The last time it happened, it was so historic it literally changed the landscape of the sport.
Now, 46 years later, it most certainly can happen again.
The seasons Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and Seattle Mariners lead horse Felix Hernandez are having in 2014 are also historic in their accomplishments—so good, in fact, both pitchers can make legitimate cases to sweep the Cy Young Awards and MVP honors in their respective leagues.
It would be only the second time ever that has happened, with the first in 1968—the original Year of the Pitcher—when Detroit's Denny McLain and St. Louis' Bob Gibson dominated their way to both awards. Their feats led Major League Baseball to lower the pitching mound from 15 inches to 10 in an effort to increase offense.
While the kinds of numbers McLain and Gibson put up that season might be untouchable with the way the game has changed—McLain pitched 336 innings and Gibson had a 1.12 ERA—what Kershaw and Hernandez have done this summer is as impressive. And without a clear favorite for MVP in either league, this is the best chance to have another year when pitchers sweep the awards.
Now, if it weren't for certain media members—ones who vote for the Baseball Writers' Association of America awards this month—believing a pitcher should never win the MVP award, this probably would be an easy call. Kershaw and Hernandez are absolutely deserving of the distinction of best players in their leagues.
If you keep it simple, or as simple as any debate on Wins Above Replacement can be, then each pitcher has a claim. Kershaw leads the National League at 7.8 WAR through Baseball-Reference.com's formula, and his 6.0 mark over at FanGraphs also puts him atop the list. Hernandez also ranks in the American League's top five in both formulas, and when you consider his role in Seattle's resurgence, he is a strong candidate.
Assuming both pitchers remain brilliant for the rest of this month, then the only problem each would have in winning the MVP award is the thinking that a player who plays only in every fifth game can never be considered his team's most valuable player. Pitchers face upwards of 800 batters a season, while hitters—this is mainly an offensive award—get fewer than 700 plate appearances.
There is also the crazy thinking that pitchers have their "own" honor, the Cy Young Award, and so should not be allowed to win the MVP, which fails to acknowledge that hitters have their "own" trophy in the Hank Aaron Award.
This kind of narrow-minded thinking is so wrong on so many levels, one can't even begin to start unfolding that argument in the space allotted here. Instead, we can break this down at the most fundamental level—wins and losses.
The Dodgers sit in first place in the NL West, and they have Kershaw to thank for that since the team is 15 games over .500 (19-4) when he pitches. The rest of the time, they are 62-58, barely over .500 and hardly a first-place club with World Series aspirations.
Then there is the other stuff:
* Kershaw threw a 15-strikeout, no-walk no-hitter that ranks as one of the best games ever pitched. Had it not been for an error on a routine play in the field, it would have been perfect.
* He had a shutout streak of 41 innings, which ranks sixth in the expansion era (since 1961) at a time when the game favors hitters with smaller strike zones and ballparks. Also, two of the streaks better than Kershaw's came in the aforementioned Year of the Pitcher in 1968.
* His Fielding Independent Pitching mark is 1.89, and if that drops even a hundredth of a point, it would be the 10th-best FIP of any starting pitcher in the last 100 years, tying him with Sandy Koufax. Of the other nine best FIP marks in the last century, seven came before the Year of the Pitcher, and five of those came before 1918.
* According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN.com), Kershaw is the only pitcher in major league history to go 8-0 over eight consecutive single-season starts while posting at least 80 strikeouts and an ERA under 1.00. Kershaw's ERA in that span was 0.74.
"I think he can be [the MVP]," Dodger managers Don Mattingly told MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom last month. "My guy's not too bad. He's been pretty good. I think he's having that type of year. I've been talking about this numerous times because it's starting to come up all the time. I think it has to be one of those years that's pretty special. And at this point, it looks like one of those."
If it wasn't for Kershaw's completely ridiculous season, King Felix’s year might look a lot more impressive, which it is anyway.
The Mariners currently hold the second wild-card berth, and they are 19-10 when the King holds court. When Hernandez does not pitch, the Mariners are 59-54 and, like the Dodgers, not sniffing October.
Then there is the other stuff:
* Hernandez set a major league record by producing 16 consecutive starts of at least seven innings pitched and two or fewer runs allowed. The previous record of 13, set by Tom Seaver, stood for 43 years.
* Justin Verlander won the AL MVP Award in 2011, and in many telling statistics, Hernandez is having a better season. By the time this month ends, it could be a better season across the board.
|2014 Felix Hernandez vs. 2011 Justin Verlander|
The next three weeks will really help decide the candidacy for Kershaw and Hernandez, and if they can dominate for the rest of the month—as it lines up, Hernandez could get five starts and Kershaw could get four—it won't be a matter of their cases being good enough to win.
It will be a matter of how much BBWAA voters can open their minds.
Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.