Kershaw and the MVP


Tommy Lasorda said that pitchers shouldn’t win the MVP awards to be announced Thursday, that they should go to position players who are in the lineup daily.

It’s a good thing for Clayton Kershaw that Lasorda doesn’t have a vote. So much for Dodger Forever Blue.

We can assume Lasorda wasn’t talking about Hyun-Jin Ryu when he made his comments in a recent radio interview, which begs the question of whether Lasorda was being more disloyal to the Dodgers, or starting pitchers, of which he was one a long time ago. You have to wonder if Lasorda would have been so dismissive of Orel Hershiser as an MVP candidate in 1988; Hershiser was sixth in a vote won by another Dodger, Kirk Gibson, though the pitcher’s 7.1 WAR was greater than Gibson’s (6.5) and everyone else in the NL, even Brett Butler (17th in the vote with two; his 6.8 WAR was produced by a .287 average, 97 walks, 109 runs and 43 steals, though he was caught 20 times).

A lot of folks share Lasorda’s opinion, even if most of them haven’t spent more than 60 years celebrating Dodgers blue as if it were a holiday with its very own mattress sale. How could Clayton Kershaw, who played in 27 games and sat idle or injured in 135, be the most valuable player? How could someone who didn’t play in 83% of his team’s games be his sport’s MVP? Only in baseball.

For starters, he had to be pretty good in the other 17%, and Kershaw was, so good that he helped the Dodgers put makeup on a subpar bullpen and make it look better than it was. Having Kershaw made the Dodgers bullpen a union with a holiday every week. The only thing rarer than hitters able to hit him were pitchers needed to relieve him. Of Kershaw’s 21 win, closer Kenley Jansen saved only nine, and finished but 11.

Kershaw completed his starts six times and finished the eighth inning 10 other times; only five times did he not finish the seventh inning, and one of those was his March 22 start in Australia when he got within one out of doing so.

For closers, Kershaw made more mound appearances than either of the other finalists, outfielders Andrew McCutchen or Mike Stanton, did plate appearances. Kershaw faced 749 batters, 101 more pitchers than McCutchen faced and 111 more than Stanton (McCutchen might have faced more if not for Randall Delgado’s fastball to his back and Stanton if not for Mike Fiers’ fastball to his face.) Of those 749 Kershaw batters faced, 139 got hits, 31 walked and two were hit by pitches for a .231 on-base percentage. It’s too bad Lasorda can’t see the value in that.

I lean to Lasorda’s thinking, but there shouldn’t be any absolutes in baseball. As the Royals demonstrated to Sabermetricians everywhere, there’s even a time to bunt. And there’s a time for a pitcher to be MVP.

Kershaw’s opposition isn’t what Steve Spurrier would call a nonconferece game against a directional school, but it’s not the Cardinals in the postseason, either. McCutchen led the NL in on-base percentage (.410), OPS (.952) and OPS+ (168), hit 25 homers, stole 18 bases and batted .314. But he wasn’t as good as last year when he was a deserved MVP, and the metrics blame it on his defense. Stanton led the NL with 37 homers and a .555 slugging percentage, walked 94 times and was 13-for-14 stealing bases. He looked like the MVP for much of the summer, and maybe he would have been if he hadn’t have lost the last two weeks.

In the AL, Mike Trout, who lost split decisions to Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013, may win a unanimous one this time. His previous two seasons were better, but so was the competition. The other finalists are Michael Brantley and Victor Martinez, the latter of whom was 14th in WAR among position players, behind Howie Kendrick. It’s too late to nominate Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, whose 7.4 WAR tied for second in the AL and was only one-tenth less than Kershaw’s.

As for Lasorda, maybe he’s dealing with repressed memories in begrudging pitchers the MVP. Fifty-nine years ago, Lasorda spent the season in Montreal; the rules of the day required the Dodgers to keep a 19-year-old rookie pitcher because of the bonus they paid him. Lasorda missed out on the only World Series Brooklyn ever won, but the teen pitcher went on to win three Cy Youngs and the 1963 MVP. Maybe the follow-up question to Lasorda should have been if Sandy Koufax was a worthy MVP? And if not, what Dodger was? Ron Fairly?

  • About that AL Cy Young, I assumed — wrongly — voters would reward name recognition and give Felix Hernandez his second. They didn’t, which surprised Kluber as much as anyone. Almost all of the voters quoted said they picked Kluber over Hernandez because of the advanced metrics and not Kluber’s 18 wins to Hernandez’s 14. And almost all cited the closeness of the two pitchers.

    Good for the voters. Sometimes you can argue baseball and the stats when the answer is obvious. And sometimes it’s a maze.

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