That headline is actually taken verbatim from the BBWAA MVP ballot and, I would hope anyway, will prevent us from having arguments today about whether or not Clayton Kershaw can or should win the MVP Award.
I suppose “should” is more debatable. One need not be crazy in order to conclude that, say, Andrew McCutchen was more valuable than Kershaw. On some level it’s a judgment call — maybe even a value judgment call — and there are enough factors in play and apples and oranges to where one could quite rationally say Kershaw isn’t the MVP. It’s not like the AL Rookie of the Year Award where there was one obvious choice.
But it will be worth watching the voting tonight to see if someone pulls a Jim Ingrahm. He, you may recall, was the MVP voter who left Justin Verlander clean off the MVP ballot in 2011. Not because he didn’t think Verlander was one of the ten best players in the American League that year but because he decided that the clear rule about pitchers being eligible was wrong and thus he chose to ignore it. This also, famously, happened in 1999 with Pedro Martinez. In that case, however, two voters leaving Martinez totally off the ballot cost him the MVP. People left Bob Gibson off in 1968 too. It has happened a lot, actually.
If you avoid Ingrahmizing all of this and just go on the merits, I lean toward Kershaw. A position player is more valuable, as a basic proposition, than a starting pitcher, yes. And I’m not 100% taken with that argument which has gained popularity in recent years about how a starter faces more batters than a batter has plate appearances in a year. That’s true and it is illuminating, but a pitcher also has eight defenders behind him, so it’s not like it’s a 1:1 comparison. It’s way, way better than saying “Jeez, a starter only plays in 30 games!” but it doesn’t get you all the way home.
It gets you a lot of the way there, though. And Kershaw’s sheer dominance gets you the rest of the way in my personal opinion. I’m not the sort who reduces it to WAR because I’m out of my element with that and aware that, on a single season basis and when you’re comparing pitchers and hitters, that doesn’t help you. I am leaning an awful lot on the idea that nearly every time Kershaw pitched this year, he was head and shoulders better than his competition in ways no one else was. That, combined with his across-the-board dominance in terms of numbers makes him feel like the MVP to me.