Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kemp and Kershaw: Not Everything About the Dodgers is Bankrupt

            By Ross Newhan  

           There has been much discussion recently--well, not quite as much as the relentless (and often ridiculous) rhetoric regarding the debt ceiling--about the possibility of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw winning the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, salvaging a measure of pride for a dysfunctional organization out of this deflating season.

           Both awards have never gone to players on a last place team--San Diego, of course, may save the Dodgers from that added indignity--nor have both ever gone to players on a team so miserably low in the standings or so miserable in overall record as the Dodgers. It is a fact, however, that pitchers on a last place team have won the Cy Young Award and position players on a last place team have won the MVP Award.

          You can look it up, and this is what you find:

          The American League's last two Cy Young awards have gone to pitchers on last place teams---Kansas City's Zach Greineke in 2009 and Seattle's Felix Hernandez last year. A third pitcher, Steve Carlton of last place Philadelphia, also won the National League's award in 1972, when he captured almost 50% of his team's total victories.

        In addition, the Most Valuable Player Award has been voted to position players on last place teams twice--Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs in 1987 and Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers in 2003--and five other times it has gone to players on teams with either .500 or losing records:      

      1952 NL--Hank Sauer, Cubs, finished 5th of eight teams;  1958 NL--Ernie Banks, Cubs, 5th of 8;  1959 NL--Ernie Banks, Cubs, 6th of 8; 1989 AL--Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 4th of 7; 1991 AL--Cal Ripken, Jr., Baltimore, 6th of 7.

      Since 1967, the first year that the Cy Young award was split into both an American and National League award, seven pitchers have won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in the same season: Denny McLain of Detroit won the AL awards in 1968 and Bob Gibson of St. Louis won the NL awards that same season; Vida Blue of Oakland won the AL awards in 1971; Rollie Fingers of Milwaukee won the NL awards in 1981; Willie Hernandez of Detroit won the AL awards in 1984; Roger Clemens of Boston won the AL awards in 1986, and Dennis Eckersley of Oakland won the AL awards in 1992.

     In addition, since '67, players from the same team have won the respective awards five times: Boston's Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg in '67; San Diego's Kevin Mitchell and Mark Davis in '89; Oakland's Rickey Henderson and Bob Welch in '90; Oakland's Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito in '02, and Minnesota's Justin Morneau and Johan Santana in '06. 

     The awards are voted by eligible members of committees selected each year from the rolls of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.

    What do I think? Where am I on Kemp and Kershaw?

    What I have come to think over more than four decades of baseball coverage is that my voting basis clearly differs between the awards.

     I think the Cy Young should go to the pitcher with the best statistical performance in his league. It is preferable that it go to a pitcher on a team with a winning record, but that is not absolute.

    My thinking on the MVP is that I look for a player whose performance indisputably helped his team win a title or get close to a title.

   If there is no clear cut standout in that regard, then I turn to the overall statistics and the overwhelming leader in that regard, no matter where his team finished. 

    It is probably too early to make definitive selections in the National League.

    As of Wednesday morning, however, I would put Kershaw in the heart of the Cy Young competition, probably with Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, Arizona's Ian Kennedy and Atlanta's closer, Craig Kimbrel. Kershaw was tied for first in wins, first in strikeouts per nine innings, second in innings pitched and seventh in earned-run average. He has been getting better as the summer has gotten hotter, and there would be no reason to withhold the Cy Young from him if he maintains his current form depite the dead end form of the Dodgers.

     Kemp is even more of a statistical force among position players. He was third in batting average, second in home runs, third in stolen bases, first in total bases and runs batted in, and first in the seamhead categories of runs created and WAR--which is wins above replacement or how many more wins has he provided the Dodgers than they would have using a replacement player from triple A. It stands to reason that a club would have more wins with a major leaguer in the lineup but, nevertheless, Kemp's percentage is the league's highest. There is no one in the National League having the overall year that Kemp is having, but there will be voters favoring a player on a winning or contending team--perhaps Prince Fielder of Milwaukee or Lance Berkman of St. Louis or Justin Upton of Arizona or Ryan Howard of Philadelphia.

    This much is clear:

     In what has been a bankrupt season for the Dodgers, in more ways than one, Kershaw and Kemp could both earn gold--and justifiably. 





