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Atlanta Braves: Could Craig Kimbrel Be the National League Cy Young and MVP?

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is on pace for a record-setting season in 2013. With a league-leading 45 saves already under his belt, should his dominance late in games allow him to be given worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young and MVP trophies?

While it may seem like the MVP Award is strictly for position players, pitchers used to routinely win this award. There have been 24 total hurlers who have raised the Most Valuable Player Award at the end of the year -- the most recent of which happened in 2011 when Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander took home the honor in the American League. But relievers rarely feel the same love come award season.

Since 1911, only four relievers have ever won the MVP Award. It has not happened in the National League since Jim Konstanty did so after saving 22 games for the Philadelphia Phillies during the 1950 season. In 1992, Dennis Eckersley won MVP honors after saving 51 games for the Oakland Athletics -- no reliever has won the award since.

But Kimbrel is starting to redefine what it means to be unhittable, and, in a year in which no position player is the clear MVP choice, the Baseball Writers of America may need to stop and take notice at what Atlanta's late-game savior as been doing.

In Eckersley's MVP campaign, he posted a nice ERA of 1.91. This season, Kimbrel stands with a staggeringly low mark of 0.92. While "Eck" gave up just 17 runs all season long in '92, Kimbrel has allowed only six lone men to cross the plate. His strikeouts per nine innings (13.04), WHIP (0.84), hits (32) and opponent batting average (.157) are all better than the A's mustached right-hander posted in his MVP season.

Eckersley completed 40 consecutive saves from 1991-92. Kimbrel's current streak finds him having converted 35 consecutive save opportunities, and Atlanta still has 19 more games left to be played in the regular season.

Eric Gagne holds the all-time consecutive saves record at 84 in a row, although his ties to steroid use may diminish that feat substantially. Tom Gordon's streak of 54 consecutive saves from 1998-99 may now be considered the high-water mark among baseball purists.

Consecutive Save Streak

Eric Gagne - 84

Tom Gordon - 54

Brad Lidge - 47

Trevor Hoffman - 41

Dennis Eckersley - 40

Mike Gonzalez - 39

Craig Kimbrel - 35

The idea that a closer could be the most valuable player is a tough pill for many to swallow, but Kimbrel is not simply having another solid year, but he is also on pace to rewrite the record books. Through Sept. 9, Kimbrel sat just 10 saves behind John Smoltz for the Braves' all-time single-season record (55) -- which also happens to be the all-time National League record.

If Kimbrel continues at his present clip, he will become the only closer in MLB history with at least 50 saves and a sub-1.00 ERA. Eckersley (1990) and Fernando Rodney (2012) are the only two pitchers to finish a season with at least 40 saves and an ERA lower than 1.00, but neither were able to make it over the mythical silver-dollar mark.

To give his resume even more of a boost, Kimbrel is also enjoying a 27 1/3 innings scoreless streak -- which leaves him only 12 innings behind the mark Greg Maddux set for Atlanta in 2000.

It truly is uncharted territory in which Kimbrel is beginning to pitch. If he were to break the NL saves record, and do so with a microscopic ERA, it would be very hard to ignore him for at least a look at the Cy Young Award, if not the overall MVP.

Clayton Kershaw's season for the Los Angeles Dodgers has pushed him into the lead as the front-runner for the best pitcher award, but with a record of just 14-8, is his 1.92 ERA impressive enough to push Kimbrel off the podium?

Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.

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