Oct 14

Remembering 2011: Matt Kemp

Jennifer Stewart/US PresswireMatt Kemp (17)

A year ago today, on the occasion of John Wooden’s 100th birthday, I published a long piece about Matt Kemp, the Pyramid of Success and the deceptive complexity of “effort.”

… If Kemp were to say to himself – and I personally don’t think for a moment he is saying this to himself – “I have money, I have love, I have a good job and I have my health, and I have this all just by being who I already am, and even though I’m no longer the best, that’s all I need,” no one would think for a moment that this was a legitimate perspective, even though outside the world of competitive sports, it most certainly is. In sports, there’s no greater sin than unrealized potential. And yet in life, in real life, letting some of your potential go at a certain point can actually be a gift to yourself and your loved ones. …

… In the coming year, we’ll see what Kemp is made of at age 26. We’ll see how much he steps up his mental game. It’s silly to assume that he won’t develop at all, but if he doesn’t develop as much as people like me hope, there are all kinds of reasons why. They’re not excuses. They’re reasons.

None of us know how Kemp will respond to the challenge. I’m not sure Kemp even knows. Plus, his performance in 2011 won’t necessarily be an accurate reflection of his work ethic. He could coast, and improve based on just natural development. He could bust his butt, and slide farther back. People will cheer if he does well, boo if he does poorly, draw conclusions based on whatever they see fit. …

Kemp had a 2011 season that would seem to have, to use an appropriate metaphor, covered all the bases. If the man behind the curtain were to pull it aside and reveal that the Bison did not attack 2011 with a singularity and clarity of purpose and determination, simultaneous to the continued blossoming of his natural gifts, it would be a remarkable surprise.

Paging through just a portion of his season highlights … you think you have perspective on his season, and you realize just how many distinct, superlative moments it comprised.

From Opening Day, when he reached base four times, to the end of the season, when he hit his 39th home run, drove in his 126th run, scored his 115th run, recorded his 195th hit, finished his season with a .399 on-base percentage and .586 slugging percentage and completed his case for the National League Most Valuable Player Award (as well as Baseball America’s Major League Player of the Year Award, officially) … do I need to even need to finish this sentence? Kemp was a bullet train, a cross-country express that never slowed, that only wavered under the vibrations of his own self-generated force.

Clarity of purpose.

A year ago today, I injected myself arrogantly into the discussion of Matt Kemp, the Pyramid of Success and the deceptive complexity of “effort,” with the implication that, for all our tangible differences, Kemp and I might in some way be kindred spirits. The similarities seem much more esoteric now. Kemp broke through the barriers like Chuck Yeager flying Glamorous Glennis through the speed of sound – the date was October 14, John Wooden’s 37th birthday and the last he celebrated before coming west to UCLA –  while I find myself as I was a year ago, as I have been so many years, unsure of both what direction and what velocity I should choose, yearning to feel satisfied and yet nagged that I can’t be.

Matt Kemp pierced through all that. He mastered the art and science of baseball and life this year, to my great delight, and I’m still feeling the sonic boom.

Oct 13

Meet me at the fair

As I wrestle with the question, are the St. Louis Cardinals really going to take two barely qualified teams to the World Series in six seasons?

Sep 29

Is award a case of brains vs. Braun?

When I read the news release that Dee Gordon had been named National League Rookie of the Month, I didn’t get far before I realized that maybe he shouldn’t have won the award. Not that I wasn’t pleased for Gordon or happy with his performance, but the first player under “others receiving votes,” Washington catcher Wilson Ramos, had a higher on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Now, Ramos didn’t play as many games, and he didn’t have Gordon’s steals or his NL-high 42 hits, but it’s not as if I can’t see the case for the non-Dodger.

So when I see that Ryan Braun has been named NL Player of the Month for September, when Braun’s on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, RBI and runs created were lower than those of Matt Kemp (and other players), I feel I’m entitled to raise an eyebrow or three.

