This month Clayton Kershaw was awarded both the 2014 National League Cy Young and the NL Most Valuable Player for his work as the “senior circuit’s” best pitcher. It was the Los Angeles Dodger lefty’s second straight “Cy” win and the third time he’s been so recognized in the last four seasons. During that time Kershaw’s regular season record is 72 wins and 26 losses and he’s led his team to ZERO World Series appearances. In fact when the clock ticked past game 162 on the MLB’s schedule Kershaw’s record, since first appearing in the post season in 2008, is 1 win and 5 losses. In the most important series, the World Series entrée NLCS, Kershaw has pitched in four games, won exactly none and has given up 14 earned runs in 16 and 2/3 innings pitched. Hardly award worthy.
Is Clayton Kershaw a great pitcher? Absolutely. Is he deserving of his recent accolades? Probably. Would he rather have three World Series rings (like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and four other SF Giants pitchers) in that same time frame? My guess is yes. If Major League Baseball waited until the end of each League Championship Series to vote, would Kershaw still have three Cy Young Awards? My guess here is no.
It was Kershaw’s first, and so far only, Most Valuable Player award. It was also the first time in nearly half a century that a National League pitcher won both the Cy Young Award and was named the league’s MVP. The last time was when St. Louis Cardinal great Bob Gibson accomplished the feat in 1968. Not coincidentally, in my view, that was also the last year before baseball instituted the League Championship Series playoff format.
Baseball has changed the award before, why not again? First established in 1956 the award was given to just one guy, not two, and that guy was the best pitcher in baseball, period. That criteria lasted 11 years and saw Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe win the first one and, after the team moved to Los Angeles, Dodger pitchers win five in a row (Sandy Koufax won three, in ’63,’65 and ’66). Thanks to a new commissioner and fan requests baseball decided in 1967 to give the award to a pitcher in each league and that is the way it remains today.
Baseball has also changed the postseason on a number of occasions changing the way teams get into the World Series and making the 162 game regular season less and less important. Until 1969 the team that won the most National League games during the regular season played the team that won the most American League games during the same season in the World Series. In ’69 baseball expanded, adding two teams in each league, and established divisions. At that time, in both leagues, the winner of the six-team East would play the winner of the six-team West for the right to face off in the World Series. The postseason grew again in 1995 with the addition of the Division Series in each league. According to baseball-reference.com from the time the Cy Young Award was first given in 1956 to the establishment of the Division Series concept in 1995 more than 70% of the time at least one Cy Young award winner each year helped pitch his team into the World Series.
In 2012 Major League Baseball expanded the postseason for a third time creating the Wild Card game, a winner take all ticket to the League Division Series. In my opinion the extra games in the post season make it necessary to change how the game’s arguably most important and subjective awards are decided. Managers make managerial decisions differently (the refrain of “just get to the postseason and see what happens” is prevalent), players performances are more significant and certainly more scrutinized and those performances and decisions should be taken into account before awards are handed out.
Would Kershaw still have gotten the votes to be the National League’s MVP if ballots were cast up until the end of the LCS? That answer has to be maybe, even probably, considering that the next in line, in terms of votes, were Giancarlo Stanton and Lawrence McCutcheon. One couldn’t even lead his team to more wins than losses and the other left his at the altar of the LDS for the second straight year. But by the same token exactly how “valuable” was Kershaw if, when it mattered most, he couldn’t win either game he started in the first playoff round?
This year rookie manager Matt Williams skippered the Washington Nationals to 96 wins (the most in the National League) and then, many have said, managed to manage his team right out of the NLDS. He walked up the steps of the dugout and pulled starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann after the right hander had just walked Giants second baseman Joe Panik with two outs and nobody on base in the top of the ninth inning. Zimmermann had just retired 20 straight San Francisco Giants including Buster Posey, who was the game’s next hitter, twice. Williams called for reliever Drew Stanton and got the ball from Zimmermann who walked back to the dugout, to thunderous home fan applause, and watched Posey single and Pablo Sandoval double away his 1-0 lead. The Giants would end up winning the game in 18 innings and establishing what proved to be an insurmountable two games to none lead in the best of five series. Would Zimmermann have gotten Posey to make the last out of the game? We will never know because his manager made the decision NOT to let him try.
As previously mentioned the Nats, under Williams, won 96 baseball games feasting mainly on the undermanned and outgunned National League East. No other team in that division won more than 79 of its 162 games. The Nats were 14 games over .500 in their division but only 17-16 against the NL Central and 10-10 in Interleague play. Before the season started every so-called expert picked Williams’ team to win their division and many also put them in the World Series. So what exactly did Williams do to win Manager of the Year? I guess he managed to not screw things up when it really didn’t matter. If you ask Nationals’ fans they’d probably tell you he only screwed things up when things mattered the most.
So I say it’s time to make a change. Go ahead and vote for several awards including Rookies of the Year, Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves when the regular season ends but wait to vote for managers of the Year, MVP’s and Cy Young Awards until after the League Championship Series are played. Or hold two votes, one at the end of the regular season and another after the LCS, give a percentage importance to each part of the season and combine the results to establish award winners.
The point isn’t necessarily that the votes would automatically, or with any certainty, be different. In fact they may not. But gain, if it was done either way would Clayton Kershaw still win one or both of the awards in 2014? He might, although his postseason meltdowns have become the rule rather than the exception. Why not find out?
Would Matt Williams be holding the coveted national League Manager of the Year trophy? No way, that award would have gone to either St. Louis’ Mike Matheny or San Francisco’s Bruce Botchy and deservedly so. So why not wait? Patience, after all, is supposed to be a virtue.
And while you’re at it put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame.