Kasper: MVP should go to Kershaw
The National League Most Valuable Player race seems to be a three-man ballgame at the moment with Giancarlo Stanton, reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen and pitcher Clayton Kershaw at the top of the list in no particular order just yet.
Some say the MVP should be an everyday player and that the Cy Young Award is the pitchers' version of the MVP. But that's not quite how the award is defined. Pitchers are very much eligible for the MVP and, as we know, several have won it, the last being Justin Verlander in the American League in 2011.
Before I make Kershaw's case, let me say that a voter could pick Stanton or McCutchen and feel pretty good about it. Both have put up big offensive numbers and in McCutchen's case, he's done it for a likely playoff team.
Stanton's season is over, but he will probably lead the league in homers, slugging percentage and on base plus slugging (OPS). McCutchen has put up a higher OPS than he did while winning the MVP award last season.
But I just can't shake the idea that Kershaw has been the NL's best player this year. If it matters to you (it doesn't to me), his Dodgers are headed for October. For many, MVP equals "a really good player on a really good team." I don't think it has to be that complicated.
The league's best overall player should be its most valuable, period.
In Kershaw, you have a guy in a pitcher's era putting up an ERA that is essentially twice as good as the league average. Yes, his ERA+ -- with 100 being league average -- is almost 200. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) is not only below 1.00, it's a minuscule 0.86, which would be the lowest in the majors since Greg Maddux put up a 0.81 in 1995. He is the best pitcher in baseball and, this year, it's not particularly close.
As we look at Wins Above Replacement, he leads all NL players (yes, pitchers and position players) with 7.7 WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com. He leads all hurlers in Fielding Independent Pitching by more than half a run.
Oh, and for the old schoolers out there, he will probably lead baseball in wins, winning percentage, ERA, strikeouts per 9 innings pitched and complete games.
And this all comes after missing all of April on the DL with a back injury, which actually might hurt his MVP case -- that he hasn't even played a full season. I would claim the fact that he has compiled all those eye-popping counting stats (wins/WAR/complete games) in 6 fewer starts than the league leaders makes his season even more impressive.
I will answer the critics who say an everyday player is more valuable than a guy who works every fifth day.
My buddy Todd Hollandsworth brought up batters faced to make the case for a pitcher and he's totally right. If a position player can control 650 plate appearances in a season, a starting pitcher actually can control a lot more than that. Kershaw faced over 900 batters per year from 2011-13. This year it will be in the 700s due to the DL stint, but when you think of this in terms of pitcher-hitter battles and not total games, starting pitchers have more influence on a team's fortunes than we think compared to their position player teammates.
When Clayton Kershaw has pitched this year, his opponents collectively have put up worse numbers than the MLB-average No. 9 hitter in the lineup.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, if ever there were a year in which a pitcher deserves the MVP award, it's this year in the National League.
• Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter@LenKasper and check out his baseball-blog with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com.