Note, by the way, that the confusing word “valuable” does not appear in the award.

It’s funny – I don’t really have my heart in this post (and I certainly don’t have any anger), because I happen to think Braun is a great player. That division-clinching home run he hit, boosting Milwaukee to its first title since the 1980s, is something Brewer fans will cherish for a long, long time. I know this because I still cherish the division-clinching home run Steve Finley hit in 2004, boosting the Dodgers to their first title since the 1990s.

But every time I told myself not to bother with this post, there was something else that told me that it was worth noting that Matt Kemp had a better September than the NL Player of the Month for September. And so that’s what I’m doing. (Also, I kind of liked the headline, whether or not it makes perfect sense.)

Sep 27

Did Hiroki Kuroda decide the AL wild card?

When Hiroki Kuroda chose not to waive his no-trade clause at the end of July, it left one of his leading suitors, the Boston Red Sox, scrambling.

The Red Sox ended up picking up Erik Bedard from Seattle in the three-team, seven-player deal that sent Tim Federowicz and Stephen Fife to Los Angeles and Trayvon Robinson to Seattle. And then … well, let Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com tell the story.

Tonight’s forecast: Gloom.

And that’s just the weather (scattered thundershowers, 60 percent chance of rain).

It isn’t much better for the Red Sox, who are left with no choice Tuesday but to rely on Erik Bedard, a sore-legged pitcher whose appetite for the big stage has been openly questioned by a former employer, to keep them alive for a playoff spot that should never have been in jeopardy. …

Bedard came back from a 16-day absence because of a strained lat and sore knee last week against the Orioles and lasted just 2 2/3 innings, needing a staggering 51 pitches to record those two outs in the third. The Red Sox will need much more from him Tuesday night.

Boston has surrendered a 10-game lead in the American League wild card race, thanks in large part to a 7.26 ERA for their starting pitchers in September, Edes notes.

Kuroda has a 3.29 ERA since the trade deadline, though it’s 4.18 in a September that has seen him have neck problems. Perhaps going to Boston wouldn’t have helped, but I’m guessing the Red Sox would be happy to have him pitching on the East Coast tonight instead of for the Dodgers in Arizona.

* * *

  • I’m a little concerned with the talk that Don Mattingly might have Matt Kemp bat leadoff to increase his chances (rather slightly, I’d say) of reaching 40 homers and 40 steals. It could spread the impression for potential Most Valuable Player voters that Kemp’s numbers were more of a gimmick in games that weren’t serious. Probably doesn’t matter much either way, but I’d leave Kemp at No. 3 and take his chances there.
  • Meanwhile, when they talk about a player’s body in “Moneyball,” I don’t think they mean this.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN’s Sweet Spot asks if Kemp is having the greatest season ever by a Los Angeles Dodger position player.

    … According to Baseball-Reference WAR, his season ranks only behind Adrian Beltre’s 48-homer season in 2004, and just ahead of Mike Piazza’s 1997. In fact, forget limiting it to just Los Angeles. The only Brooklyn Dodger seasons that rate higher are two from Jackie Robinson, in 1949 and 1951.

  • Today is the 75th anniversary of longtime Dodger manager Walter Alston’s one and only at-bat in the majors, writes Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times.

    … on Sept. 27, 1936, he was just a young 24-year-old hoping to get his shot. He was a bit old for a prospect because he’d gone to college and only went pro after graduating.

    In the minors Alston showed promise, hitting over .300 with power in the St. Louis farm system, but there was a big problem. He played first base for a team that already had Johnny Mize. Four times Alston would lead his league in homers, but there was no place for him in the majors. And the more the years went by, the less the aging Alston seemed like a prospect. …

  • Russ Mitchell is having season-ending wrist surgery today, the Dodgers said. He is expected to play winter ball.
  • A tight hamstring is expected to keep Rafael Furcal on the sidelines for the final two games of the Cardinals’ playoff push.
Sep 26

Matt Kemp by the numbers

This statistical run-down comes courtesy of Mark Simon with ESPN Stats and Information.

