimum 1,000 IP).
But even with all of those accolades, is Kershaw worthy of doing what no NL pitcher has done since Bob Gibson in 1968, that being winning the NL MVP?
In 2011, Justin Verlander became the first pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 to win both the Cy Young and MVP. His stats were simply off the charts and no other offensive player even came close to the merit Verlander did. He was well-deserved of the award.
Now that is not to say that Kershaw isn’t because undoubtedly he has been one of the most valuable players at any position in all of baseball this year. However, there are others such as Andrew McCutchen (second on SI.com’s current rankings) of the surging Pittsburgh Pirates, who are also worthy of winning the crown.
2013 Andrew McCutchen: (.319/.397/.503), 17 HR, 74 RBI, 82 R, WAR = 7
2013 Clayton Kershaw: (1.89 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 201 SO), 14 W, 209 IP, WAR = 6.8
While McCutchen has been good, he is not even the best at his position numbers wise. There is no justification then for him being better than Kershaw who, statistically and win-loss record aside, has been the best pitcher not only this season but really for the past three years. He is the two-time defending ERA champion and with an incredible 1.89 for the 2013, should win his third. And if Kershaw finishes the season with an under-2 ERA, it will be the lowest in the NL since Roger Clemens finished with a 1.87 in 2005.
But the biggest obstacle standing in Kershaw’s way is how can you justify giving the MVP to a pitcher who plays in just 35-ish games as opposed to a position player who is involved in at least 130?
According to SI’s calculations however, there really isn’t that big a difference between the chances Kershaw has had to impact his team as opposed to those of McCutchen. Kershaw has faced 779 batters this season while McCutchen, through the combination of chances in center field and at-bats has been involved in 835 batting events. So ultimately, while the argument is still that pitchers don’t do enough to win MVPs, it really has no bearing in this particular case.
At this point, however, Kershaw is fighting against that stigma. And judging from the so few number of pitchers that have won the award as of late, this might be the toughest competitor and the lone obstacle keeping him from claiming the hardware.