No one is talking about Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the Cy Young award in the NL for a third time. It’s about the National League MVP. While it’s not longer very common to see pitchers winning the award, it’s not like it’s never happened before.
The last pitcher to win an MVP award is Justin Verlander in 2011 with the Detroit Tigers in the AL. He finished the year with a 24-5 record, a 2.40 ERA and leading the league with 250 strikeouts, a 172 ERA+, an 0.920 WHIP and a league best 6.2 hits per nine innings pitched. Kershaw is 17-3 this season in 23 starts including six complete games with a 1.70 ERA, a 210 ERA+, 1.89 FIP, 0.827 WHIP, leading the NL with 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings and giving up just 6.1 hits per nine innings.
In the National League? The last pitcher to win the MVP was Bob Gibson in 1968. That year he had the incredible 1.12 ERA while finishing the year at 22-9. He pitched 28 complete games and had 13 shutouts. His WHIP was 0.853 and allowed just 5.8 hits per nine innings. He also had an ERA+ of 258. Only Greg Maddux in 1995 and Pedro Martinez in 2000 have higher adjusted ERA numbers in the last 100 years.
Things are a bit different in the American League. Still, there were 19 years between Verlander and the previous pitcher to win the MVP, Dennis Eckersley in 1992. He is the last relief pitcher to win the award, At age 37, it was his last All-Star year, making 51 saves. He played until 1998, but was never close to those numbers again.
Six years earlier it was Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox who won the MVP. He finished with a 24-4 record and a league-best 2.48 ERA, while also leading in adjusted ERA, WHIP and H/9. Willie Hernandez of the Detroit Tigers won the MVP two years earlier (1984 for those who are a bit lost), another relief pitcher with an impressive 140 innings pitched that season.
In the early days of baseball things were easier for pitchers. They also got the award a lot more, although it wasn’t always the MVP. Only in 1931 did the BBWAA first award it. In the National League, five of the first 13 winners were pitchers: Carl Hubbell (twice), Dizzy Dean, Bucky Walters and Mort Cooper. In the AL, the first pitcher to win the MVP was Lefty Grove in 1931 but it took 12 years for the next one to come by: Spud Chandler of the New York Yankees, beginning a three-year AL streak for pitchers and the MVP award, followed by Hal Newhouster winning the award twice.
In 1950 Jim Konstanty won the award in the NL. Two years later it was Bobby Shantz in the AL’s Philadelphia Athletics to win the MVP. It took 16 more years for another AL pitcher to win the award: Denny McLain of the Tigers in 1968. Three years later it was Vida Blue (1971), 10 years before Rollie Fingers picking up the award.
In the NL, between Konstanty and Gibson there were 18 years, in which two pitchers won the MVP award: Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963. If Kershaw does win the MVP award in 2014, the comparisons to Koufax will only grow, although there is the small matter of pulling off some playoff magic to take care of.