With 3 games left in the season, Matt Kemp has a slim chance to be the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski won it with the 1967 Red Sox. He would be the first Triple Crown winner from a National League team since Joe Medwick of the 1937 Cardinals.

Kemp trails in the batting race by nine points and needs a hot streak to have a chance to win.

To win the Triple Crown, a player must lead his league in batting average, home runs, and RBI. Kemp leads the NL in RBI and is closing in on the lead in batting average and home runs.

Past Triple Crown winners

Carl Yastrzemski; 1967 Red Sox  (MVP)
Frank Robinson; 1966 Orioles  (MVP)
Mickey Mantle; 1956 Yankees  (MVP)
Ted Williams; 1947 Red Sox  (Not MVP
Ted Williams; 1942 Red Sox  (Not MVP)
Joe Medwick; 1937 Cardinals  (MVP)
Lou Gehrig; 1934 Yankees  (Not MVP)
Chuck Klein; 1933 Phillies  (Not MVP)
Jimmie Foxx; 1933 Athletics  (MVP)
Rogers Hornsby; 1925 Cardinals  (MVP)
Rogers Hornsby; 1922 Cardinals  (No MVP awarded)
>> All members of Baseball Hall of Fame

Current NL Leader Boards

BATTING AVERAGE- Ryan Braun, Milwaukee, .333; Jose Reyes, New York, .331; Matt Kemp, Los Angeles, .324; Hunter Pence, Philadelphia, .313; Joey Votto, Cincinnati, .312

HOME RUNS-Matt Kemp, Los Angeles, 37; Albert Pujols, St. Louis, 37; Prince Fielder, Milwaukee, 35; Dan Uggla, Atlanta, 35; Mike Stanton, Florida, 34; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee, 33; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia, 33

RBI-Matt Kemp, Los Angeles, 119; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia, 115; Prince Fielder, Milwaukee, 114; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee, 110; Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado, 105

Matt Kemp – Current 2011 NL Ranks

BA .325 3rd (Ryan Braun, .333)
HR 37 T-1st
RBI 119 1st

Three games to go

The Dodgers have 3 games left with the Diamondbacks, all on the road. This could be advantageous to Kemp, because it ensures the Dodgers 9 innings of at-bats per game (instead of 8).

Kemp is hitting .310 with 5 HR and 16 RBI in 15 games against the Diamondbacks this season.

Pitching Probables, Next 3 Days:

Monday: Daniel Hudson; Kemp is 2-8 career vs Hudson
Tuesday: Jarrod Parker; 1st round pick in 2007 making MLB debut
Wednesday: Joe Saunders; Kemp has .333 BA, 3 HR, 9-27 career vs Saunders Continue reading

Sep 24

The myth and reality of ‘valuable’

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2. Number of games played.

3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4. Former winners are eligible.

5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Baseball Writers Association of America official site

* * *

The idea that an MVP must come from a contending team is completely invented. It is not part of the rules of the award nor its roots. Nor is it part of baseball history, unless you’d like to go back and take Ernie Banks’ MVP awards away from him.

Nevertheless, the idea persists among many that an MVP must come from a team that, at a minimum, is in the thick of a pennant race. It comes from people who believe, apparently, that if a tree falls in the woods, it does not make a sound.

Guess what.  It makes a sound.

* * *

If, instead of voting for the player with the best performance, you vote for only the player with the best performance on a potential champion, you’re arguing that anything that takes place outside the spotlight doesn’t matter.

Think of the implications of that.

I have three kids.  Sometimes I watch them play. Right now they’re playing downstairs while I type this. If one of my children does something nice for another, that is a good thing, whether I’m in the room or not.  The value is equal. To think otherwise is to send a message that your actions only matter when people are watching.

