Kemp for MVP, and Kershaw, too

The 2011 Dodgers are a bad team having a bad season. But they shouldn’t be subject to a bad offseason.

When Major League Baseball hands out awards this fall, Dodgers should be queuing up at the front of the line. But they probably won’t be.

With a month to play — and we stipulate a lot can change in September, though it probably won’t — the best pitcher in the National League, arguably, has been the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Don’t count on him winning the Cy Young Award.

The best player in the NL, inarguably, has been Dodgers’ outfielder Matt Kemp. But don’t expect him to be the MVP.

The two Dodgers are likely to be left out as if they were wannabes trying to get into a chic L.A. club. Because when voters sit down and mark their ballots, if they’re thinking of the Dodgers in 2011, they’ll be thinking of the McCourts’ divorce trial and the Dodgers’ bankruptcy, and what they read on TMZ and the Business Journal, not on ESPN.

This isn’t a rap on voters — not completely. They made a groundbreaking vote, and a correct one, last year to award the AL Cy Young to a 13-12 pitcher (Felix Hernandez) for a bottom-feeder over a 19-6 pennant-winner (David Price), and a 21-7 playoff participant (CC Sabathia). We’ve come a long way from LaMarr Hoyt and Pete Vuckovich.

But sabermetrics can only bring us so far. We’ll see this fall how far.

Never before have voters awarded the Cy Young and MVP to players from losing teams in the same year, let alone the same team. Which naturally begs the question: If Kershaw and Kemp are that good, why are the Dodgers only 62-70 after Sunday’s games?

The answer is as simple as looking at their 23 teammates. The Dodgers are 26th in MLB in runs scored despite Kemp’s .320 average, 31 homers and 34 steals; they’re seventh in ERA at 3.64, but 14th at 3.85 if you subtract Kershaw’s 2.51.

If you want to know what the 2011 Dodgers would be without Kemp and Kershaw, look at the Astros. Then lower.

It’s unreasonable to hold Kershaw and Kemp responsible for the failings of their teammates. But voters probably will.

Only 6 times has the MVP been awarded to players on teams which finished less than .500 (twice to a .500 team’s player). Half of those have been to Cubs — you can argue that if the MVP was never awarded to players on bad teams, the Cubs would never win it. (the complete list below).

The Cy Young is more generous, as by definition it should be — 15 times in a more limited span has it gone to pitchers on non-winning teams, including the last three years and four of the last five (Seattle’s Hernandez in 2011; Kansas City’s Zack Greinke in 2009; San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum and Cleveland’s Cliff Lee in 2008 and Arizona’s Brandon Webb in 2006).

Sidebar: No pitcher has been more superior to his team than 1972 winner Steve Carlton, who was 27-10 for the 59-97 Phillies. When Carlton didn’t get a decision, the Phillies were 32-87, and Carlton did all that with one huge disadvantage: he never got to pitch against his own hapless teammates.

So what chance do Kershaw and Kemp have? Better than unfortunate Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry, who finished third to Vuckovich (1982) and second to Hoyt (1983), or Jays starter Dave Stieb, whose league-high 288.1 innings and .658 OPS against weren’t enough to wrest the award from Vuckvoich and his .740 OPS against.  Talk about election fraud.

This year’s Cy Young race more closely resembles Los Angeles traffic — it’s congested, and no one’s pulling away. Kershaw leads the NL in OPS against at .569 and strikeouts at 207, is tied for second in innings pitched at 189.2, is third in ERA at 2.51, complete games and batting average against at .212. He’s 16-5 which eliminates the single-issue voters’ objections.

Kershaw’s is a good case, but not compelling and statistically exclusive. There is the expectation one of the Phillies’ aces should win, and three have arguments: Cliff Lee is 14-7 with a 2.71 ERA, .615 OPS against and five shutouts; Roy Halladay is 15-5 with a 2.56 ERA and .592 OPS against; Cole Hamels returns from injury on Monday with a 13-7 record, 2.62 ERA and .576 OPS against. Halladay has the best WAR (wins above replacement) of all three Phillies’ pitchers and Kershaw: 6.0 to 5.2.

All three Phillies also can explain away some of Kershaw’s advantages via park differential: Kershaw’s home park is pitcher-friendly, the Phillies’ is pitcher-hostile.

Which brings us to Kemp, whose MVP fight is with Brewers, not Phillies. The Brewers are en route to winning their second title ever, first in the National League and first in 29 years. When Bernie Brewer drops down the slide, he’s anticipating toasting the MVP, whether it be Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder.

Both are worthy, but Kemp is better, and winning the division doesn’t entitle the Brewers to the MVP award (which explains Vuckovich’s 1982 Cy Young). Braun is the better of the Brewers’ candidates — his OPS is 44 points higher than Fielder’s (and 35 more than Kemp’s) and he has 30 steals to Fielder’s less than zero (0-for-1).

But Kemp plays in the more difficult hitter’s park, defends center field and has a WAR more than a full point better than Braun’s. That’s not close — it’s as one-sided as a series with the Astros.

Kemp is the MVP, even if most of his value has been expended making Aaron Miles and the Dodgers 85-game losers instead of 95-game losers. To penalize Kemp for James Loney’s futility is no different than overly crediting the Phillies’ Ryan Howard for so often batting with Shane Victorino on second. It’s not of his doing.

Ask yourself this: if Kemp played center field for the Brewers this year and Braun played left field for the Dodgers, who gains more? The Dodgers? Really? Care to remember the half-season Carlos Gomez spent flailing around center field for the Brewers?

Assuming the last month plays out like the first five, here’s one vote for Kemp. And maybe Kershaw too.



The 8 players named MVP despite finishing on teams which finished .500 or less, with the year, player, team and team’s record: 1913, Jake Daubert, Brooklyn Superbas, 65-84; 1952, Hank Sauer, Chicago Cubs, 77-77; 1958, Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 72-82; 1959, Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 74-80; 1987, Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 76-85; 1989, Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 81-81; 1991, Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 67-95; 2003, Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 71-91.

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One Response to Kemp for MVP, and Kershaw, too

  1. Mike says:

    You may see both win the awards this year, despite playing for a crappy team, based simply on circumstances. Just as having two or three Heisman candidates from the southeast helps someone from the west coast win, Kershaw has a solid chance simply because the northeast writers will be canceling eachother out three times over. Kemp could benefit from a similar problem in Milwaukee.

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