Kemp Is Off To MVP Start
Early in the 2012 season, Dodgers star center fielder Matt Kemp is already having a breakout season and on course to top last year’s MVP-type performance.
Last season, the only player in the National League standing in Kemp’s way of capturing the MVP title was Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun. Kemp fell short by six points of being awarded the crown.
Subsequently, Braun almost lost the title due to an accusation of taking performance-enhancing drugs, but was later vindicated due to a successful appeal. Braun’s case marks the first time a baseball player has successfully challenged a drug-related penalty in a grievance.
When Kemp heard the title might be stripped from Braun, he said that that is not how he envisioned being given the nod. “I would want to win by them voting me,” Kemp said.
He was not interested in it being a consolation prize.
Kemp almost won the Triple Crown with 39 homers, 126 RBI and a batting average of .324. His home runs and RBI were both an N.L.-best, and also lead the league in runs scored (115).
He stole 40 bases, finishing second in that category and also was awarded a Golden Glove for his defensive play in center field.
After the 2011 season, Kemp signed a franchise record eight-year, $160 million contract extension with the Dodgers as a thank you for all of these accomplishments and made a vow to join the “50-50 Club” (home runs and stolen bases) in 2012. He had been eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.
Losing the MVP title to Braun motivated Kemp to shatter through the limits. “I’m going to go 50-50,” Kemp said. “Anything can happen. I’m going to set my limits high and take it to another level.”
Kemp realized the Dodgers’ 82-79 season record did not help his MVP chances. “I respect the decision,” Kemp said. “I just have to have an even better season next year and make the playoffs, so I can make the decision easier for them.”
And so far this season, he is being true to his word, having been named the N.L. Player of the Month for April. After 23 games in April, Kemp led the Majors with a .417 (35-84) batting average and 12 home runs while ranking tops in the N.L. in RBI (25), hits (35) and runs (24).
The Oklahoma native’s 12 homers set a new franchise record and were the fifth-most ever during the month behind Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriquez, Luis Gonzalez and Ken Griffey, Jr. Kemp also joined Tony Perez, Larry Walker and Barry Bonds as one of only four players since 1921 to finish April with a .400 batting average, 10-or-more home runs and at least 20 RBI.
Kemp, 27, the sixth round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, played a key role in the Dodgers’ N.L.-best 16-7 record in April, the team’s best start since 1983.
The 2011 N.L. All-Star selection won consecutive Player of the Week Awards. It marked the first time that a player had done this to begin a season and the first time a player had won the award three straight times (Kemp was named Player of the Week during the final week of the 2011 season).
When asked what, if anything, he is doing differently this season, Kemp said, “My stroke is the same. I’m just being more patient and feeling less stress at the plate.”
Now that the Dodgers are officially under new ownership, thanks to Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Stan Kasten, Peter Gruber, and Mark Walters’ Guggenheim Partners putting in a winning bid of $2.15 billion, Kemp should feel even that much more stress-free on his journey to the “50-50 Club.”