Baseball asks you to run out a ground ball even when you’re sure you’re going to be out.  It asks you to put your best effort even if you’re team is 50 games out of first place. The sport asks this, for one, because fans and TV networks have been promised this in exchange for their hard-earned money. And because it’s a belief that virtually all of us share. Do your best.

To then turn around and say that “Oh, by the way, we aren’t paying attention to you anymore, so your effort doesn’t matter,” is nonsensical.

And it’s not a matter of degree. Even though you have an adjusted OPS+ of xxx, playing on a contending team doesn’t mean you add three points, or 10 points or 24.6 points.  The value of the same performance is the same regardless of where it took place.

Sending my kids to college is so much more important to me than buying my kids the Webkinz stuffed animals they love.  Nevertheless, $10 I put away for my kids’ education is not more valuable than $20 I spend on the toy. No, $20 is more than $10.

* * *

All that being said, the idea that the Dodgers’ games have been meaningless this season is a complete fiction.

They were clearly meaningful in April and May, before anyone had broken free in the National League West.

They were also meaningful later in the season, even after the losing began. If not for Arizona’s remarkable breakthrough this season, something that no one could have guaranteed, the Dodgers’ second-half rally would have put them in the thick of the race. With five games to go in the season, the Dodgers have 79 victories, which means they still have the chance of matching their division-winning total of 2008 and surpassing the Padres’ division-winning total of 2005.

When, exactly, were the Dodgers supposed to stop trying?

But even if you concede that this team was not going to go to the playoffs, the indispensable point is this: The Dodgers have had meaning all season as an opponent.

From April through September, the Dodgers played games that mattered because winning or losing had a direct effect on the pennant races. In addition to their own postseason dreams, there were also postseason dreams for their opponents. On Tuesday, San Francisco came to Los Angeles, having won eight games in a row in making a late run for the playoffs. With two out in the first inning, Matt Kemp singled and then scored a run off Tim Lincecum in what became a 2-1 victory that severely damaged their hopes.

Then, a day after the Giants beat the Dodgers to keep their hopes alive and a day before San Francisco had a showdown series with Arizona, Kemp went 4 for 4 with three doubles and a home run in a Dodger victory that was crushing for the Giants.

You want to tell San Francisco’s fans that that didn’t count?

The Dodgers were not eliminated from postseason contention until September 17. Every game they played to that point counted for themselves. In their entire 2011 season, they will have played eight games – two against Pittsburgh, three in their current series against San Diego and three to finish the season against NL West champion Arizona – that had no bearing on the postseason (though keeping in mind they still mean something to the fans who watch).

Ryan Braun’s Milwaukee Brewers, who like the Diamondbacks clinched their division title Friday, will play five games this season that have no bearing on the postseason.

That’s a three-game difference out of 162. Three games in which Kemp’s performance mattered less to the playoff race than Braun’s.

* * *

Pressure of the pennant chase? I don’t even need to bother with this one, because Joe Posnanski already destroyed this argument:

… This line — that it’s easier to put up numbers without pennant pressure — is a lot like that. Nobody can possibly believe this. First of all, there’s the obvious flaw: If it were easier to put up numbers in non-pressure situations, then players would consistently and obviously have better years on lousy teams than they do on good ones. Does this ring even the slightest bell of truth? Does anyone believe that Derek Jeter would have put up better numbers had he played for Kansas City? Does anyone believe that Albert Pujols would be so much better if he had spent his career playing in the carefree world of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Roy Halladay was great for mediocre Blue Jays teams and is great for outstanding Phillies teams. Hank Aaron was the same great player with the same great numbers when Milwaukee won, when Milwaukee almost won, and when Milwaukee wasn’t very good at all. …

If you’ve read this blog at all you know: I’ve covered a lot of bad teams in my life. I’ve been around some good ones, too. And as far as “pressure” goes, well, from my observation, it’s not even close. There is infinitely more pressure on players on lousy teams than on good ones. Obviously, this depends on how you define pressure, but if the textbook definition of pressure is “the feeling of stressful urgency cause by the necessity of achieving something,” well, absolutely, there’s way more pressure on the lousy teams.

