Kershaw and Kemp Could Make History

Clayton Kershaw pitched well in his final start of the season on Sunday, striking out six San Diego Padres and walking one over 7 1/3 innings. Kershaw’s league-leading ERA rose a hundredth of a point to 2.28, while his estimators improved a smidgen — en-route to the 23-year-old’s 21st win this year.

The innings total puts the lefty at 233 1/3, behind only Roy Halladay. He struck out 248 batters, a full 16 punchouts ahead of Cliff Lee. Kershaw’s K/BB ratio ranks behind only Halladay and Lee, and his WHIP is tied for first with Cole Hamels.

Kershaw has had a remarkable season, and while these league-leader recaps might generally point to the Phillies’ front three splitting the Cy Young Award, it’s extremely likely that the Dodgers’ ace wins the award in only his third full season.

In the same game, Matt Kemp went 1-5 — with a double — bringing his seasonal line to a gaudy .324/.400/.581. Only four games remain, but with 37 home runs, 120 RBI and 40 stolen bases, Kemp has a fighting shot at both the National League triple crown and a membership to the 40/40 club.

Both players are either among — or very close to — the elite of the elite, and each has a very realistic chance to win a major regular-season award. The two also play on the same team, which happens to have a so-so 80-78 record. The Dodgers aren’t going to the playoffs, aren’t guaranteed an above-.500 record and have had quite a turbulent season with the team’s very public ownership issues. Yet the fact that Kershaw and Kemp have legitimate shots at winning the Cy Young and the MVP, respectively, says a great deal about the evaluation evolution. In fact, if they both do win awards, Kemp and Kershaw will have made history.

Teams have had players sweep the CYA and MVP before, but those players are typically considered key contributors on a very successful squad. Johan Santana and Justin Morneau won the awards in 2006 for a Twins team that won the AL Central on the season’s last day. Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols won the awards in 2005 for a 100-62 Cardinals team that lost in the championship series.

Barry Zito and Miguel Tejada won the awards on a 102-60 Athletics team in 2002 that won a record 20-consecutive games. I hear there’s a movie about that team starring the guy from 12 Monkeys. The 1993 White Sox went 94-68 and lost the ALCS, but both Jack McDowell and Frank Thomas swept the AL awards.

Tom Glavine and Terry Pendleton each took home awards in 1991 and were instrumental in the Braves’ turnaround. Before that, the tandems were: Rickey Henderson and Bob Welch in 1990, as well as Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek the same year; Orel Hershisher and Kirk Gibson in 1988; Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg in 1984; Robin Yount and Pete Vukovich in 1982; Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton in 1980; Steve Garvey and Mike Marshall in 1974; Maury Wills and Don Drysdale in 1962; Roger Maris and Whitey Ford in 1961; Vernon Law and Dick Groat for the 1960 Pirates; and Early Wynn and Nellie Fox in 1959.

The Cy Young Award didn’t come into play until 1956, so no tandems swept the awards prior to Fox and Wynn.

What did all of those duos have in common? Winning. The 1990 Athletics went 103-59 and lost in the World Series. The 1988 Dodgers went 94-67 and won a championship. The 1974 Dodgers finished 102-60 and lost the World Series. The 1984 Cubs went 96-65 and lost in the championship series. The 1980 Phillies won the World Series — as did the 1961 Yankees and 1960 Pirates. The 1959 White Sox and 1982 Brewers both lost the World Series. Of the Cy Young-MVP teams, only the 1962 Dodgers failed to make the playoffs — yet the team still managed a 102-63 record and finished in second place.

Which leads us back to the not-so-impressive 2011 Dodgers. If Kemp and Kershaw both win the respective awards, it could potentially mark the first time players on a losing team swept the major awards. At the very least, it will mark the first time that happens with a team that finishes fewer than 10 games above .500.

Now, voter theory could muddy these waters. Different voters cast ballots for the CYA and the MVP, so could it be possible that word spreads about the results of one — which subsequently influences the voters in the other? In other words, would some voters avoid voting for Kemp simply because Kershaw seems likely to win the CYA? Right now, who knows? But baby steps are perfectly acceptable this time around. Just the idea that these two men are being considered for major awards shows the evolution of analytic baseball minds. Voting for Halladay would show even more progress, but again, baby steps. That two players on a mediocre team are under consideration for major awards is a big step in the right direction.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

41 Responses to “Kershaw and Kemp Could Make History”

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  1. Bobby A. says:

    Kenley Janses joining them with a ROY win would be cool.

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    • Bobby A. says:

      errr, Jansen, Kenley Jansen and his 16.1 K/9.

