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.