Whether or not Clayton Kershaw should be in the running for National League Most Valuable Player is arguably one of the most polarizing topics in MLB.
In an article published Wednesday on FoxSports.com former pitcher and current analyst CJ Nitkowski, makes the argument that, if Kershaw finishes his season with nearly 200 innings pitched, the 26-year-old lefty shouldn’t be in the running for the NL MVP.
Nitkowski lays out criteria that he argues disqualifies Kershaw, who missed six starts with an injury early in the season. With that in mind, let’s examine how Kershaw compares to previous players who were named MVP.
Matching Up with History
First, Nitkowski compares Kershaw’s MVP case to the last two starting pitchers who won the award: Justin Verlander and Roger Clemens. Verlander and Clemens took home the honor in 2011 and 1986, respectively.
In those years, they threw 251 and 254 innings, each. Nitkowski notes that Kershaw will likely make four more starts this year, with the lefty averaging more than 7.0 innings per start and thus would end his season with just under 200 innings. While he falls well short of his predecessors, Kershaw’s performance against his current competition can’t be ignored.
Kershaw currently ranks 41st in innings pitched in MLB, tied with fellow southpaw Cole Hamels. The Dodger ace has made six fewer starts and thrown nearly 40 fewer innings than the NL leader, Johnny Cueto. Does that make Kershaw less valuable? Not necessarily.
The reigning NL Cy Young award winner is in the midst of a historically great season. His ERA sits at 1.70, which is 0.41 points lower than the next best pitcher in baseball, Chris Sale. Kershaw’s FIP, at 1.89, is nearly 0.75 points lower than Felix Hernandez’s. Even his xFIP is nearly half a run lower than Hernandez’s.
Kershaw’s fWAR of 6.0 is second in baseball to Mike Trout, and the lefty’s bWAR of 7.8 is nearly a win higher than Josh Donaldson’s.
Another thing to consider is the fact that he wouldn’t come close to winning the MVP with the fewest innings pitched. In 1992, Dennis Eckersley won the award after throwing just 80 innings. In 1984, Willie Hernandez won it after throwing 140.1 innings.
Three years prior to that, Rollie Fingers was named MVP after pitching just 78 innings. And going all the way back to 1950, Jim Konstanty won the award with 152 innings. Sure, you can argue that a relief pitcher should never win the MVP, but it has happened and it help Kershaw’s case.
Next Page: Assessing Innings Pitched