… Think about it: What pressure is there on players in pennant races? The pressure to win? Sure. But players come to the ballpark energized. Everyone on the team is into it. The crowd is alive and hopeful. The afternoon crackles. Anticipation. Excitement. There’s nothing in sports quite like the energy in a baseball clubhouse during a pennant race. Players arrive early to prepare. Teammates help each other. Everyone’s in a good mood. There’s a feeling swirling around: This is exactly the childhood dream. The added importance of the moment could, in theory I suppose, create extra stress. But the reality I’ve seen is precisely the opposite. The importance sharpens the senses, feeds the enthusiasm, makes the day brighter. Baseball is a long season. Anything to give a day a little gravity, to separate it from yesterday, to make it all more interesting — anything like that, I think, is much more likely to make it EASIER to play closer to one’s peak.

A losing clubhouse? Exactly the opposite. The downward pressure is enormous and overwhelming — after all, who cares? The town has moved on. A Hawaiian vacation awaits. Teammates are fighting to keep their jobs or fighting to impress someone on another team or just plain fighting. The manager might be worried about his job. The reporters are few, and they’re negative. Smaller crowds make it easier to hear the drunken critics. Support is much harder to come by, and there is constant, intense force demanding that you just stop trying so hard. After all: Why take that extra BP? You’ve got the swing down. Why study a few extra minutes of film? You’ve faced that hitter before. Why take that extra base? Why challenge him on that 3-1 pitch? Why? You’re down 9-3 anyway.

It’s absolutely AMAZING to me when a player puts up a fantastic year even when the team around him stinks. …

The Dodgers, frankly, deserve a special recognition in this category. If there were a Downward Pressure World Series, they surely would have won. With unsurpassed nightmares in the owners’ suite and a fan base in outward revolt, with numerous devotees boycotting games, with expectations for success absolutely disappearing, late summer in Los Angeles should have been the most soul-sapping time for a player in the franchise’s 54 seasons here, even more so than the 99-loss 1992 season played in the aftermath of the city’s riots.

Instead, Kemp, not to mention Clayton Kershaw and some others, bore down and did the only thing anyone can ask – be the best they can be. They were better than anyone had a right to expect.

It is, in terms of environment, easily as impressive an achievement as what the same performance would have been on a season-long contender.

* * *

I’m not saying it’s a stupid question to wonder if a player on a non-contender should get voted MVP? Even Vin Scully asked the question aloud during Friday’s Dodger broadcast.

The problem is not with the question. The problem has been with the answer.

If the answer is, “The goal is to win a championship, and any performance that does not come with a championship isn’t the most valuable,” you’re saying that Matt Kemp wasn’t valuable because Juan Uribe was terrible. Does that make any sense? “Because my next-door neighbor is a bad guy, it doesn’t matter how good I am.”

Value, clearly and cleanly, comes down to this. What would you rather have?  If you knew everything there was to know about the 2011 regular season in advance, which player would have been your first pick before Opening Day?

If you think Ryan Braun was a better player than Matt Kemp this year, vote for him.

If you think Braun was absolutely, indivisibly, incontrovertibly equal to Kemp this year, and you want to use the fact that Braun is going to the postseason as the only thing that can break the deadlock, vote for him.

But if you think Kemp was better than Braun, by a mile or a millimeter, and you vote for Braun, you’re making a mistake. You’re not upholding the values of this game or our society – you’re subverting them.

Sep 23

Kemp ties Pujols in homers, but loses ground to Braun in MVP race?

Lenny Ignelzi/APThe Bison roams free.

In St. Louis, Albert Pujols had a double, but no home runs.

In Milwaukee, Ryan Braun was 0 for 3, extending his recent slump to 1 for 16.

