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August 5, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) pitches the second inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Kershaw: A worthy MVP favorite

Tagging Clayton Kershaw for National League MVP isn’t a bold, trailblazing opinion. It may very well be a consensus favorite among fans and pundits alike. Injuries to Troy Tulowitzki, Paul Goldschmidt, and Andrew McCutchen contributed to more parity for the award.

Those who deserve merit include Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Justin Upton. Kershaw’s  teammates Dee Gordon and Yasiel Puig could garner votes. Yet, when you brief over Kershaw’s numbers, it wouldn’t be madness to infer the N.L. MVP is an open-and-shut-case if he maintains a solid pace through September.

A new age of defining a great player done using elaborate and sophisticated formulas drawn up by mathematicians and statisticians is present. In recent years, has ESPN acquiesced to putting graphics on player stat lines like on-base percentage (OBP, slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). This concocted up a new trio of  slash lines commonly affiliated with batting average, RBI, and home runs.

Jul 15, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; National League pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second inning during the 2014 MLB All Star Game at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 15, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; National League pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second inning during the 2014 MLB All Star Game at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s become mainstream to an extent, detailed metrics have been around since baseball was created. It’s proliferation has evolved over time along with more fan involvement by way of simulated baseball games and real-time fantasy baseball leagues in the 1970s and 1980s.

It is for this reason (along with afore mentioned injured stars) that a good player like Jason Heyward is recognized for MVP candidacy, when he would have easily been an afterthought less than a decade ago. Heyward owns a .269 average, with 10 home runs and 50 RBI. He ranks in the top 10 in one offensive category with 56 walks, good for 10th in the N.L.

Thanks to advanced stats, Heyward barely trails the Marlins’ Stanton in WAR (wins above replacement). His elite defensive skills in right field beef up his 5.9 WAR, good for second to Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton who is at 6.1. Stanton lags behind Clayton Kershaw, who leads all National League players with a 6.6 WAR.

Different parties emerge when it comes to pitchers winning MVP awards. But what if the hurler’s numbers are too scintillating and overwhelming to ignore in favor of position names? The 26-year-old Texan is posting numbers to please traditional and modern era baseball observers.

Kershaw has 15 wins, a 1.82 ERA, 0.83 WHIP (walks and hitter per inning pitched), and 184 strikeouts with 21 total walks. Opponents are hitting a meager .194 average off him. His six complete games lead all of baseball.

He missed six weeks due to a strained back muscle. He made no April starts and media outlets rumored his back problems could linger for the whole season. The Los Angeles Dodgers were two games above .500 without Kershaw. Once he rejoined his team in May, the Dodgers have played 13 games over .500.

The left-hander endured his worst start in his third start back on May 17. Arizona knocked him around for six hits and seven earned runs in less than two innings. People surmised Kershaw’s back wasn’t entirely healed, that he was due for another disabled list stint. He’s baffled opposing lineups in 17 subsequent outings.

Kershaw hasn’t permitted over three earned runs in any start. He threw a perfect game on June 18 in a home victory against Colorado. It was officially a 15-strikeout no-hitter because of Hanley Ramirez’s bumbling throwing error. Kershaw’s 15 punch outs tied Warren Spahn for the most ever by a left-hander in a no-hitter. Only the incomparable Nolan Nyan’s 17 K’s in 1973 and 16 K’s in 1991 bested him for the most since 1900.

It’s no coincidence just 10 pitchers have won the MVP dating back to 1956. That was the year of the first Cy Young Award. Baseball has reverted back to a lower scoring game.  Attribute it to less players using PEDs and a higher number of flamethrowers in starting and relief positions. The ratio of MLB’s best players has swayed more towards guys on the mound.

With that reality setting in, qualified award voters probably need to avoid ostracizing pitchers and acknowledge ones who simply ravage lineups every fifth day. It feels like there is a more of a reluctance to give a pitcher MVP than general acceptance. Pitching has overtaken baseball for at least a half decade, so granting MVPs to truly elite ones should not be deemed taboo.

Front line National League starters Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright have been very impressive themselves in 2014. They are well qualified for Cy Young votes. Each have made seven and five more starts than Kershaw respectively. However, Cueto and Wainwright’s impressive numbers pale in comparison to his through August.

The one blemish on Los Angeles’ ace is a one month injury absence, which undoubtedly influence some voters’ selections. It’s relative to critiquing beauty Jennifer Lopez for having a few chipped fingernails. Kershaw has more than made up for it by steamrolling all lineups at a historic pace. One additional month at this rate and Kershaw should be in line to duplicate what Justin Verlander accomplished three years ago.

Tags: Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers MLB

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