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Clayton Kershaw & history of NL pitchers in MVP voting

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Sandy Koufax finished in the top two in NL MVP voting three times, winning the award once, in 1963.
Sandy Koufax finished in the top two in NL MVP voting three times, winning the award once, in 1963.
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Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw won his third Cy Young Award on Wednesday, and later Thursday is the favorite to win his first Most Valuable Player Award, quite rare for the National League. But of all the pitchers to contend for NL MVP in the six decades of two awards, there is a distinct Dodgers presence.

The last pitcher to win NL MVP was Bob Gibson of the Cardinals in 1968. But since 1956, the first year of the Cy Young Award, there have been 10 times an NL pitcher finished in the top three of MVP voting, including Kershaw. Seven of the 10 have been Dodgers.

Here is a look at the previous pitchers to finish in the top three in MVP voting.

Don Newcombe & Sal Maglie

In the first year of the Cy Young Award, a pair of Dodgers finished one-two in both awards. Newcombe won 27 games for Brooklyn, winners of its sixth pennant in 10 years. The Dodgers purchased the 39-year-old Maglie from the Indians in May, the The Barber threw a no-hitter and led the team with a 2.87 ERA. Duke Snider (43 home runs, 99 walks, .997 OPS) and Willie Mays (36 home runs, 40 steals, .926 OPS) led the NL with 7.6 WAR, ahead of Newcombe's 5.4, but finished 10th and 17th, respectively, in MVP voting.

Sandy Koufax

Koufax, like Kershaw, won three Cy Young Awards in four years, though Koufax won when there was only one major league award. In all three seasons (1963, 1965, 1966) Koufax finished no worse than second place in MVP voting, winning the award in 1963. Koufax finished a distant second place to 52-homer, 1.043-OPS Mays in 1965, and a close second to Roberto Clemente (.896 OPS, 202 hits, 29 home runs, 119 RBI) in 1966. Koufax even received more first-place votes (nine) than Clemente (eight), but tallied 208 points compared to 218 for the Pirates right fielder.

Bob Gibson

In the year of the pitcher, Gibson was the best, putting up a modern-record 1.12 ERA in a remarkable 304⅔ innings, with a league-leading 268 strikeouts. The Cardinals ace received 14 of 20 first-place votes, easily outdistancing Pete Rose, who moved to right field and won his first batting title, hitting .335/.391/.470 with 42 doubles and a league-leading 210 hits. Rose got the other six first-place votes.

Tom Seaver

The ace behind the Miracle Mets won 25 games with a 2.21 ERA and won the first of his three Cy Young Awards. Seaver, who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 10th round in 1965 out of USC but didn't sign, received 11 first-place MVP votes, the same as Willie McCovey, but the Giants first baseman won MVP with a monster season, hitting .320/.453/.656, a 209 OPS+, leading the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs (45) and RBI (126).

Mike Marshall

The bullpen ace in his first season in Los Angeles was a key cog in the 102-win Dodgers, setting major league records with 106 games and 208... innings in relief. Marshall (2.42 ERA, 15 wins, 21 saves, 83 games finished) beat out starter teammates Andy Messersmith (second) and Don Sutton (fourth) to win the NL Cy Young Award, and finished third in MVP voting. Teammate Steve Garvey (.312/.342/.469, 200 hits, 21 home runs, 111 RBI) won MVP, with new stolen base record holder Lou Brock (118 steals, 194 hits, 105 runs) finishing second. Marshall received one first-place vote, with Garvey getting 13 and Brock eight.

Greg Maddux

It was a long drought before a pitcher would finish in the top three in MVP voting, with Maddux finishing third in his masterpiece 1995 campaign. Maddux, a winner of a record fourth consecutive Cy Young Award that year, was 19-2 with a miniscule 1.63 ERA, an absurd 260 ERA+ in a strike-shortened year (in another strike-shortened year in 1994, Maddux had a 1.56 ERA and a 271 ERA+ but finished fifth in MVP voting). The MVP ballot was close with Reds shortstop Barry Larkin (.319/.394/.492, 51 steals, Gold Glove) got 11 first-place votes and 281 points, beating out Coors Field illusion Dante Bichette (.340/.364/.620, 40 home runs, 128 RBI), who received six first-place votes and 251 points. Maddux was a close third, with seven first-place tallies and 249 points.

After Maddux, no pitcher finished higher than sixth in NL MVP balloting for 18 years, with Roy Halladay (2010), CC Sabathia (2008) and Eric Gagne (2003) the only ones to finish even that high during that span.

Before 2014, Kershaw's highest finish in MVP voting was seventh, in 2013. We know Kershaw will beat that when totals are announced on Thursday. The only question is: will he win?

Thanks as always to the great Baseball-Reference for help in research for this article.