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Writers strike out not choosing Matt Kemp as MVP

BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers outfielder should have been the National League winner instead of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, whom voters apparently favored because the Brewers won the Central Division.

November 22, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • He didn't play for a division champion, but Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp deserved to be named the National League's most valuable player.
He didn't play for a division champion, but Dodgers center fielder… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

I need some dirt to kick. I need a base to throw. I need a big blue chest to bump. I need an explanation

How did the Dodgers' Matt Kemp not win the National League most-valuable-player award?

Somebody tell me. Somebody show me. Use sabermetrics. Go to the video. I don't care. If there is one piece of concrete evidence that says Kemp should not have been voted MVP over Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, I want to see it.

This is a robbery greater than a Kemp leaping catch. This is a steal more blatant than a Kemp sprint. This is a hosing more definitive than when Kemp puts on his socks.

In voting by my fellow members of the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America, Braun won the award Tuesday over Kemp, and it wasn't really close, and it shouldn't have been close. Kemp should have easily won, and if baseball ever needs instant replay, it is right now.

Kemp had more home runs than Braun. He had more runs batted in. He had more runs scored. He had more stolen bases. He had a better on-base percentage.

When you throw everything together and calculate the hot stat known as wins above replacement, which determines how many wins a player is worth to his team, Kemp led the NL and Braun finished second.

All this, and Kemp batted in a lineup filled with mediocrity while Braun had the benefit of batting in front of the man who finished third in the MVP voting, the mighty Prince Fielder.

Oh, so the award is about more than just hitting? Fine. When he wasn't dominating the NL at the plate, Kemp was dominating perhaps its most important defensive position, winning a Gold Glove in center field. Braun played an unremarkable left field.

Kemp won at the plate, he won in the field, yet he lost in the ballot box. Braun got 20 first-place votes and Kemp received only half as many. With all due respect to a baseball writers organization of which I have been a member for nearly 30 years, were we watching the same season?

Kemp's numbers, of course, produced something more valuable than an award, something worth $160 million, and he doesn't need me beating his drum for a bauble that will only end up collecting dust somewhere. But still, history is history, and in this case, those who record baseball history got it wrong.

With the exception of slugging percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage, Braun led Kemp in only one publicized statistic. But in the minds of those who are rewriting the rules based on some misguided tradition, it was the most important statistic.

Braun's Brewers won 96 games. Kemp's Dodgers won 82 games. Period. End of argument.

Braun won the MVP award because many writers have come to associate "most valuable" with "postseason," and while the Brewers won the Central Division the Dodgers went nowhere.

Never mind that five other NL MVPs since 2000 have come from teams that didn't reach the playoffs. Never mind that the last time a Brewer won the MVP award, Robin Yount led the 1989 team to a fourth-place finish.

And, really, never mind that the actual MVP ballot contains the mandate: "The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifiers."

Certainly, winning can matter. I was around Kirk Gibson when he won the 1988 MVP after driving in only 76 runs for the Dodgers, and he deserved it because he carried them into October.

But Braun only carried the Brewers as much as anybody can carry a team containing the giant Fielder. Kemp carried the Dodgers through a year marked by bankruptcy and apathy, carried them in front of empty seats in a sometimes empty-looking lineup, kept thrilling when everyone thought the thrill was gone.

The Times has a policy forbidding staff members to vote on awards, so I wasn't eligible to serve as one of the two designated voters from the Los Angeles-Anaheim chapter of the BBWAA.

One such voter, Tim Brown, national columnist for Yahoo Sports, picked Kemp. The other voter was Steve Dilbeck, who writes for The Times' Dodgers blog on a freelance basis. He's an award-winning columnist who was recently honored with the Bob Hunter Award for more than 25 years of baseball writing achievement in Southern California.

Yet, my man blew it by voting for Braun.

Perhaps nobody saw Kemp more last year than Dilbeck, who wrote Web stories on nearly every Dodgers game while attending nearly every game at Dodger Stadium.

Yet, he still voted for Braun?

"I didn't look at it as voting against Matt Kemp, he had a sensational year. It was a pleasure to watch. I agonized over it," Dilbeck said. "But in the end, I gave credence to somebody who helped a team win, who proved most valuable to winning."

Dilbeck admitted he voted the standings as much as the statistics, saying, "If there had not been a guy almost equal to Kemp, who played games that mattered all year long, who helped his team win the division, I would have given it to Kemp. But Ryan Braun did all those things."

I would pick Dilbeck as an MVP for having the courage to follow his heart and vote against a guy he must deal with every day. But I would bench him and others for applying their own definition to a word that holds no such official meaning.

Oh well. At least Kemp is a little mad, and that always helps with him. If he would have won, would he have promised an upcoming season with an unprecedented 50 homers and 50 stolen bases?

"I'm gonna go 50-50 next year," he told reporters in a conference call. "Y'all created a monster."

A monstrosity will do that.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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