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Matt Kemp has a shot at the triple crown

Sep 23, 2011, 8:25 AM EDT

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers Getty Images

At the outset, I’d like to remind people that I saw Matt Kemp play in a spring training game back in February, observed that he was in great shape and hustled his ass off even though he was with a decidedly B-squad Dodgers team that day and that he looked primed for a big season. You know, for the record.

Kemp had a big game near the end of his very big season last night, hitting a two-run homer, smacking three doubles and scoring three times in the Dodgers win over the Giants.  For the year that puts Kemp at .326/.403/.582 with 36 homers, 118 RBI and 40 stolen bases. On top of that is great defense in center field. And he’s doing it on a team that has had every reason to mail it in if it wanted to since, oh, May.

And here’s something I didn’t realize until a reader pointed it out to me yesterday: the dude has a chance at the triple crown.

Kemp leads the NL in RBI with 118, which is five ahead of Ryan Howard.  He is one home run short of Albert Pujols‘ league-leading 37. Batting average may be the toughest, as his .326 is four points behind Ryan Braun‘s league-leading .330 and three behind Jose Reyes‘ .329, but it’s not impossible to close a four-point gap in six games. Heck, Kemp gained four points on the idle Braun yesterday alone.

In the event Kemp is able to pull this off, he will be the first NL triple crown winner since Joe Medwick did it with the Cardinals in 1937.  And of course, the first person in either league since Yaz did it in 1967.

MVP?  Is there any doubt?

  1. paperlions - Sep 23, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    There shouldn’t be any doubt….the narrative can even be that he did it despite all of the distractions with ownership and a lack of fans support as many are staying away to protest ownership.

  2. CJ - Sep 23, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    Even if he gets the triple crown, he won’t win the MVP. And it’ll be the greatest oversight in baseball in years.

    • paperlions - Sep 23, 2011 at 8:56 AM

      I guess since 2007 is “years”, but that year Rollins wasn’t even the best player on Philly MIF, and David Wright played better defense and hit MUCH better than Rollins…and Pujols was much better, and so were others. The voters reached way down for a “winner” that year.

      • CJ - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:12 AM

        Kemp (if he does win the crown) wouldn’t be a bigger oversight than that? No one has done it in the NL in over 80 years and you’re bringing up Jimmy Rollins MVP in 07? Be serious.

      • paperlions - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:21 AM

        If Kemp wins the triple crown (even tying for a category or two) he will be a unanimous choice for MVP….I was just assuming that he wouldn’t do it. IMO, the triple crown should be irrelevant, he has been the MVP; if he does get the triple crown, there will just be no way for the voters to deny him the award.

      • CJ - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:27 AM

        inevitably someone will bring up the fact that he did it on a completely irrelevant team and say it doesn’t mean as much. or that if he was really THAT valuable, the Dodgers wouldn’t be so awful then, would they?

        I’m NOT agreeing with that assessment whatsoever, just saying that even if he wins the triple crown, I don’t think it’ll be unanimous that he gets it, for the simple reason that he did it on the Dodgers this season.

  3. Lukehart80 - Sep 23, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    I’ve been babbling all week on Twitter about Matt Kemp having an outside but entirely legitimate shot at the Triple Crown.

    Sadly, I have 3 followers that probably aren’t spam, and I fear that while my best friend, a roommate I haven’t seen in 11 years, and my Aunt June have gotten the message, others seem not to have heard.

    Thanks to Craig for pointing it out himself this morning. He has far more old roommates and family members than I do, so I expect the word is out now.

    Finish strong, Matt, finish strong.

  4. dodger88 - Sep 23, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    “he was with a decidedly B-squad Dodgers team that day”

    Talk about foreshadowing……..

    If he can go into the final game on Wednesday with a realistic shot it will make for a great end to such a frustrating season.

  5. frenchysplatediscipline - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:17 AM

    So is Rhianna baseball player kryptonite?

  6. Jared - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    Ryan Braun is having nearly an identical season and he’s doing it in games that matter for a team that is going to win their division. He’s the MVP.

