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Why Clayton Kershaw is actually the favorite to win the NL MVP

Clayton Kershaw is the leading candidate for NL MVP

“MVP! MVP! MVP!”

Thank you, thank you, I owe it all to … wait, those aren’t blogger-of-the-year chants? What, Kobe’s in the house? Peyton Manning’s making an unexpected L.A. visit?

No, it seems the roar is picking up local support for the National League MVP candidacy of Clayton Kershaw.

That’s correct, a pitcher. Get over it, this may well happen. The Times’ Bill Shaikin thinks it could, as do The Register’s Pedro Moura and MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. It’s a regular movement.

A pitcher hasn’t won the NL MVP award since Bob Gibson in 1968, though the American League has had seven since then, most recently Justin Verlander in 2011.

So it can happen, it just needs exceptional circumstances. And two major circumstances are aligning: 1) There is no obvious position player whose play demands the honor; and 2) A pitcher has a special season.

That Kershaw is having a special, dominant season is obvious. Despite missing six starts early in the year with a back injury, he currently leads the N.L. in ERA (1.84), WHIP (0.83), opponent on-base plus-slugging percentage (.519), strikeouts per nine innings (10.8) and is tied for first in victories (15).

He actually leads the majors in all those categories, except for running second to the Rangers’ Yu Darvish (11.35) in strikeouts per nine innings.

So I think we can safely check off the special season requirement. The other prerequisite is slightly tougher, but only slightly.

And this gets to the core of the MVP award. Notice the middle letter is a “V” of valuable and not an “O” for outstanding. There is a huge difference. At least for most and certainly for me.

There is no foremost team in the NL this season, and of the five that would currently advance to the postseason, none have a position player currently enjoying a dominant season.

The player with the best numbers is Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, who leads the league in homers (33), RBI (97) and slugging percentage (.562).

But Stanton also plays for a team that is 65-66. When there is no stretch-drive pressure on a position player, his MVP candidacy takes a major hit with most voters. To win the MVP if you’re playing on an insignificant team, there has to be no other clear candidate from a postseason team.

So Kershaw absolutely is in position to win it. The last month of the season will tell the story.

Maybe Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez has a monster last month, or Atlanta’s Justin Upton. Maybe Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen gets healthy and carries the Pirates into the playoffs. And maybe Stanton lifts the Marlins to a wild-card berth. There are no shortage of maybes.

Tonight, Kershaw starts in Phoenix (where he has struggled) against the Diamondbacks. If he continues on his current pace the final month, you’re probably looking at the MVP.

In the clear words of Dodgers infielder Justin Turner:

“Whenever he has the ball, he's the best player on the field. He's got my vote."

Some voters simply can’t bring themselves to award the MVP to a pitcher, reasoning they already have the other major award available with the Cy Young. And hitters can’t win the Cy Young.

But it’s the most valuable player, and on the Dodgers, that’s Kershaw. He is their leader, pitcher or no, through performance, work ethic and clubhouse presence.

And as others have pointed out, he’s faced more batters (572) this season than any MVP contender has plate appearances.

So that local chant could well pick up some national steam. And history could be made.

 

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