Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun has bested Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp for the National League MVP Award. Braun hit .332 with 32 homeruns and 111 RBI for the NL Central Division champions. Known as The Hebrew Hammer, Braun also led the NL in slugging percentage (SLG) and on base plus slugging percentage (OPS) with .597 and .994, respectively. Braun becomes the first Jewish player to win the NL MVP since Sandy Koufax did it with the 1963 World Series champion Dodgers.
Kemp hit .324 while leading the NL in both homeruns and RBI with 39 and 126, respectively and earned a Gold Glove for his play in centerfield. He finished third in the NL batting race behind Braun and free agent shortstop Jose Reyes who hit .337 for the New York Mets in 2011. Had Kemp won the batting title he would have been the first Triple Crown winner in MLB since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967 with the “Impossible Dream” AL champion Boston Red Sox and the first in the Senior Circuit since Joe Medwick did it with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937. If Kemp had won the Triple Crown he would have won the MVP unaminously. The only other way Kemp would have won the NL MVP would have been if the Dodgers made the post-season but they finished 11½ games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West in 2011.
So going forward who will be better? Who will become the NL’s most dominating right-handed hitter? Braun or Kemp? Braun is about a year older than Kemp but Kemp reached the big leagues a year before Braun. On the other hand, while Kemp was a sixth round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2003, Braun was a first round draft pick by the Brewers in 2005 and fifth pick overall in the country and needed far less minor league seasoning than Kemp. So it was no surprise to see Braun make an immediate impact when he reached the bigs (he won NL Rookie of the Year in 2007.) Kemp, on the other hand, was viewed as an underachiever even within the Dodgers organization until this season. I remember when Dodgers GM Ned Colletti ripped Kemp a new one on a radio talk show early in the 2010 season.
But what a difference a year makes. Last week, Kemp signed an 8-year, $160 million contract extension which will keep him wearing Dodger blue through 2019. Interestingly, in April of this year, Braun signed a five-year contract extension with the Brewers worth $105 million. Keep in mind that Braun had previously signed a seven-year contract with the Brew Crew during the 2008 season. This means the Brewers have Braun’s services through the 2020 season.
I think Braun is the better investment of the two. Braun has demonstrated he can be productive year in and year out while Kemp hasn’t yet demonstrated he can put together productive back to back seasons. I grant you that Kemp’s homerun totals have increased every season but his batting average, on base percentage and run production haven’t been as consistent as that of Braun. In his rookie season, Braun had 97 RBI and has had four consecutive 100 plus RBI seasons. He’s also hit over .300 in four of his five big league seasons.
I am not saying Kemp isn’t a productive big league player but I can’t help but think that 2011 was a career year for him. It would come as no surprise to me if Kemp were to be disappointing in 2012 while Braun has yet another MVP caliber season.