The Los Angeles Dodgers made headlines in 2011 for all the wrong reasons.
Instead of welcoming new manager Don Mattingly and challenging for the National League West crown, the famed organization was mired in excruciating stories, including the savage beating of Giants' fan Bryan Stow in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, and disclosures that owner Frank McCourt was making deals that were in sole interest of his dwindling pocketbook as he was involved in an expensive and contentious divorce from wife, Jamie.
Despite these unfortunate off-the-field incidents, the Dodgers still played baseball, and managed to finish over .500.
While Clayton Kershaw put up Cy Young numbers, center fielder Matt Kemp proved he was the best non-pitcher in the National League.
Though Kemp faces some tough competition from other stars, such as Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman and Joey Votto, it is Kemp who deserves the award for these reasons:
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1) His hitting numbers are outstanding. Kemp batted .324 with 39 home runs and 126 runs batted in. He finished first in homers, first in RBIs, and third in batting average. Kemp trailed batting champion Jose Reyes, who didn't play the entire season, by .013. It was almost a triple crown effort for Kemp, and those are very hard to come by.
Was Kemp clutch? Yes. He batted .344 with runners on base. Was Kemp only strong against one left-handers? No. He batted .341 against left-handers, but nearly equally excellent .319 against right-handers.
2) Kemp didn't have a strong bat behind him. While many star sluggers have a quality player batting behind then, Kemp didn't have much support. Struggling players like Juan Uribe would bat behind Kemp, and often the players changed and often to substandard results. Andre Either's power numbers declined due to a lingering knee injury.
3) Kemp stole 40 bases. In a new era where power numbers are not what they used to be, teams are looking for speed, and Kemp proved he's a new era player with his 40 stolen bases. Kemp finished tied for a distant second behind Michael Bourn, and that's impressive given Kemp's power numbers. Few power hitters, if any, have Kemp's speed.
4) Dodger Stadium is a hitters' park, and the NL West is a pitcher's division. While some players have the fortune of playing half the season in a park where the ball seems to soar over the fences, Dodger hitters play at Dodger Stadium, where the air isn't thin for cheap home runs to occur. Meanwhile, the NL West is loaded with some quality pitching staff, including the excellent San Francisco Giants' rotation. Indeed, Kemp earned his numbers, and those 39 homers are certainly not an inflated figure.
5) Gold Glove defense, and a good attitude. Kemp, who is known to cover a lot of ground with his speed, led all center fielders with 11 assists. Though there are other candidates who may be more fitting for the NL Gold Glove like Shane Victorino, Chris Young, and Bourn, Kemp deserves to be in the conversation. And through a turbulent Dodgers' season, where Ethier, his fellow outfield teammate, mouthed off for unforeseen reasons, Kemp remained a good citizen.
After a somewhat problematic season in 2010, Kemp rebounded in 2011. It was a very impressive return to form for a player that some critics questioned.
There is little argument to say that Kemp doesn't deserve the MVP, aside from the Dodgers' lack of team success. Baseball is almost never the result of one player's success or failure, so the Dodgers' failures this season shouldn't hurt Kemp's MVP chances.
After a painful 2011 season, Dodger fans deserve to see their star center fielder take home the MVP trophy.