Apr 14, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp (27) reacts after hitting a solo home run in the second inning against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Kemp off to a hot start

Despite leading the National League with an outstanding 8.7 WAR in 2011, Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp lost out to fellow outfielder Ryan Braun in the NL MVP race. Later, it was found that Braun failed a drug test and could have lost his MVP award, and Kemp stated that he would not accept the award if Braun lost the appeal. Needless to say, Braun won his appeal and kept the MVP.

This isn’t about steroids, because Matt Kemp was the 2011 NL MVP regardless of whether or not Braun took PEDs or not. The 27-year-old CF was still below average on defense, but he wasn’t a tremendous liability on defense- unlike in 2010- and played just as well (poorly) as Braun, despite playing a more difficult position. If you flip around the digits of Kemp’s WAR, you get Braun’s 7.8 WAR season. Although the Brewers LF had an amazing season, he wasn’t up to Kemp’s level.

In the offseason, the Dodgers showed how important Matt Kemp is to the team by giving him a franchise record eight-year, $160 million extension. This game despite the Dodgers being in financial trouble and in a state of flux with the ownership situation. Eight seasons is a lot to commit to a 27-year-old center fielder, and a front office executive fainted somewhere in Toronto when the deal was announced.

Still, the moved signified the importance of the center fielder to the future of this Dodgers team. A team that needed to lock up their best player, their beacon of hope on the offensive end, and a sub-.500 team without many offensive pieces can’t afford to lose Matt Kemp. Although most people are against these sorts of long-term deals, the extension was actually well-received. I said that this was an exactly fair deal for both sides, and the risks in this deal are justified due to the importance of Matt Kemp to the team and the fact that he is the face of their franchise.

Coming into the season, most projection systems conservatively labeled Matt Kemp as a 6-6.5 WAR player, with his defense at the same subpar clip as last year, and his hitting somewhere above .380 wOBA (.419 wOBA last season). Most people, including yours truly, viewed Kemp as the early NL MVP favorite, with the also newly extended, face-of-the-franchise first baseman Joey Votto getting some love in that regard.

I know about sample size and all that, especially since I am saber-friendly and have brought up wOBA and WAR multiple times in this piece. However, I feel that we should enjoy Kemp’s hot start throughout the first nine games and 39 plate appearances.

The star has, as the Dodgers envisioned this offseason, been the heart and soul of this team already. He already has five homers, 15 RBIs, a .487 OBP, and .580 wOBA thus far. He is making good on the NL MVP picks, and he is on his way to quelling the unwarranted skepticism that his 2011 season was fluky. Never in the history of baseball has a player had an 8+ WAR season and then proceeded to play poorly, that’s not going to happen again; especially not with the talented Dodgers CF.

Before the season, ZiPS was a little lukewarm on Kemp’s prospects for the 2012 season, projecting a .373 wOBA, a 23.4 K%, 31 homers, 30 steals, and a .234 ISO.

Those are good numbers, but the updated ZiPS projections after these nine games have been noticeably better. Now, Matt Kemp is on pace for 36 dingers, a .251 ISO, a .363 OBP, and a .386 wOBA. Those numbers are actually more believable for one of the MVP favorites, and we’ll be hearing Kemp’s name even more as the season wears on.

Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’s transaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason. You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook.

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Tags: Joey Votto Los Angeles Dodgers Matt Kemp Milwaukee Brewers NL MVP Ryan Braun

