By Jason Keidel
From the desk of Captain Obvious…
Clayton Kershaw is good. Really good.
How good? It’s rare to dismiss the rest of a sport in the wake of a single player’s dominance or eminence, but Kershaw is not only simply the best pitcher on the planet, it’s not particularly close. The Dodgers starter just became the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out 13 batters in a complete game while throwing fewer than 100 pitches. Yeah, that kind of good.
As SB Nation noted, in two July starts, Kershaw had 24 strikeouts and no walks, in 16 innings. But he did allow two runs. Shocking numbers for anyone east of Clayton Kershaw, who seems to be coolest when the weather is hottest. July is his best month. In 18 consecutive July starts, dating back to 2012, he’s pitched at least seven innings, never allowing more than three earned runs. In those 18 starts, he’s allowed 15 runs. Total. He averages 8.17 innings per start, posting a 0.96 ERA over 147 IP.
Over those 147 innings, he has 162 strikeouts and 11 walks. Kershaw is 14-1 during those starts, which is shocking only in that he actually lost a game, and that the Dodgers are 15-3 overall. If that doesn’t arch an eyebrow, consider his aggregate stats. For July, Kershaw is 27-6 with a 1.74 ERA over his career.
From the Department of Redundancy Department, Kershaw won NL Pitcher of the Month in July, 2015. Kershaw won NL Pitcher of the Month in July, 2014. And yes, he won NL Pitcher of the Month in 2013. The guy didn’t win it last July, but only because he was on the DL. This revives the yearly debate about pitchers vs. position players. Who’s more important to the team? And who deserves the hardware every November?
After all that, Kershaw should not win NL MVP. Nor should any pitcher, in any season, for any reason. And just because the argument is old and recycled, doesn’t mean it’s invalid.
There’s a reason we have a Cy Young and MVP award. If a player isn’t allowed to win one, then how can another player win both? If you ardently believe that Kershaw is the most valuable player in MLB — and you won’t find much argument here — then remove the Cy Young and just make the MVP the final judgement.
Bryce Harper will never get a Cy Young vote. But Kershaw can win it and then take Harper’s MVP trophy. Am I the only one who has a problem with that?
This isn’t about progress or being progressive. At the risk of sounding like the very geriatrics we abhorred as kids, the two-tier system worked for decades. So why not keep it separate or just take an eraser to postseason awards and give one to the best player on the planet?
So how can we list Kershaw’s sprawling, staggering stats then argue he’s not the NL MVP. We’re not. It’s just not fair for him to sweep the stack of awards if only he is qualified to win them. Forget the fact that someone like Bryce Harper has an impact on at least 150 games, while Kershaw only pitches in 35, at best. You can argue that Kershaw’s stamp on the Dodgers goes well beyond the day he takes the mound, between the emotional boost he gives the club, the rest he gives the bullpen every time he tosses a complete game, or goes at least eight innings. All true.
Just imagine the NFL having an award strictly for quarterbacks, which Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers would win every year. Then picture another award for the rest of the gridiron, for which everyone qualifies. Why should Brady or Rodgers take both awards when Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell or Odell Beckham Jr can only win one?
In college how can a kicker win the Lou Groza Award, and then the Heisman?
You get the drift.
This is no knock on Kershaw, who is sublime, divine and dominant in ways we haven’t seen since Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson owned the bump and the diamond. It just isn’t right for Pedro to win the Cy Young then beat out Ken Griffey Jr or Barry Bonds for MVP.
These aren’t exactly apples-to-apples arguments, and some Nate Silver/538 devotee will slice me apart with stats and bury me under acronyms, then club me with WAR and OPS and batting averages under a half-moon when the temperature is under 71 degrees for switch-hitters. Maybe the argument is archaic, or myopic or redundant.
Or maybe it’s sensical and logical and eternal. We establish awards for various positions in all team sports to acknowledge their unique skill sets, not to trivialize them. If we care to consolidate the mountain of hardware handed out every year, then fine. Let’s just make sure the awards apply to everyone. Or no one.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.