    • Jared - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:34 AM

      Braun
      .330 AVG (1)
      .972 OPS (2)
      31 HRs (T7)
      104 RBIs (5)
      104 Runs (2)
      31 SBs (T8)

      Kemp
      .326 AVG (3)
      .985 OPS (1)
      36 HRs (2)
      118 RBIs (1)
      109 Runs (1)
      40 SBs (2)

      There’s not a big enough difference there to give it to the guy on a team that hasn’t played a meaningful game since May.

      • Alex K - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:47 AM

        Defense matters. Braun is a bad defender in left. Kemp is a passable defender in center.

        Since Kemp has been the slightly better hitter and much better defender I think he should be seen as the clear front runner.

      • cktai - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:49 AM

        What also needs to be taken into account is that Kemp players CF while Braun plays LF.

      • cktai - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:50 AM

        My reply looks a lot better if I had managed to post it before Alex K rather then after him.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:15 AM

        Alex, can you put out some stats to show that Braun is a “bad defender”? Because from baseball reference’s WAR stats, which I hate, but I guess if that’s what’s there then I have to look at them, Braun’s dWAR is .5 while Kemp’s dWAR is 1.0. And considering that Kemp unfairly gets a +.2 for being a CF while Braun gets a -.7 for being in LF, it means to me that they are pretty close defensively, if not even. But I am sure you are using other stats to say this…just curious what they are.

        cktai…just curious as to why, when comparing Braun to Kemp strictly for MVP, you take into account that one plays Left and one plays Center? It’s one thing to disregard the fact that one plays for a winning team and one doesn’t. But how does their position matter? Just because it would be easier to replace Braun than it would be to replace Kemp, how does that get into the discussion for MVP? Sure, when you are a GM and looking to bring in a certain player, you may say I’ll go with the guy who is harder to replace and then get someone less talented at the other position because it is easier to replace him. But as far as comparing the seasons of two individual players, how does one playing LF and one playing CF mean anything?

      • Lukehart80 - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:32 AM

        first…

        “why, when comparing Braun to Kemp strictly for MVP, you take into account that one plays Left and one plays Center? …how does their position matter?”

        then…

        “Just because it would be easier to replace Braun than it would be to replace Kemp”

        Didn’t you sort of answer your own question there?

      • Alex K - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:34 AM

        Chris, UZR has had him as a well below average defender every year except 2008. I can’t find this years numbers but in the past Braun has also been rated poorly by plus/minus.

        You actually caught me not looking at stats before I said anything, I was just going off scouting reports I have heard. And watching him play occasionally.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:42 AM

        Luke, when it comes to building a team…yes. When it comes to the Most Valuable Player of baseball for a given season? I don’t think replace-ability should mean anything.

      • Ari Collins - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:43 AM

        Position matters. If it’s move valuable, then you have to consider what they added on both sides of the ball. It’s not just best hitter, it’s best player.

        Braun is a below-average defender, compared to an average defender in Kemp. This is backed up by fan reports, scouts, and most numbers.

        So yeah, the guy hitting the same but playing better defense at a more demanding position has had the better season, in my view.

      • Ari Collins - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:49 AM

        Err, “most value,” I meant.

        Chris, replaceability IS value. Kemp is providing more value to the team (unless you’re making playoffs a necessity) and is a better overall player BECAUSE he plays at a more demanding position.

        If hitting 15 homers at first base was as good as season as hitting 15 homers at shortstop, we’d see an awful lot of no-hit first-baseman.

        To look at it another way, if someone’s an average defensive first-baseman, they’re not having as good a defensive season as an average defensive shortstop. And that matters. They should get credit for being as good at a much tougher job.

      • davidpom50 - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:53 AM

        Jared and Chris… you must be trolling, right? Because no reasonable person could be honestly arguing that the contributions of a player matter less in MVP voting than the contributions of his teammates.

        Let me restate your arguments, see if they still make sense. Tell me if I’m missing anything. Matt Kemp leads Ryan Braun in every statistical category except BA, in which he trails by only 3 1/2 ltd (I went to the 4th digit). He leads in a few of those categories by a wide margin. He plays a more defensively valuable position, and he plays it better than Braun plays his position. He’s in position to do something that hasn’t been done in the NL in 74 years. He’s in position to become MLB’s 5th 40-40 man. But Braun is MVP because Juan Uribe, Dioner Navarro, Rafael Furcal, Rod Barajas, Casey Blake, Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames, and Tony Gwynn all hit in the low 200s or worse, and Prince Fielder mashed.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:14 AM

        dude, Braun will be MVP if the sportswriters say he is the MVP…whether you like it or not. And Kemp will be the MVP if the sportswriters say he is the MVP. I personally think that Braun will split votes with Fielder and Kemp will get the MVP. But I don’t think Kemp will get a majority of the #1 votes. Not that it matters…but I think the sportswriters won’t necessarily want to give it to a guy who doesn’t go to the playoffs…right or wrong, that is just the way it is IMHO.