  • WilliamGregory

    I’m so tired of people crying about how Matt Kemp was the MVP. No, he wasn’t, nor did he deserve to be. Kemp hit 6 more homeruns, drove in 15 more runs, stole 7 more bases. He scored 6 more runs. He also played in 11 more games, as Braun suffered a serious calf injury mid season. But that is the extent of the case to be made for Matt Kemp’s MVP candidacy. All those people at Dodgers Stadium chanting “MVP MVP” every time he comes up needs to look at the numbers objectively.  Braun had a higher average, a higher slugging average, the same on base pct, and a higher ops. He also had more extra base hits, despite playing in fewer games. He had a better stolen base percentage (84.6 to 78.4). If you look at Sabermetrics, Braun created more runs per 27 outs than Kemp (8.92 to 8.32), and had a higher isolated power figure (.265 to .262). But there’s more to the game than hitting, right? Kemp is the superior fielder. That’s what we’re led to believe. Yet Matt Kemp had 5 errors in center. Ryan Braun had 1 error all year in left. But there’s more to fielding than fielding percentage. What about range factor. Kemp won the gold glove, so surely he must have had a high RF for his position? Well, no. Kemp tied for the worst range factor for all center fielders in the NL at 2.32 in 2011. Braun had the second highest RF of all NL left fielders at 1.92. Yes, kemp has a higher RF, but relative to the others that play their same positions in the National League, Kemp had less range, and made more errors. So all the talk about what a superior fielder Kemp is can go out the window.What about clutch hitting? Kemp drove in more runs, therefore he must have been the better hitter with runners in scoring position, right? Kemp batted .335 with RISP, a fine total. But what about Braun? Well, Braun was better there, too. Ryan Braun batted .351 with RISP. Strikeouts? While Ryan Braun kept his strikeouts below 100 (93), it was business as usual for Kemp. Kemp struck out 159 times in 2011, 66 more times than Braun.
    And to top it off, Braun outperformed Kemp while doing it on a team headed to the postseason. It’s not Kemp’s fault that the Dodgers ended up only a few games over .500. One player never singularly carries a team to October baseball. But Braun was a big part of the reason the Brewers did reach, and in doing so he faced extra pressure that Kemp didn’t have to contend with. While people were talking about Kemp chasing the triple crown, Braun was quietly leading his team to it’s best ever season, winning 96 games. Kemp had an incredible season. But the incessant whining about how he got “robbed”, or how Braun shouldn’t have won it has to stop. As to the steroid allegations, Braun won his appeal. Shyam Das, the independent arbiter, sided with Braun, something he has never done before. Unlike all those in the media, and the public, who have based their opinion on conjecture, Das was able to examine the facts. Braun did not get off on a technicality. His defense team was able to take samples, subject them to the same kind of conditions Braun’s mishandled sample were stored in, and replicated the elevated levels. Braun has been a professional ballplayer for seven seasons, and over the course of his career, he has had over 30 random drug tests, all without prior warning. He passed them all. The only sample with in question showed a testosterone level three times higher than any sample ever collected from a professional athlete. In all the thousands of tests that have been done, none ever approached Braun’s reported level. The handling procedures for these samples are very specific for a reason, and Braun’s sample was not delivered as it should have. The collector, a man with years of experience, and knowledge of all the Fed Ex centers (including one that was open 24 hours) between the stadium and his home, choose instead to hold the sample at his house for two days, mailing the sample collected early Saturday evening on Monday afternoon. There was no temperature control, and the sample was clearly marked with Braun’s name. Once accepted at Fed Ex, the sample becomes anonymous. Clearly procedure was not followed, yet the media (ESPN, who broke the story) would have you believe that Braun got lucky. They are perpetuating a lie. Anybody that wants to find the truth can look online, and hear audio from SI.com contributor Will Carroll, or read tweets on his Twitter page. 
    “Quit calling Braun decision a technicality, media. It was decided on science.”
    “Repeatable result showed exactly how Braun’s single test showed positive. Arbitrator agreed. Simple, isn’t it?”
    “Know what makes a good soundbite? “44 hours” and “FedEx”. Know what doesn’t? Technical details about urine flora.”
    “JGERRITWULTERKENS: confused; so the sheer act of leaving out a sample in the wrong environment by itself raises the testosterone ratio by >3x?”
    “Will Carroll: To vastly oversimplify, yes.”
    Braun’s test results were tainted by how they were handled. If the confidentiality of the whole process had been maintained, Braun’s image would be clean, as it should be. By the way, the test that showed elevated levels of testosterone didn’t even show performance enhancing drugs. It merely showed high levels of testosterone, which can occur naturally with certain conditions (hyperthyroidism, for one, which the public would never know about because of patient-doctor privilege), or in instances where the sample is mishandled.
    Braun is innocent, and he deserved the MVP. Case closed. it is time for the media to start telling the truth about what happened.   

  • http://calltothepen.com/ SorianoJoe

     @WilliamGregory Hey William, appreciate the comment and the strong case for Braun being the MVP over Kemp. Braun was innocent, so I agree with you on that point and people were too eager to make him guilty in their minds. Nobody gets the benefit of the doubt these days. Still, I thought Kemp had the better season, because I think it is more valuable for a CF to post those numbers than an LF. Braun had the better numbers, but Kemp had more value in my eyes. You can definitely- as you did- make a great case for Braun, and this has nothing to do with a failed drug test. Again, thanks for commenting. On a side not, I’m not the biggest fan of range factor, but I agree that Kemp had a poor year on defense (still a vast improvement from his non-existent defensive display in 2010).