But then in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Marlins, with the score tied 1-1, Braun hit a three-run home run that, in no particular order, helped clinch the National League Central for the Brewers, raised his batting average back to .329 and seized the headlines in the NL Most Valuable Player race all at once.

Matt Kemp had struck out and flied out in his first two at-bats, and perhaps the momentum seemed to be shifting.

But then, on his 27th birthday, with his mom in the front row of Petco Park, Kemp unloaded on a 1-2 fastball from San Diego lefty Wade Le Blanc and tattooed it to right-center field, tying Pujols with his 37th home run of the season in the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory over the Padres.

This is as thrilling a finish to an after-they’ve-been-eliminated season for the Dodgers as I believe I’ve witnessed.

After missing a double by a foot on a hard liner that went foul, Kemp struck out in his final at-bat. We’re going down to the wire for sure.

* * *

After 6 1/3 scoreless innings by a resurgent Ted Lilly (six baserunners, seven strikeouts) and an adequate two outs from Mike MacDougal, Kenley Jansen came in for the eighth inning.

He struck out all three batters he faced, of course. That gives him 91 in 51 1/3 innings this season, or 15.96 per nine innings – just .03 off Carlos Marmol’s single-season record.

Jansen has struck out 29 of his past 47 batters, including 29 of his past 37 outs.

* * *

Eugenio Velez: 0 for 3, 0 for 36 in 2011 (a single-season record for non-pitchers), 0 for 45. He has tied the major-league record for consecutive hitless at-bats by non-pitchers.

Sep 23

MLB calls for court to order Dodger sale

Vowing to reject any TV deal that involves the Dodgers with Frank McCourt as owner, Major League Baseball filed a motion requesting the bankruptcy court to order a sale of the franchise.

… Attorneys for the league argued in a court filing that McCourt is using the team’s Chapter 11 case to try to resolve his own personal financial problems. They said he has methodically stripped the team of its revenue sources and is now seeking to auction off the team’s television rights without league approval, which could lead to its expulsion from the league and leave it in economic ruin. …

Bill Shaikin of the Times first reported the story, which included this haymaker of a passage:

… The current Fox Sports contract with the Dodgers expires in 2013, and Fox holds exclusive negotiating rights for another 14 months. A sale of TV rights now not only would subject the Dodgers to significant damages in a lawsuit from Fox, baseball argued, but could result in MLB discipline up to and including the team’s suspension from the league. …

Fancy. Still, before it comes to that, we’ll presumably just see this continued to be played out in court.

More from Shaikin, who spoke with Thomas Salerno, lead attorney for the Phoenix Coyotes during their bankruptcy:

… By announcing its rejection of any deal before a sale could take place, and by signaling its veto of a plan that McCourt could use to pay all the Dodgers’ creditors in full, Salerno said, the league could be seen as not acting in good faith.

“I think MLB runs a risk that the judge says that’s not reasonable,” Salerno said.

Since a settlement in the case is highly unlikely, Judge Kevin Gross could issue a ruling that stands as precedent for other disputes between owners and leagues.

“This case is clearly going to make law,” Salerno said. “The league is going all in.”

* * *

Since Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown in 1967, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Matt Kemp “is the only player to date to be within five points of the league leader in batting average (or leading), within one HR of the league leader (or leading), and within one RBI of the league leader (or leading), in the last 15 days of the season, let alone the last week of the season,” reports ESPN Stats and Information.

* * *

With Eugenio Velez starting tonight, a reminder of where he stands:

  • 0 for 33 this season
  • 0 for 42 since his last major-league hit, May 18, 2010
  • Since a third-inning single on April 20, 2010: 1 for his last 62 in the majors.
Sep 23

Why did Kemp’s Triple Crown pursuit go unnoticed for so long?

I have spent the better part of the past two months tantalized by the possibility that Matt Kemp might win the National League Triple Crown, becoming the first player to do so since Joe Medwick in 1937 and the first in either league since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. My first post on the subject was on August 1:

No, we don’t value RBI much as a stat in these parts — not without context anyway — and we value batting average even less.

