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Kershaw is a rare pitcher worthy of MVP Award

Voting bias against starters shouldn't keep Dodgers ace from taking home trophy
MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- The worthiness of a pitcher winning a league Most Valuable Player Award is debated in those rare years when one unleashes a historic performance, as Clayton Kershaw just did.

But in and around the Dodgers, there is no debate. "If ever there's a pitcher that should be one," said club president and CEO Stan Kasten, "he's the one."

LOS ANGELES -- The worthiness of a pitcher winning a league Most Valuable Player Award is debated in those rare years when one unleashes a historic performance, as Clayton Kershaw just did.

But in and around the Dodgers, there is no debate. "If ever there's a pitcher that should be one," said club president and CEO Stan Kasten, "he's the one."

Dodgers teammate Adrian Gonzalez -- MLB's RBI champ, with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards as well -- said, "If somebody even tries to mention someone else, they're an idiot."

Kershaw, who won his third NL Cy Young Award on Wednesday, is considered by many the favorite to not only overcome the candidacies of fellow NL MVP Award finalists Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, but also the bias of some voters who believe that a pitcher shouldn't win the trophy no matter what he's accomplished.

Even Dodgers Hall-of-Fame former manager Tom Lasorda, a pitcher in his playing days, chimed in this week, siding with those that believe if a position player can't win the Cy Young Award, a pitcher shouldn't win the MVP Award.

"Tommy's an opinionated guy and that's OK," said Kershaw, who jokingly referred to Lasorda's view as a "ringing endorsement."

Kershaw's manager, Don Mattingly, was in that camp. But Mattingly, who won the American League MVP Award in 1985, changed his mind while watching Kershaw go 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA and enough record-setting achievements to validate comparisons to Sandy Koufax.

"I flip-flopped from when I played, but as a manager you just see the value of what a guy like Clayton's been able to do," Mattingly said. "I do think it needs to be one of those years where it seems like it's almost extraordinary, and it seems to be one of those years. I see the value in that guy, as opposed to when I was playing -- not that you didn't see value in pitching, but it's a different thing."

The most recent time a National League pitcher won the Most Valuable Player Award, the Rules Committee lowered the mound soon after. It was 1968, "The Year of the Pitcher," and Bob Gibson was the NL MVP Award winner with a 1.12 ERA. Seriously, 1.12. The AL has had seven pitchers win MVP Awards since Cy Young Awards were given in both leagues, most recently Justin Verlander in 2011.

Video: Gurnick makes NL MVP case for Kershaw

The closest an NL pitcher has come to winning an MVP since 1968 was runner-up Tom Seaver in '69. Greg Maddux finished third in '95 behind Barry Larkin and Dante Bichette.

Using Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, Kershaw led the league at 6.0, with Stanton fifth and McCutcheon seventh. On Fangraphs.com, Kershaw's 7.2 WAR led the NL and was third in baseball behind Mike Trout's 7.8 and Corey Kluber's 7.3.

Kershaw's MVP Award candidacy is all the more stunning because he spent six weeks on the disabled list after opening the season with a win in Australia. Because he missed those starts, and won so many after returning, Kershaw joined Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999 as the only pitchers since World War II with 20 wins accomplished in fewer than 30 starts.

Among the anti-pitcher argument is that a starting pitcher contributes only once every five days. Because of that, it is more difficult for a pitcher to take on the intangible role of leadership the way a position player can.

Mattingly also now rejects that perception.

"Our guy, I feel like is [a leader]," Mattingly said. "The Cardinals talk about what [Adam] Wainwright brings to the club over there and the leadership he brings. I think it's tougher for a starting pitcher, because he's out there once every five days, but I think a guy like Clayton, I think there's a tremendous amount of respect for him and the way he goes about his business."

Three of the 10 NL pitchers with MVP Awards are former Dodgers Dazzy Vance (1924), Don Newcombe ('56) and Koufax ('63). Newcombe, now a special advisor to Dodgers chairman Mark Walter, insists a pitcher can be an MVP Award winner "as long as he produces."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw