Regardless of the league or sport, crowning the MVP is an imperfect science.
First, there’s bias involved. A lot of the times it really is a popularity contest. If not that, then it’s a situation where people get tired of voting for the same guys year after year.
Second, there are idiots involved. I’m referring to the voters who prevent players from winning the award unanimously simply because they have their own agenda.
Third, there’s confusion involved, especially in baseball. We’ve had the MVP award in sports for a half of century now and we still have no idea what the three-letter acronym is. Is it the best player? Is it the best guy on the best team?
We spent way too much time last year trying to figure out if Jose Bautista was the MVP of the AL or if he was just the best player in the AL. At the same time we started panicking like we just discovered an alien race when we realized, “Wait, a pitcher (Justin Verlander) is the most valuable player to his team, what the hell are we supposed to do?”
He’s Already the Front-Runner
Matt Kemp just had one of the best statistical months of April in baseball.
Kemp became the fourth player in baseball history (live ball era) to hit for a .400 average with 10-plus home runs and 25-plus RBI. And that was in a shortened baseball month of April in which the Dodgers played 23 games. He also set a new Dodgers franchise record, homering a total of nine times in the first 15 games. This was en route to setting a another franchise record for most home runs hit in April, passing Gary Sheffield’s mark set back in 2000.
In doing so, everyone was forced to take notice. That includes myself.
For the majority of my life I’ve paid little to no attention to what’s happening in the NL—my team of rooting interest is in the American league. As a fan of baseball there have been three times when I found myself intrigued with anything National League.
One of those times being right now. That’s because of Matt Kemp (and, admittedly, Bryce Harper). The others times...in 1998 when McGwire and Sosa were flexing their artificial arms, and in 2001 when Barry Bonds was hitting asterisks into the San Francisco Bay.
So with that said, what Kemp is doing right now is pretty remarkable. We really haven’t seen this type of plate production since the early 2000s when Bonds was setting every statistical record known to man.
Matt Kemp returned to the starting lineup Monday night and went 3-for-3 with a walk. In the process, he upped his batting average to .406 and increased his league lead in slugging percentage (.832), on-base percentage (.488) and OPS (.1320).
Regardless of whether or not Kemp can stay anywhere close to his current pace, it’s going to be hard for voters to jog these first five weeks from their memory. You know...the same way it was hard for voters to ignore what LeBron did before the All-Star break this season.
He “Deserves” It
Allow me to draw another LeBron James parallel...
There was no way LeBron James was winning the NBA MVP last season. Not after his "Decision" was still fresh in everyone's mind.
Well, it’s kind of like that for Kemp this year with just a slight difference. That difference is that there’s no way Kemp doesn’t win the MVP. Last season he finished second in voting to Ryan Braun. The same Ryan Braun who—as we found out months after the fact—had failed a urine test that linked him to the use of performance enhancing drugs. Translation: The same Ryan Braun who robbed Matt Kemp of the 2011 MVP.
We still don’t know the truth (and probably never will) behind Braun’s urine test, but all we (or the voters) really need to know is that there was a point in time when Ryan Braun allegedly failed a drug test, and yes, that’s enough of a reason to make sure Kemp gets his due this year.
I can all but guarantee you that voters will be compelled to give their vote to him this season even if there’s a candidate with a better resume. Odds are there won’t be a better candidate, though. It’s possible he wins it unanimously.
Speaking of Braun, Kemp might want to consider toning things down at the plate. He’s a few slugging percentage points away from fielding speculation in regards to whether or not he’s using...well, you know.
Okay, I feel awkward after that, let’s just move on.
There’s No Indication He’ll Drop Off
So far I’ve made it seem as if Kemp can take the rest of the season off and still win. That’s not the case, it’s just that I’m relatively confident he’ll keep it going. I have to keep reminding myself that he’s 27 years old. In baseball years that’s something like 23 years old.
In his first four full season’s in the big leagues (2008-2011) his home run total has steadily increased every year.
2008: 606 at-bats and 18 home runs.
2009: 606 at-bats and 26 home runs.
2010: 602 at-bats and 28 home runs.
2011: 602 at-bats and 39 home runs.
2012: 98 at-bats and 12 home runs.
If he matches his total plate appearances last year he’s on pace to hit 73 home runs. He won’t come close to that mark, but again, it just goes to show how impressive he’s been so far this season.
In 2010 he had an OPS of .760. Last season he upped that to .960. This season he’s sporting an OPS of 1.286. It’s conceivable to think he finishes above 1.000 in that category which would be pretty remarkable. Here’s a number to keep in mind: 1.216. That was Frank Thomas‘ OPS in 1994—the highest in baseball since Ted Williams' 1957 season (that’s excluding McGwire, Sosa and Bonds).
He Actually Is the Most Valuable Player
The Dodgers are very much like the Tigers in that their roster is very top heavy with Ethier (Fielder), Kershaw (Verlander) and Kemp (Cabrera). Unlike the Tigers, though, they’re not floundering around .500 and struggling to compete in their weak division.
If you take Kemp away from the Dodgers they probably don’t finish above .500 let alone stand a chance to win the lowly NL West. Actually, if you take Kemp off the Dodgers they’re one of the worst teams in baseball.
He’s first in the league in runs created with 32 (Bryan LaHair is second with 25) and he leads the league in WAR (wins above replacement) with 2.2. He leads the NL in home runs, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, OPS and is second in RBI to teammate Andre Ethier, who, by the way, is probably the second Most Valuable Player in the National League
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