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      • Shawn says:

        Well, Jansen has no realistic shot. In terms of sabremetric or counting stats, Kimbrel has been the better reliever this year, and set the rookie record for saves (which I know in itself is not a very telling stat, but a lot of the voters for the ROY put heavy emphasis on that for a reliever to have a shot.) Furthermore, Kimbrel is more than likely not going to emerge victorious, in my opinion, because Freeman has put up impressive counting stats, plus has been very reliable in our postseason push. Maybe a bit of bias because I am a braves fan, but realistice nonetheless.

        And, it terms of pure stuff, Kershaw is the best. I just wonder how long he will keep this up. To me, he could become the LHP version of Halladay.

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      • Andy says:

        Obviously, Jansen won’t win the ROY, but he is a big reason why the Dodgers have been playing .600 baseball the second half of the season along with Kershaw, Kemp and even Loney OPS’ing over 1.000 since August 1.

        A lot of people seem to forget that the Dodgers were 14 under at one point in the season. They have been out of it, but they sure have turned around and with a few moves should be a decent team in 2012…most of these players are still the core of a team that had the best record in the NL two years ago.

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  2. olethros says:

    Didn’t Bob Gibson sweep the awards all by himself in ’67 or ’68?

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  3. mikey says:

    I don’t think much has been made of the fact that Kershaw and Kemp have a chance to be the only teammates to win triple crowns in the same season.

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    • thalooch says:

      It’s been done once before. In 1934, Lou Gehrig and Lefty Gomez both won the triple crown for the Yankees.

      But still, this would be simply amazing. I hope Kemp goes 7 for 11 with 4 walks over the next 3 days!!

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  4. Cardinals645 says:

    Wither Carpenter/Pujols, 2005?

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  5. Hurtlocker says:

    Winning?? The Dodgers would have lost 100 games without those two, it’s all relative.

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  6. tcnjsteve says:

    I think you mean 1984 Cubs, not the Dodgers…

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  7. Jim says:

    Bonds/Drabek 1990.

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  8. Charlie Morton's Electric Stuff says:

    Also Vernon Law and Dick Groat for the 1960 Pirates.

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  9. michaelfranko says:

    Well, for once we can finally say that yeah, without these MVP and Cy Young candidates on the team, the Dodgers really would be in jeopardy of having 100 losses (15.1 WAR combined at the moment, 80 wins for LAD).

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  10. Robert says:

    It’s nice to hope that the writers are finally getting with the times, but this season I’ve seen a pullback from statistical analysis, perhaps as a reaction against Felix winning the Cy Young last season?

    Let’s face it, Kemp isn’t even going to be on some writers ballots. Kershaw has a somewhat better chance, but then the Fangraphs vote itself gave the award to Halladay. One writer claimed Bautista was fifth on his ballot for the AL MVP.

    Hopefully we’ll see some sanity on the actual vote.

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  11. U-God says:

    Also missing 1993 Frank Thomas and Jack McDowell for the White Sox.

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  12. jbardo says:

    Don’t forget Vernon Wells and Scott Kazmir.

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  13. slam says:

    Missing Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg in 1967.

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  14. George says:

    only 3 more starts for Kemp – rained out East Coast game isn’t gonna be played– would be a shame if he finished 39/40 in 161 games.

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  15. Chair says:

    Over the next 5 years, which pitcher/hitter duo will be the best?


    or dare I say Harper/Strasburg?

    (yes I left many combos out)

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    • Chair says:

      How would we decide something like this? Which would be the greatest pitcher/hitter duo of all time? Would Bonds/Schmidt count due to the greatness of Bonds? Just add up the WAR? Or does the combo need to be made of two fairly equally great players?

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    • jim says:


      …nah, i’m just kidding ;)

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  16. Chair says:

    Shout out to Kenley Jansen, who in his last 11 innings has allowed 5 hits, 1 walk, 1 run, and has struck out 27! That’s 40 batters faced, 27 struckout….

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  17. dlighty says:

    Such a big deal is being made about Kershaw lack of opposition (pitching against pads and giants) but Halladay only pitched against teams above .500 7 times the whole year! He has an ERA close to 4 in those games!

    FIP should include pickoffs, because a pitcher can control that. Kershaw does a great job holding runners and leads league with 9 pickoffs! And when he allows less than a baserunner an inning that makes for a very meaningful number! Your beloved WAR is not perfect and it shouldn’t be treated like its the end of the conversation.

    Kershaw should be a lock for Cy Young.

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    • dlighty says:

      NL East Runs Scored (WAS, NYM, FLA, ATL) = 2571
      NL West Runs Scored (AZ, COL, SF, SD) =2582

      Can’t discount Kershaw for facing subpar clubs SF and SD, without crediting him for having to face COL and AZ, 2nd & 4th best offenses in NL.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Kershaw does a great job holding runners and leads league with 9 pickoffs!

