Has Clayton Kershaw Suddenly Jumped into Top 2014 NL MVP Candidates?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2014

Aug 10, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA;  Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Kershaw can do it all. Witness his most recent start on August 10 against the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers.

Sure, Kershaw's line was typically dominant: 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 6 SO, 2 BB. But his contributions extended beyond the mound.

As he so often does, the lanky left-hander took the Los Angeles Dodgers on his back, driving in a run, scoring another, picking a runner off first and turning an acrobatic catch-and-throw double play.

In other words, doing it all.

"It's fun to feel like a baseball player," Kershaw told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times after the 5-1 victory, which widened the Dodgers' division lead over the rival San Francisco Giants. "We get labeled as pitchers, so every once in a while, you get some dirt on your jersey, it gets fun."

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

It's also gotten Kershaw into the midst of the National League MVP chase.

He's only one name in a crowded field. But the opportunity is there for Kershaw—who already owns two Cy Young Awards—to bolster his trophy case.

Will he do it? Should he? Let's break it down.

The Case For Kershaw

Kershaw has been so unhittable for the past couple of months, it's easy to forget his season began on an inauspicious note. More specifically, the disabled list.

After recovering from a strained back muscle in early May and returning to action, Kershaw looked mostly like Kershaw. Then the calendar turned, and he looked like something else entirely. 

Entering play Tuesday, Kershaw boasts the best ERA (1.78) and WHIP (0.86) in all of baseball. He's averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings. He's tossed five complete games, a feat that 28 other teams have failed to accomplish, per the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin.

And his 5.9 WAR doesn't just lead all NL pitchers, it leads all NL players. Period.

The Dodgers have always penciled in a "W" before Kershaw takes the hill. These days, they're writing it in Sharpie.

As well they should: Los Angeles has won each of their ace's last 13 starts, and he's 11-0 in that stretch.

Valuable, no doubt. Extremely valuable. But most valuable?

The Case Against Kershaw

The argument against Kershaw is really more an argument against any pitcher winning MVP. 

Let's let Albert Pujols, himself a three-time winner, make the case, per Hernandez:

You don't see the players win the Cy Young. The Cy Young award is the MVP for the pitchers, and the MVP should be for the best player in the league...unless you don't have any players in the league who have had a decent year.

Certainly there are players having more than decent years. The Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki (.340 batting average, 1.035 OPS), the Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton (.292 batting average, 31 home runs, 82 RBI) and reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates (.311 batting average, 17 HR, 17 SB) all belong squarely in the conversation.

There are knocks against each. McCutchen and Tulowitzki are both battling injuries. Tulo's pedestrian road splits indicate a clear Coors Field bump. Stanton has racked up the strikeouts, whiffing 135 times in 514 plate appearances. And both Stanton and Tulowitzki play for clubs that almost certainly won't make the postseason, something voters frequently factor in.

Any of those guys, though, would be a worthy winner. And unlike Kershaw, they've been a part of the bulk of their teams' victories.

As good as Kershaw has been (and he's been plenty good), he simply can't contribute as consistently as his position-player peers while watching four out of every five games from the dugout.

The Verdict

Really, this comes down to a question of philosophy more than numbers: Should a pitcher ever win MVP?

If you say no—if you follow Pujols' rather convincing logic—then clearly you give it to someone else (probably Stanton if McCutchen and Tulo don't return to action soon). 

Voters, though, have said yes to pitchers before. Since the advent of the Cy Young in 1956, seven pitchers have won MVP. 

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 10: Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on August 10, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

If the season ended today, Kershaw would have a lower ERA and WHIP than six of them. Only Bob Gibson in 1968 (1.12 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) posted better numbers.

That '68 season is widely regarded as "the year of the pitcher." So it's fitting that the game's top arm claimed the top prize.

You could make the same argument in 2014. In the post-steroid era, the hurler again rules. And right now, no hurler is ruling like Clayton Kershaw.

Nothing is settled yet; there's too much baseball left.

Right now, though, a pitcher looks like the clear and justified favorite for the NL MVP Award. Not just a pitcher—a player.

A player who can do it all.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


    10 Players Whose Trade Stock Is on the Rise

    MLB logo

    10 Players Whose Trade Stock Is on the Rise

    via MLB

    Top 9 MLB Moments of the Week

    Los Angeles Dodgers logo
    Los Angeles Dodgers

    Top 9 MLB Moments of the Week

    via MLB

    A History of Athletes Punching Things 👊

    MLB logo

    A History of Athletes Punching Things 👊

    David Gardner
    via Bleacher Report

    Should Dodgers Pursue Manny Machado?

    Los Angeles Dodgers logo
    Los Angeles Dodgers

    Should Dodgers Pursue Manny Machado?

    LA Sports Hub
    via LA Sports Hub