Award Watch: Clayton Kershaw for Cy Young … and MVP?

By Michael Jokinen             8/7/13

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(Will Clayton Kershaw claim his second Cy Young Award?)

 

Okay, so you may or may not remember my piece from May about how Clayton Kershaw is the most underrated superstar in sports.  All he’s done since then is continue being the best pitcher in baseball.  Wainwright has cooled off a bit.  Harvey too, and now the Mets plan to limit his innings and also adopt a six-man rotation hereon out.  The 2013 N.L. Cy Young Award is still a close race, but it feels as though Kershaw has edged into the lead as we enter the home-stretch.  If he can hold serve – just pitch good, because great isn’t even needed – the rest of the way, then the award is his.  This morning, Kershaw’s ERA sits at a league-best 1.91.  If voters see 1-point-anything as his ERA at season’s end, he may be on the inside track for MVP honors as well.

In our comparatively enlightened age of awards voting, a stronger emphasis is placed on ERA and other ratios instead of wins.  Now this isn’t to say voters don’t consider some seriously archaic criteria, like wins or team performance, but it’s certainly weighted less than it used to be – the Hernandez-over-Price & Sabathia Cy Young Vote of 2010 seemed to solidify that sea change in the voting process.

The N.L. Cy Young isn’t a foregone conclusion – far from it – but Kershaw has clearly pulled ahead of the pack.  It’s a three horse race, (Kershaw/Harvey/Wainwright) but consider some of the stats that voters are chiefly concerned with.  I’ve bolded the stats which are league-best:

 

W-L

ERA

IP

SO

WHIP

Playoffs?

Kershaw

10-7

1.91

174.1

166 (8.6 K/9)

0.88

Yes

Harvey

8-3

2.21

150.2

172 (10.3 K/9)

0.88

No

Wainwright

13-7

2.66

175.2

156 (7.7 K/9)

1.05

Yes

 

Kershaw is also leading the league in games started, shutouts, ERA+, opponent batting average, and hits-per-9, but I’ve just listed the primary stats I feel most voters will consider.  Do I think a team’s playoff likelihood is a bogus Cy Young criteria?  Absolutely, but it will be in the minds of the voters.  Ultimately, Harvey and Wainwright have their blemishes.  Harvey has the sterling ratios but not the requisite win totals or playoff access.  Wainwright will be in the postseason and has the wins, but his ratios aren’t as good as Kershaw’s or Harvey’s.  Kershaw has it all, he’s the most well-rounded candidate.

The voters will see he’s going to win his third consecutive ERA title – the first to do that since Greg Maddux (1993-95).  He’ll also likely win his third WHIP title in a row – the first to do that since Johan Santana (2004-07).  He’s got a 2.66 career ERA.  You could maybe argue who’s having the better year, but there’s no real debate as to who owns the title of The Best Pitcher In Baseball.  Nobody can challenge Kershaw’s throne at the moment, and it’s been awhile since we’ve seen such a gap between #1 and the field.  Kershaw’s the best pitching talent to come along since Maddux/Clemens/Johnson/Martinez were at the height of their powers.  Voters can’t help but to think of that stuff, and a career report card does come into play a bit.  The Cy Young Award is about who had the best season, but in reality, voters often don’t completely disassociate that from who they think is the best player.

So assuming he does win the Cy Young, which isn’t a given, will Kershaw take MVP honors as well?  Voters are typically very particular about giving pitchers the MVP (for the record, I’ll never get over Pedro Martinez not winning in 1999 OR 2000).  Justin Verlander, in 2010, is the only pitcher in the past twenty seasons to win MVP.  He undeservedly won it, but that’s a story for another day.  Like Verlander, Kershaw will be aided in his quest by a weak field.  In 2010, Bautista/Ellsbury/Granderson all had very good seasons, but none of them put up numbers that were historical in the way that Trout and Cabrera performed last year.  None of them put up numbers that forced you to vote for them.  They weren’t impossible to refuse.

Similar to 2010 in the Verlander example, Kershaw is challenged by three very good, but not historically great, position players.  And like in 2010, those three position players could all get in each others’ way and obscure each of their chances at winning MVP.  Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Gonzalez might all split each others’ votes – and Kershaw would stand to benefit.

A month ago I would’ve said Yadier Molina was in the thick of the MVP hunt as well, but he’s injured now and probably doesn’t have much of a chance anymore.  McCutchen is Kershaw’s biggest threat.  Not only will his team make the playoffs, (whereas Goldschmidt and Gonzalez will fall short in the same division as Kershaw) but he’s got the best WAR of those three.  I suppose Carlos Gomez is on the periphery of the MVP discussion, but voting politics will probably ruin his chances.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Gomez actually has the best WAR in all of baseball – one spot ahead of Clayton Kershaw – but a few variables are against him.  He doesn’t fit the HR-RBI mashing type, the preferred MVP prototype.  Too much of his value is derived from defense/baserunning, which won’t appeal to the typical voter.  He’s also not a terrific candidate because he plays for a last-place team.  Maybe only one of these red-flags wouldn’t torpedo his MVP chances, but too many factors are against him. He’s too fresh of a face, too fluky, and most voters won’t be able to convince themselves to vote for a guy like Carlos Gomez as the Most Valuable Player in the National League.

The MVP should be a photo finish, and there are a number of viable candidates.  But this year is distinctive because a pitcher has a legit chance of winning.  That doesn’t happen often, and we should take a moment to appreciate the majesty of Clayton Kershaw.  As stupid as this sounds, I think Kershaw’s ERA needs to finish sub-2.00 for him to garner MVP honors.  It hinges on that.  Only then will voters feel they have no choice but to vote for him and elevate his season from Cy Young worthy to MVP status.  I’m not saying that’s how I’d do it, that’s just how I think the voters will go about it.

In the end, the MVP voting will come down to Kershaw and McCutchen.  I think both the Pirates and Dodgers will make the playoffs, and both McCutchen and Kershaw have numbers befitting an MVP.  Both are palatable candidates for conservative and progressive MVP voters alike.  It’s splitting hairs, but I could see it coming down to a silly aesthetic choice – whether or not Kershaw’s ERA is 1-point-something or 2-point-something – to settle who claims MVP.  However it goes down, Kershaw and McCutchen are two of my favorite players and I’d love to see either one win MVP!

P.S. – Remember, this was more about how the voting will go than how it should go.  I kept voting politics in mind just as much, if not more, than my own personal opinions.  But bet your ass I’m pulling for Kershaw.

 

CRYSTAL BALL SAYS:

CY Young Vote: 1 – Kershaw / 2 – Wainwright / 3 – Harvey

MVP Vote: 1 – McCutchen / 2 – Kershaw / 3 – Goldschmidt / 4 – Gonzalez / 5 – Gomez / 6 – Molina

Kershaw’s Chances of Winning Cy Young = 85%

Kershaw’s Chances of Winning MVP = 33%

 

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Posted on August 7, 2013, in 2013, Dodgers, MLB and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Watch out American League, here comes the Dodgers! Great article…

  2. Thanks! Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Dodgers win it all – assuming my beloved Red Sox can’t win, of course.

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