If Matt Kemp‘s going to win the NL MVP this year, he’s going to have to win the Triple Crown. It’s as simple as that, in my view, because if he’s going to overcome the stigma of playing for a non-contending team – i.e., the “if he’s so good, then how come James Loney was awful until July, Andre Ethier was hurt, and Juan Uribe was a pile of useless crap all year?” crowd – then he’s going to have do something that cannot be ignored to draw votes away from the playoff-bound Ryan Braun. (Braun, of course, was so valuable that it’s entirely because of his greatness that Prince Fielder mashed and Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Yovani Gallardo were awesome.) The Triple Crown is admittedly kind of silly because it includes straight batting average and RBI, which are hardly the best indicators of anything, but it’s still fun to think about because no National Leaguer has done it since Ducky Medwick back in 1937. (Even if no one really has been thinking about it.)
Remember, we’re talking about two different topics here, because “who is actually the best or most valuable player in the league” is not the same thing as “who will the voters choose”. On the first topic, it’s hard to argue against Kemp when Aaron Gleeman is pointing out that that Kemp’s 9.6 rWAR is the closest anyone’s come to 10 since Barry Bonds had 12.6 in 2004, and when even Brewer fans over at The Brewers Bar are writing things like this:
Braun will get plenty of support for being a part of a winning team that’s headed to the postseason, but it’s important to take into consideration the quality of teammates here. The Brewers have enough pieces (Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks pre-injury, Corey Hart, the pitching staff) that they’d still be a winning team without Braun. Kemp has been the only true power threat in the Los Angeles lineup this year while being surrounded with the likes of Aaron Miles, Tony Gwynn, Jamey Carroll, and Andre Ethier on a bum knee. Yes, the Dodgers are a .500 team with Kemp, but they’d be a last-place team without him. That’s valuable, isn’t it?
Having another MVP come out of Milwaukee would be something cool for Brewers fans to brag about, but it doesn’t seem like it would be a selection without its critics. Not winning the award would be a tough break for Braun, who’s having a career year and is perhaps finally emerging on the national stage, but it just so happens that there is a pair of great candidates this year. Either player would be a solid MVP choice, but right now it looks like Kemp would be the better one.
Of course, James at TBB is a rational, knowledgeable writer, able to put local bias aside and look behind the surface level metrics of “wins” and “RBI”. That’s not the case for a lot of the electorate, however – not when there’s articles like this trash still being written – and if Kemp is going to win favor in that crowd, despite being from a mess of a West Coast club, winning the Triple Crown is the best way to do it. Even if 2/3 of that crown is less than useful.
At the moment, Kemp leads the NL in RBI by 6 over Ryan Howard and 14 over Braun, and is likely to keep that lead. He’s one behind Albert Pujols in HR; as great as Pujols is, he’s not really in the conversation this year, and if Kemp loses the MVP because he barely lost out to a player who isn’t even a direct competitor for the award, well, then that should illustrate the fallacy of this entire exercise anyway.
But it’s batting average which is going to be the toughest for Kemp to make up, because even after his outlandish performance of the last few days, he’s still at .326, four points behind Braun’s .330 and three behind Jose Reyes‘ .329. That may not sound like a lot, but with so many games in the books, Kemp is going to need some help from Braun in coming down by a few points, in addition to Kemp improving his own tally. (Yes, I hate that I’m devoting words to batting average, too.)
Milwaukee ends their season with a six-game homestand against Florida & Pittsburgh, and while Braun’s had very little opportunity to face the Florida starters, he has had good success in the (also admittedly limited) shots against two of the three scheduled Pirates:
If Kemp loses the MVP to Braun, there is absolutely no shame in that, since Braun is a great player having a great season (and with 31 steals (!), is one of the few who can negate Kemp’s running advantage). I would just like it to be for better reasons than “well, the Brewers won more games.” If Kemp can win the Triple Crown and take the award, that’s a conversation we won’t have to worry about.