Friday, September 26, 2014

Kershaw Clinches Division, MVP

Kershaw helped get the Dodgers over the hump this year (
The race for the National League West is over, and with it the race for NL MVP.

The second coming of Sandy Koufax was in top form in his final start of the season last night, hurling eight innings of one-run ball as the Dodgers beat up on the Giants. LA's bats picked him up after falling into an early 1-0 hole against Tim Hudson, scoring four runs in the sixth and four more in the eighth to fuel the Dodgers' 91st victory of the season.

With LA's second straight division title secure, champagne flowed in home locker room of Dodger Stadium after the win. Of all the celebratory Dodgers, none did more to help the team get there than Kershaw.

All the reigning Cy Young award winner did was turn in one of the most dominant seasons any pitcher has ever had. While he likely won't win the Triple Crown (his 239 strikeouts will probably be surpassed by Johnny Cueto and Stephen Strasburg, both at 235 with one start remaining), he's statistically head and shoulders above the crowd. Look no further than his 197 ERA+, which is based off his 1.77 raw ERA--the lowest by a pitcher since Pedro Martinez's 1.74 mark in 2000 and good enough for his record fourth straight major league ERA crown.

Just wait--there's more. His 1.80 FIP is the fourth-lowest mark of the live ball era, and his 0.86 WHIP rates seventh. His 10.8 K/9 was the best in baseball this year, and his 7.71 K/BB ratio paced the National League. Though injuries prevented him from reaching 200 innings (he'll fall five outs short), nobody has more complete games (six)--a testament to the fact that he averaged more than 7 and 1/3 innings per turn.

And as much as I hate wins, his 21 are tops in the bigs (and tie his career high). They're also the most-ever for anyone with as few starts as him (27) since 1880. In other words: a very long time. He only suffered three losses, which over the course of 27 starts is just ridiculous, and so his .875 W-L percentage is extraordinary as well.

Kershaw currently leads both leagues in bWAR, barely ahead of Mike Trout, and is first in the NL per fWAR. There's no doubt in my mind now. Clayton Kershaw is the National League MVP. 

Until recently, I wasn't ready to hand him the trophy just yet because of all the time he missed at the beginning of the season (41 days between his first start and second thought), my thought being that he absolutely had to finish strong in order to make up for that.

And boy, did Kershaw finish strong.  Including last night he won his last seven decisions, going eight innings in all but one of those starts--a 14-5 rout of the Cubs last Friday. He struck out eight or more in each start--65 in 53 innings of work against just 12 walks--and was untouchable, holding opponents to a .195/.245/.258 line over that span. During crunch time, with the Dodgers vying for a division title and guaranteed playoff spot, Kershaw was at his finest. 

That sealed it for me. Kershaw will be the first National League pitcher to win the MVP award since Bob Gibson in 1968. That was a special season, one of the all-time greats. Something tells me someday we'll look back on Kershaw's 2014 in a similar light. 

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