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.