      • davidpom50 - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:31 AM

        1. So, you’re arguing not your own viewpoint, but that of “the writers.” So I was right, you’re trolling and not making honest arguments. :)

        2. You’re wrong. If the writers give the MVP AWARD to Braun, then Braun will be the guy who won the MVP AWARD. Kemp will still have had a more valuable season.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 12:27 PM

        The winner of the 2011 Ryan Howard MVP award goes to….

        Nah, I’ve said all along I don’t really have a side in this race…the side I am not on is the side where one thinks they are 100% absolutely right. I see both viewpoints for the word Valuable and I also see that the sportswriters will vote for whomever they want.

        I’d probably give the MVP to Kemp, but if Braun got it, I wouldn’t consider it a travesty of any sort whatsoever. Until they objectify the awards they will always have a touch of subjectivity in them and they will be given at the whim of humans and not computers.

    • cup0pizza - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:48 PM

      Kemp is more than a “passable” or “good” CF. He’s an elite fielder with the Gold Glove to substantiate that. He just commits lapses & brainfarts in the field (he does on the basepaths occasionally, too) on occasion.

  7. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1942 and 1947 and didn’t win the MVP either year…he finished second to an overrated Yankee both years.

    Lou Gherig won it in 1934 and came in 5th place in MVP voting.

    Chuck Klein won the Triple Crown in 1933 and came in second in MVP voting to a PITCHER of all people.

    And in none of those season were the other guys even close statistically…as Ryan Braun is this year. If history holds, Braun will be the surefire MVP as far as the voters go…but as we saw last year in the Cy Young voting, voters have changed and maybe Kemp does win it as the most outstanding player. But would a vote for Braun really be all that egregious? I don’t think so.

    • CJ - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:07 AM

      Overrated? Yankee? Naw. The Yankees are NEVER overrated…

    • aceshigh11 - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:59 AM

      It still blows my mind that Ted Williams didn’t win the MVP in ’41, 42 or ’47 (especially ’47), but he a very standoffish relationship with the media and it had a negative effect on MVP voting, apparently.

    • tmohr - Sep 23, 2011 at 3:12 PM

      In defense of the voters in 1933, the winner of the MVP, Carl Hubbell, had a 1.66 ERA for a pennant-winning team (furthermore, it wasn’t until 1968 that someone bettered Hubbell’s ERA).

  8. Lukehart80 - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    The comparison above between Kemp and Braun, incomplete as it is, manages to show Kemp as having been better this season, and does so without mentioning the fact that Kemp has put up those superior numbers against better pitching in worse parks for hitting.

    Even without factoring in defense at all, Kemp has clearly been better. The ONLY justifiable case for Braun over Kemp is the contending team. So if you want to vote for Braun, don’t waste your own time trying to find a bunch of statistics, just type “I don’t care what a player does unless his teammates are good enough to help him make the playoffs” and call it a day.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:46 AM

      Luke, if the numbers are close…and Braun vs Kemp are very close….then why not give it to the guy who has been playing meaningful games? Just curious here…not saying I think you are wrong or right. Everyone knows who I would give the MVP to :D

      • Lukehart80 - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:51 AM

        A) I don’t think the two are quite as close as you do. I think Kemp has better numbers, even before adjusting for park factors or anything like that, adjustments that certainly favor Kemp.

        B) I think ALL regular season MLB games are meaningful, and a player’s production in any of those games should count. Punishing Kemp because the Dodgers are a mess and don’t have enough talent to contend for the playoffs this season just doesn’t make sense to me.

