NL MVP: Why Matt Kemp Was Snubbed
Congratulations to Milwaukee Brewers' stud left fielder Ryan Braun for winning the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Award.
Now that I got that out to the way, I'll spend the rest of this article explaining exactly why he was not the most valuable player in the league. Sorry, Ryan. At least I was nice for a minute.
The MVP award has traditionally been handed out to not only a player who had a great season, but one who suited up for a playoff contender. There have been exceptions, of course. Alex Rodriguez won it for a last-place Texas Rangers team in 2003, for example.
The thinking that the most valuable player in the league has to be on a contending team is both inaccurate and outdated. The real winner should have been Matt Kemp, the Los Angeles Dodgers' center fielder. And it really shouldn't have been close.
Player A: 109 runs, 187 hits, 33 home runs, 111 RBI, 33 stolen bases, .332 average, .397 on-base percentage, .994 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Player B: 115 runs, 195 hits, 39 home runs, 126 RBI, 40 stolen bases, .324 average, .399 on-base percentage, .986 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Both great seasons, both worthy of MVP consideration. But who had the better numbers? Player B did.
Player B is my boy Matt Kemp. Player A is Braun, who had a higher average and challenged for the N.L. batting title. But a closer look tells us that Kemp actually racked up more hits than Braun this year, a stat made possible by playing in 11 more games than Braun did, and getting 39 more at bats.
Average is a little bit arbitrary though — it's an average, so one has to think that even if they had the same number of at-bats this year, Braun would have had a slightly higher average either way.
Let's look at the power numbers. Kemp easily wins both the home run and RBI category. And the most impressive part is that he did it without anyone setting the table for him, whereas Braun played in a loaded lineup all year (more on that later).
Kemp fell one home run shy of joining the 40/40 club and was eight hits shy of winning the Triple Crown. Nine hits. It's an absolute, 100 percent guarantee that if Kemp had reached either one of those milestones, he would have unanimously won the MVP award. Essentially what we're seeing here, is a panel of voters who punished him over eight hits, or one home run.
This is the less glamorous side of being valuable. People seem not to care about the finer points of defense. But what's the point in being a great hitter, if you lose two or three games every season by being a liability in the field? Yeah, Barry Bonds, I'm lookin' at you.
To be a well-rounded player, you need to hit for power, hit for average, run the bases well, play great defense and have a strong, effective throwing arm. We know that both Braun and Kemp can hit and run. Can they both play defense?
Kemp manned center field for the Dodgers, the most demanding outfield position as far as range goes. Braun played a ridiculously good left field for Milwaukee, and was definitely a snub for Gold Glove at that position.
Braun posted a fielding percentage of .996, making only one error and throwing out eight baserunners. Kemp had a fielding percentage of .986, making five errors, but lead all center fielders with 11 assists. Both players were regulars on web gems and top 10 plays, and rightfully so. Hardly a game passed without seeing at least one of them making a diving catch or robbing a home run.
The two best hitters in the National League are also two of the best fielders in the game. Kemp holds an edge in arm strength, as he threw out more runners. But Braun made less errors, albeit at a less demanding position.
Does it make Braun the better fielder though? It's hard to tell. Over their careers, Braun has better numbers, but again, it's a different position. This year?
This is where Matt Kemp starts to really separate himself from Braun. I'm not always a huge proponent of using sabermetric statistics to compare players. But there are a couple exceptions.
First, when it is used to compare two players that are so equally incredible and clearly the best at what they do, there is hardly anything else to distinguish who is the best. Second, when it's a statistic that actually measures a player's worth to their team. Third, when it can prove that my boy Kemp got snubbed.
For that, we turn to WAR (Wins Above Replacement). This stat basically measures how many wins a player provides his team over a player they would replace him with. It's essentially the amount of wins a player provides when his offensive and defensive abilities are taken into account and adjusted for his defensive position, playing time, year and ballpark.
It's an attempt to compare a player's worth to all other players. So how many wins did Braun and Kemp each contribute to their respective teams when compared to the AAA scrubs who would have replaced them?
Strangely enough, FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com have different WARs listed for Kemp. One has him at 10.0, one at 8.6. To be fair, I'll split it. Both sites are well-respected, so without delving into the confusion of why there's a difference, I'll just put Kemp at 9.3.
Braun is listed at 7.7 and 7.8. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and stick with the higher one. By the way, Kemp at 9.3 and Braun at 7.8 are the two highest WARs in the National League.