      The actual picking off of runners is secondary to the half step back to first that these pitcher types cause runners to do. The hesitation causes them to both [1] not steal effectively, [2] not get good jumps in regards to DP’s, advancing extra bases on base hits, etc.

      However, even when accounting for this …

      Pitcher Name: fWAR (brWAR) = AvrWAR
      Halladay: 8.2 (7.1) = 7.7
      Kershaw: 6.9 (6.9) = 6.9
      Lee: 6.7 (6.7) = 6.7

      That’s rather solidly, a 1st place CYA vote for Hallday (IMO). If we want to use just brWAR (rWAR) that’s fine with me; that’s my preference. But the conclusion then is basically that it could be a 3-way tie for NL CYA.

      What fWAR is basically saying is that halladay’s fewer walks and less HRA is more important than Kershaw’s extra K’s. It also ignores kershaw’s lower BABIP agianst, which at this point in his career (for Kershaw) is being established as more skill than luck.

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      • dlighty says:

        Halladay is a groundball pitcher which typically means higher BABIP. BABIP is a good tool, but the comparability does not work. To see if a pitcher is benefitting more from luck in a given season, only way to do this is compare current season BABIP to career BABIP for that particular player.

        Halladay is career .292 BABIP, with a .298 this year.
        Kershaw has a BABIP of .271 in his 3 full seasons, .269 this year.

        The “luck” element you speak of is part of a pitcher’s pitching style. WAR gives Halladay a disproportionate bonus for his high BABIP, because he is compared to league averages instead of his own averages (which aren’t insignificant when a player has over 2500 IP)…

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  18. CircleChange11 says:

    Interesting Matt Kemp articles this past year …

    [1] Albert Lyu illustrated that Kemp couldn’t hit high fastballs in 2010 (or resist swinging at them).

    [2] Erik manning wrote about Kemp’s Disatrous D.

    [3] Dave Cameron writing that Kemp is due for a big rebound in 2011.

    [4] Matt Kemp trying to win the Triple Crown and MVP.

    Kemp, IMO, is a great example of why single season UZR has to be regressed.

    Matt Kemp UZR (Full Seasons)
    2008: – 2.1
    2009: + 2.9
    2010: – 25.7
    2011: – 4.1

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  19. joser says:

    Ah, Johan Santa, the forgotten Cy Young winner. Love that guy.

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  20. Word doesn’t have to prematurely reach the voters of the MVP and Cy Young, the public consensus is enough to ascertain the likely Cy Young winner, while the MVP is likely down to three maybe four players (Braun, Kemp, Fielder, Upton)

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  21. Scoops says:

    Kemp and Kershaw can also become the first NL team to have a triple crown in both pitching and hitting.

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  22. Joey E. says:

    i find it amazing how people(and most likely the voters) forget the Brewers have Axford, Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo, Weeks, Prince around Braun. NLC parks are all smaller than the NLW and every NLW team has a better ERA than the NLC teams

    i hope voters take that into account, but of course they wont

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  23. Robbie G. says:

    “…it’s extremely likely that the Dodgers’ ace wins the award in only his third full season.”

    As I still consider Roy Halladay the favorite to win the Cy Young, “extremely likely” seems like hyperbole.

    This is how it plays out, in my view:

    1) Voters are going to want to be given an overwhelming reason to vote against Roy Halladay in the Cy Young race;
    2) Voters have no such overwhelming reason to vote against Halladay in the Cy Young race;
    3) Voters will not, WILL NOT, give the MVP and the Cy Young to two players on a non-contending team;
    4) Voters will be unable to ignore Matt Kemp’s monster numbers;
    5) Voters have been given no particularly good MVP candidate from a winning team;
    6) Voters will (irrationally) feel somewhat guilty for not voting for Clayton Kershaw for Cy Young and their (perhaps mostly subconscious) remedy will be to vote for Kemp for MVP.

    Therefore, I expect Kemp to win the MVP and Halladay to win the Cy Young.

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  24. Robbie G. says:

    Curtis Granderson looks like the MVP winner in the AL to me. I’m surprised that I have not noticed a single “Would the Tigers be the best team in the AL if they had never traded Curtis Granderson to the Yankees?” article this season. This seems like an extremely obvious thing to write/talk about. My apologies if there have been many such articles this season; I haven’t seen/heard of any.

    Justin Verlander clearly wins the AL Cy Young unanimously.

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  25. SOB in TO says:

    Such a lack of sabermetric sword-rattling (SWIDT?) for Halladay (8.2 WAR vs 6.9 WAR, from this site) will guarantee Kershaw’s win. Sounds like someone just wants to see something unusual happen.

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