      • CJ - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:01 AM

        just for argument’s sake CF (and becuase I can’t agree with you ALL the time, but I’ll make up for that at the end)…

        I get your argument, but isn’t it more difficult to get up and put up the numbers Kemp has during the Dodgers’ dismal season becuase it seems he hasn’t been playing many meaningful games in months? isn’t it generally harder to show up in perform well in games that don’t matter than in games that do (assuming of course he doesn’t have Bobby Abreu syndrome)?

        In any event, the point is moot. Everyone knows Ryan Howard is the true MVP this season :D

      • Alex K - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:49 AM

        You beat me to it, CJ. I was going to ask him to leave Ryan Howard out of this.

  9. foreverchipper10 - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    The Dodgers could have a triple crown winner in batting and pitching and still finish under .500. There are no words for that.

    • cup0pizza - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:18 PM

      Yep! Kershaw is VERY close to the pitching triple crown.

      Despite what a couple of trolls (primarily that chris fiorentino hack) have persisted in spewing within the comments for this one, Kemp has this MVP on lockdown, deservedly so.

  10. kevbarnett - Sep 23, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    He is also very close to getting to 40 HR and 40 SB. He needs 4 HR’s in 6 games. I hope he does it.

  11. Jared - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    I’m not arguing that Kemp’s season hasn’t been better than Braun’s. It has. But the award isn’t for the best player. It’s for the most valuable. So, yes, you have to factor what his team did into the equation. Since the Dodgers are nowhere near the playoff race, Kemp’s value, in the big picture, has been essentially meaningless to his team. They are also-rans and would have been with him in the line-up or without. Without Braun, who has put up similar numbers to Kemp, the Brewers would very likely be on the outside of the playoff race looking in. His production has been infinitely more valuable to his team. That’s why he’s the MVP.

    • davidpom50 - Sep 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

      The award rules very specifically say that the winner does NOT have to come from a contender. Value of a baseball player has nothing to do with teammates any more than value of a $100 bill has to do with the type of wallet it’s carried in. So, you’re flat wrong about that.

      And you’re also wrong about Braun putting up similar numbers to Kemp. He trails Kemp in EVERY SINGLE STATISTICALLY CATEGORY EXCEPT AVG, where he has a slight lead. He plays poor defense in a significantly less challenging defensive position.

      • Jared - Sep 23, 2011 at 2:18 PM

        1. There are no “rules” for what MVP should mean to the voters or even a clear-cut definition, but historically the word “valuable” has meant more to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters than simply “best.” The gold glove or silver slugger awards are for the best players at their positions, not the MVP.

        2. A $100 bill is worthless if you don’t spend it anywhere. The Dodgers essentially took their $100 bill and lit it on fire. The Brewers are cashing in their $100 bill for a division title.

        3. Look at the numbers again. If you still don’t think they’re similar, it’s a waste of time arguing with you because you lack the intelligence to have a reasonable debate.

      • davidpom50 - Sep 23, 2011 at 2:49 PM

        1. There are rules. You can read them here: http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/08/29/here-are-the-mvp-voting-criteria/
        While they do say that it is up to the voters to decide what the word valuable means, they specifically say”The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.” They also list what criteria the voters should look at, and team record is NOT included. So, again… you’re flat wrong about the award criteria.

        2. The Dodgers cashed in their hundred dollar bill for a potential triple crown, a potential 40-40 season, and by bWAR, nearly 10 extra wins. That just wasn’t enough to get into the playoffs because of misspending the rest of their bills.

        3. Many of the individual statistics are close, but the totality is not. Kemp leads in all but average (by 3 1/2 pts) and slugging (by 2 pts). He leads in OBP, OPS, OPS+, HR, RBI, runs, SB (by 30%), BB (though, to be fair that difference is entirely intentional walks), outfield assists, putouts, games played (yes, that IS a voting criteria). He plays a more challenging defensive position. It’s NOT a close battle.

    • Lukehart80 - Sep 23, 2011 at 3:33 PM

      I can understand the argument that a winning team has more value in a season than a losing team, but that value is still divided amongst dozens of players.

      Kemp is cutting from a smaller value pie, but he’s cut himself a massive piece.

      • Jared - Sep 23, 2011 at 3:57 PM

        We obviously interpret the word “valuable” differently, which is the problem with the loosely defined award criteria in the first place.

        Moving past that larger philosophical disagreement though, my point in this case is simple. Braun and Kemp have produced very similar statistics this season and Braun’s production helped his team reach the postseason while Kemp’s did not.

