To say that Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp had a breakout season in 2011 is a complete understatement. Aside from being the runner-up for the National League MVP and receiving several of baseball's top honors, Kemp played his way into the conversation of being considered the best player in the game today. With a new contract and a fresh season approaching, the 27-year-old will be looking to surpass his remarkable performance from last season and lead his team into the playoffs in 2012. If that is not validation enough then here are 10 reasons Kemp will have an even bigger 2012 for the Dodgers.
Technically speaking, Ryan Braun is the official 2011 NL MVP but a positive test for performance enhancing drugs may place an asterisk on the award. Fans are asking that the award be given to Kemp as the runner-up but Kemp has publicly said he'd rather have the award be left vacant for the 2011 season.
Kemp's humble attitude may be the classy thing to do but deep down he probably wants to avenge his loss in the MVP race. Right now Kemp appears to be the clear cut favorite for the NL MVP in 2012 now that Braun may be facing a 50 game suspension.
Eight years and $160 million is a big commitment to make for a team that recently suffered from financial lows. Kemp will have a lot to prove next season by attempting to make good on his big contract. This could either hurt or help Kemp's confidence. On one hand Kemp might be overwhelmed by the fact that he'll be constantly judged if he is playing like a $160 million player should be playing and on the other hand the contract could act as an incentive for Kemp to show fans he's worthy of being the franchise player in LA.
The chances of Kemp earning his second NL home run title dramatically increased with the departures of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder this offseason. Both Pujols and Fielder are widely considered two of baseball's best home run hitters and expected candidates for the home run crown yet Kemp held off both men with his NL leading 39 home runs which tied him for third place in MLB with New York Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira.
A consecutive home run title would be a worthwhile accomplishment for the Dodgers star and place him among the ranks with some of baseball's best hitters. Not only that but Kemp would become the first LA Dodger in history to win back-to-back home run titles.
In 2008 Kemp played his first full season with the Dodgers and was expected to be a big contributor despite his inexperience. Kemp posted average numbers and set a team record for strikeouts in a single season with 153. Critics questioned Kemp's work ethic and his ability to live up to the hype. Three years later it's safe to say he proved the critics wrong. Not only has Kemp improved but he's pushed himself to play at a high level and reach personal goals.
Last season Kemp came just shy of the 40-40 club which acknowledges players who have hit 40 home runs and stolen 40 bases in the same season. Kemp stole 40 bases but missed the home run mark by just one. Kemp would have been in the same company as José Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Alfonso Soriano. Even after missing out on the opportunity of being a 40-40 club member, Kemp went so far as to predict he will make MLB history and reach 50-50 in 2012. The only player to ever come close to the record-breaking accomplishment was Rodriguez in 1998 when he hit 42 home runs and stole 46 bases. The fact that Kemp is reaching high is a good sign he's motivated to play the best season of his career in 2012.
With Pujols out of the picture Kemp now has the opportunity to be "the guy" in the NL. For years Pujols was highly regarded as the best player in the NL and the recognition propelled his career to an all-time high in MLB. If Kemp can continue his success in the NL then his name too will reach an all-time high in MLB.
As previously stated, Kemp has inserted his name into the mix for baseball's best player in the game today and if he can duplicate his 2011 season then more exposure will be headed his way. Pujols had big seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals as leader of the NL so it would come as no surprise that Kemp would do the same for the Dodgers as the new leader of the NL.
Last season was an absolute mess in the Dodgers front office. Owner Frank McCourt's divorce proceedings and lies about the team's financial woes eventually led to an all time low for the franchise. Fans were unhappy and players were unable to perform confidently on the field.
New ownership is in store for the Dodgers in 2012 so it appears that off the field issues should be a thing of the past. Kemp had a big year even with all the chaos going on so it will be interesting to see what he can do without the distractions from last season. A stress-free Kemp is a more productive player for the Dodgers.
Kemp's 126 RBI led the MLB last season which shows he's improved his hitting over the years. If Kemp can give the Dodgers this type of run production next season then the boys in blue should win more games in 2012.
Kemp has the power to hit the long ball but the ability to make contact with pitches and get hits is a must to be a complete player in baseball. Kemp does have his problems with strikeouts but they've been decreasing since 2009. If Kemp can keep his strikeout numbers down and continue to produce runs for his team then 2012 should be a a great year for MLB's RBI leader.
Kemp will start the 2012 season healthy and fresh at just 27 years old. Most players typically reach their prime between 27 and 30 years of age. With a new eight-year, $160 million contract Kemp will play his prime years in Dodgers blue and these next three seasons will prove whether the team was right to sign him to such a long-term deal. Kemp hasn't shown any signs of slowing as his speed and agility has helped him on the basepaths and in the outfield. As long as Kemp can stay healthy this season expect big things from the young star in 2012.
Just to give you a sense of how important Kemp is to the Dodgers offense consider the fact that in 2011 Kemp led the team with 126 RBI while Loney and Andre Ethier had a combined total of 127 RBI. Ethier and Loney will most likely be the team's secondary outlets for offense during the season which will take pressure off of Kemp to be the only run producer in the lineup. Juan Rivera is another relatively big bat that will help ease the pressure off of Kemp. If all these supporting players perform well next season then Kemp will enjoy another big year.
NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw is another Dodger looking to have a big season in 2012. Great pitching from Kershaw and the rest of the rotation will be a vital component in winning games as well helping Kemp to another great season. Kemp will be able to focus on good quality at bats when his team is still in the ballgame.
Last season when the Dodgers were down early in games Kemp was obligated to try and produce offense in a hurry by swinging for the fences instead of focusing on quality at bats. Kemp struck out 159 times last season and 170 times the season before that. Kemp is naturally aggressive at the plate so strikeouts will be plentiful throughout his career but if there is less pressure to make comebacks during games then more of those strikeouts could result in better outcomes.