Now, let's break this down a little bit. This means first of all, that Kemp is worth 1.5 more wins than Braun. You can't have half a win, so it's more like two. That doesn't seem like a big difference, right? Just ask the Boston Red Sox or Atlanta Braves if one or two wins make a difference...
This further proves that if you take Braun out of the Brewers' lineup, you can assume they lose eight more games. That puts them within a game or two of the wild-card spot. You take Kemp out of the Dodgers' lineup and not only do they not even sniff .500, but they are flirting with dead last in the NL West.
Braun and Kemp both took home a Silver Slugger award earlier this season, named as the best hitter at their respective positions in the National League. Well, that was a no-brainer.
Kemp won the Gold Glove in center field, and Braun lost out in a huge upset to the Diamondbacks' completely overrated, outspoken left fielder Gerrardo Parra. As I mentioned earlier, Braun should have won the award. But he didn't. Moving on.
But, Kemp has the edge here because he also took home the Hank Aaron Award, which basically awards the best overall hitter in each league. It's the Cy Young of hitting awards.
So why, oh why, does a guy who fell nine hits short of a Triple Crown, one home run shy of 40/40, was the most statistically valuable player to his team, the best hitter and defender at his position and named the best overall hitter in the entire league, snubbed horribly by the voters for MVP?
Maybe the next slide will explain why.
The Dodgers' next biggest hitting star behind Kemp is Andre Ethier, who had an awful year. Juan Rivera came in after the All-Star break and provided a little spark. Otherwise, you're looking at Kemp, one good month from rookie Dee Gordon and the most inconsistent bat in baseball, first baseman James Loney.
It's okay if you haven't heard of a couple of those guys. It's because they aren't stars. But in Milwaukee, Ryan Braun was surrounded by another MVP candidate in Prince Fielder, as well as Rickie Weeks, Nyjer Morgan and Corey Hart. All four of those guys would start on the Dodgers, no doubt about it.
Looking further at the roster as a whole, the Dodgers boast Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw at the top of the rotation, and then...emptiness. Hiroki Kuroda can be brilliant, but he usually finishes around .500 because he has a good game, then a bad game, then a good game, then a bad game...you get the point.
In Milwaukee, Braun was playing with a pitching staff led by Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Zach Greinke, who won a Cy Young himself a couple years ago. Gallardo is annually one of the best players in baseball and Marcum was the ace in Toronto before coming over and having a pretty good year at Miller Park this season.
The supporting casts of these two players is such a clincher for me. The Brewers' offense has a comfortable advantage over the Dodgers' in batting average, hits, runs, home runs and RBI. Still, Kemp was able to put up huge numbers with nobody getting on base and nobody protecting him in the lineup.
I'm not saying Braun only benefited from having table setters on base to drive in and a monster in Fielder behind him for protection. Because I think Braun is a fantastic hitter and would probably put up good numbers in the Dodgers' lineup too. But it will be interesting to see how his numbers will suffer when Fielder departs this offseason.
My whole reason for bringing the supporting cast up, is that the biggest counter-argument to Kemp winning MVP has been that he didn't play for a contender. I say, if there is anyone in the history of baseball who could have carried a team with such a rag-tag supporting roster to a division title, I will eat my words.
But I'm not worried. Because nobody could. The MVP is about who is the most valuable player to their team. Not the most valuable player who also played on the best team. No doubt that the Brew Crew won the NL Central in large part thanks to Braun. There's also no doubt that they would have contended without him.
Edge: Braun (not a good thing)
Conclusion? Matt Kemp should be your National League MVP. He got completely snubbed by the voters this year. What surprises me most is that he only received 10 of the 32 first-place votes. I figured if he was going to lose, it would be 16-16 and the second and third-place votes would determine it.
Either way, the writers made a big mistake this year. I was hoping that since they picked a pitcher for the award in the AL, that they would continue bucking the trend and pick someone on a team that didn't contend for the playoffs.
But apparently the voters are still blind to the fact that the most VALUABLE player in the league isn't always on the best team.
Kemp had a better season hitting, was the most statistically valuable player to his team, won all the other major awards leading up to MVP and nearly put up a 40/40, Triple Crown season with no help from his teammates.
According to Tim Kurkjian, one of the 10 writers who did the right thing and voted for Kemp, the last time a center fielder had such astonishing, Triple Crown-esque numbers was Mickey Mantle in 1956.
I rest my case.