        Is there any consideration at all for team performance in the MVP award? If there is, then that should push Braun ahead of Kemp. If there is not, they should just rename the award Most Outstanding Player and end these debates.

      • Lukehart80 - Sep 23, 2011 at 5:10 PM

        I agree that the main difference between our opinions is over whether or not the overall performance of a player’s team should impact their standing on an MVP ballot.

        However, another difference is that you (and many others) see Kemp and Braun as being very close in their performance this season, whereas I think Kemp has distanced himself from Braun (and from any other player in the NL too).

      • davidpom50 - Sep 23, 2011 at 6:52 PM

        Jared, did you check my link above? The criteria make it pretty clear that the answer to “Is there any consideration at all for team performance in the MVP award?” is “nope, none whatsoever.” There is STILL plenty of room for it to be MVP and not MOP, since voters are to consider non-performance factors of “general character, disposition, loyalty and effort,” all things that ARE more useful in determining a player’s value than the contributions of others. I don’t watch a ton of Brewers games, but my understanding is that this season, both Braun and Kemp have been outstanding in such things, so Kemp’s lead in everything else related to baseball still wins out.

        Baseball is not like basketball or football, where one player can absolutely take over a whole season, like Kobe Bryant shooting 40 times a game or Adrian Peterson rushing 35 times a game. Matt Kemp has to wait for 8 marginal to terrible hitters to come to the plate before he hits again. In those sports, I don’t mind counting team performance towards MVP awards. Baseball is different, and that’s why we love it.

  12. Ben - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    FWIW Kemp’s wRC+ is 170 to Braun’s 174. wRC+ accounts for the ballpark factor. Braun’s .426 wOBA to Kemp’s .419 due to Braun’s higher OBP. They’re also bad defenders by UZR.
    Basically, they’re so damn close statistically you could justify a vote for either and I don’t think anyone would blame you. Anyone arguing that Kemp is head and shoulders better than Braun is making a claim that’s not so clear-cut, to me. But he’s had a hell of a year. I suspect Kemp’s lead by WAR is due to positional adjustment and marginally better defense.

    • cup0pizza - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:50 PM

      Kemp’s defense is more than “marginally better”.

      • Alex K - Sep 23, 2011 at 6:22 PM

        You’re right that his defense is more than marginally better, but it’s not because he’s an elite CF. It’s because he’s passable in center and Braun is worse in left.

        Gold glove voting is a joke, so I don’t really care that Kemp won one a few years ago. He’s not a great defender in CF.

        We agree that Kemp should win the MVP, but that doesn’t mean that Braun should be ignored.

      • davidpom50 - Sep 23, 2011 at 6:44 PM

        Most defensive stats (which are finicky at best) showed Kemp as pretty outstanding in CF in 2009, his Gold Glove year. Maybe not the best in the league, but definitely better than any other year of his career.

    • davidpom50 - Sep 23, 2011 at 2:00 PM

      Kemp has a higher OBP than Braun, .403 to .393.

  13. shempster - Sep 23, 2011 at 7:40 PM

    I think it’s so funny “meaningless games”. Think the Giants could have used last nights game. Without Kemp and Kershaw the Dodgers would easily lose 100 games and as bad as attendance is, pretty sure there’d be no one at all at the games. Kemp is single handed keeping the Dodgers somewhat relevant. Bat Fielder after Kemp and the Dodgers win that division. Braun is having a great season but isn’t capable of carrying a team like Kemp.

    • Jared - Sep 24, 2011 at 12:03 AM

      Watch tonight’s highlights and tell me if Braun is capable of carrying his team. He made the play of the night in the field in all of MLB tonight and the play of the night at the plate in all of MLB tonight. He won the game that clinched the division title.

      Again, he’s the MVP because his contribution is very clearly more valuable than Kemp’s.

      • shempster - Sep 24, 2011 at 12:07 PM

        Pretty much every player in the league will end up with a game winning hit. Didn’t say Braun was crappy. Brewers would have clinched at some point in the next week so really not real pressure packed either. He should finish a distant second in the voting.

  14. shempster - Sep 23, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Also with the lead the Brewers have had, when’s the last meaningful game Braun has played in?

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