Monday, August 1, 2011

Ranking the Trade Deadline


    I am returning to the blog this week for the obligatory ranking of winners and losers in the trade market, having been occupied in other writing assignments and retirement pursuits.

     This is a brief look at the way I see it:


     1: Texas Rangers: It had to be a boost for Nolan Ryan's ailing heart and the erratic beat of the bullpen when general manager Jon Daniels landed two of the best set up men in baseball: Mike Adams from San Diego and Koji Uehara from Baltimore. Consider their combined numbers this season: 95 innings, 51 hits, 111 strike outs, 17 walks. The Rangers still have a race on their hands with the Angels, but what Daniels did was shorten their rotation's assignment to six innings.

   2:  Pittsburgh Pirates: Give the Pirates credit for trying to take advantaage of their once in a lifetime opportunity in the NL Central. At a time when the Pirates were starting a familiar slide, they aded veteran hitters Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee (a combined 23 homers and 105 runs batted in), which should help lift some of the burden from their better than anticipated pitching staff, particularly if touted third baseman Pedro Alvarez proves he benefitted from a minor league exile.

   3: San Francisco Giants--Houston's Hunter Pence may have been a better overall fit, but General Manager Brian Sabean sent a message to his pitchers and patrons by acquiring the best pure hitter on the market, Carlos Beltran, and then adding two valuable infield pieces: Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera. There is no reason why the Giants shouldn't breeze in the NL West, the first step in retention of their World Series title, but also keep the name of Zach Wheeler in mind. He is the young pitcher the New York Mets insisted on in trading Beltran, and is generally ranked the best pitching prospect in the minors.

  4: Tie between Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves: The Phillies simply don't miss any more when they set their sights on a player, Pence following Roy Halliday, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. Hidden in Houston where he was expected to carry more than his share of the load, Pence is the perfect complement to a lineup already deep in talent. The Braves, trying to keep within sight of the Phillies in the NL East and retain their wild card lead, landed a catalytic center fielder in Michael Bourn of the disbanding Astros. Bourn brought 32 steals to a team with 42 overall and a .354 on-base percentage to a team with baseball's 26th lowest.

    1: Houston Astros--The Astros couldn't get rid of everything they wanted to, but Pence, Bourn and Keppinger pretty much deflated the offense, and starters Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers may still slide through waivers. New owner Jim Crane has obviously instructed GM Ed Wade to rebuild for the future, and while Wade acquired some decent prospects for Pence and Bourn, the Astros will have an expansion look until the future becomes reality---maybe in 2015.

  2: New York Yankees--General Manager Brian Cashman either lost his cell phone or was told his credit card is already overdrawn, but when was the last time the Yankees weren't a major player in any kind of trade or sales market? Of course, they are only two games behind Boston in the AL East, should be getting Alex Rodriguez back from knee surgery in mid-month and aren't exactly hurting in any particular area except for a rotation conspicuously thin of October type reliability after C.C. Sabathia. Obviously, Cashman, protecting Ivan Nova and other prospects, obviously didn't think either Ubaldo Jimenez or Edwin Jackson were certain enough to fit that category.

   3: Angels--How strange. The Angels have produced one of baseball's best recent records in keeping pace with the Rangers, who they may yet catch and defeat in the AL West, but not since Mike Scioscia and Bill Stoneman changed the philosophy of this organization have I felt that that aura has gone backwards. It is probably too large and mysterious to get at in one paragraph. Maybe I am sensing something that really hasn't changed, maybe all that was needed, is needed, is a power hitting third baseman, a more reliable rotation beyond Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, a younger Torii Hunter and a Vernon Wells who doesn't masquerade as Gary Matthews Jr. One thing is clear: nothing changed on July 31 and we will have to see if the Angels can overcome their shortcomings--tangible and intangible.
   4: Dodgers--What more needs to be said except this: What in the world was Hiroki Kuroda thinking? I suppose a player who wants to play out his contract with one team and not uproot his family in mid-season is to be admired. On the other hand, I have never understood how a player can excercise his no-trade clause and turn down the opportunity to join a contender, as Kuroda did. Whether it was the Red Sox or Yankees or whoever, how could anything be more important to a player than to compete for a potential champion? Kuroda, I suppose, his has eyes on free agency in the winter or returning to Japan to play. In the meantime, he will go on pitching for a dysfunctional organization that has no shot at a championship---this year, next year or, perhaps, years beyond.