Unless they give us something fun to root for.

Here we are on August 1, and Matt Kemp still is plumb in the thick of Triple Crown contention.

The thing I like most in Kemp’s favor is that 33 of the Dodgers’ remaining 55 games are on the road, where Kemp is batting .335 with 15 homers and 45 RBI in 48 games.

Admittedly, some of those games will be in pitcher paradises like San Diego, where the Dodgers begin a three-game series tonight. But most of them are in ballparks where Kemp’s bat will feel much more footloose and fancy-free than it has in Dodger Stadium this year, where he is batting .301 with 11 homers and 42 RBI in 59 games.

The odds are against Kemp, but it’s not ridiculous to think he could do it. …

During most of that time, despite regular updates, I haven’t completely understood why most of the baseball world was so slow to get excited about what might be happening. (Is it possible that I don’t have that much influence in the baseball universe????)

I realize as much as anyone that batting average and RBI aren’t as universally valued as categories – in essence, they’re not part of the Triple Crown of stats themselves anymore. Nevertheless, the world stops every time someone is threatening to pitch a no-hitter, even if they’ve walked seven, and no-hitters happen almost every year.

The Triple Crown hasn’t happened in 44 years. In August, Kemp entered the seventh inning of his pursuit. Hardly anyone batted an eye. Somehow, 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases were more intriguing than a feat many of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Yaz finished his Triple Crown about two months before I was born. My Dad was two when Ducky had his.

Well, now he’s in the bottom of the ninth. He’s so close … and finally, people are taking note.

The tough part might be playing in spacious Petco Park in San Diego, where home runs and RBI could be hardest to come by, while home run leader Albert Pujols and the Cardinals are hosting the Cubs and batting average leader Ryan Braun and Milwaukee are hosting Florida. (Jose Reyes, also in the batting average race, will play for the Mets against the Reds.) Kemp will face starting pitchers Wade Le Blanc, Aaron Harang and Cory Luebke in San Diego.

Then for the final three games, Kemp travels to a better hitting environment, Arizona. He’s scheduled to face Daniel Hudson, Wade Miley and Joe Saunders, according to ESPN.com and pending any rejiggering by the Diamondbacks if and when they clinch the NL West. Pujols and the Cardinals go to Houston, Milwaukee hosts Pittsburgh and the Mets host the Reds.

I said it once and I’ll say it again. The odds are against Kemp, but it’s not ridiculous to think he could do it. …

Sep 22

‘Unreal’ Kemp hits three doubles and 36th homer

“That’s not a bat he uses – that’s a magic wand.”
– Vin Scully

NL batting average leaders
.330 Ryan Braun
.329 Jose Reyes
.326 Matt Kemp

NL home run leaders
37 Albert Pujols
36 Matt Kemp
35 Dan Uggla

NL runs batted in leaders
118 Matt Kemp
113 Ryan Howard
112 Prince Fielder

Hiroki Kuroda deserves his due, but I’m sorry – I can’t think of anything else right now.

Kemp homered to dead center in his final at-bat of the game. A Dee Gordon caught stealing in the sixth might have cost him the at-bat, but Gordon walked in the eighth to give Kemp that last chance.

This was the 14th time that a Dodger had at least four extra-base hits in a game.

Sep 21

Despite loss, Triple Crown chase heats up for Kemp

Harry How/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp watches the ball head toward the outfield bleachers …
Mark J. Terrill/AP… after this home-run swing in the Dodgers’ 8-5 loss to the Giants tonight.

NL batting average leaders
.330 Jose Reyes
.330 Ryan Braun
.322 Matt Kemp

NL home run leaders
36 Albert Pujols
35 Matt Kemp
35 Dan Uggla

NL runs batted in leaders
116 Matt Kemp
113 Ryan Howard
112 Prince Fielder

Promise: When ballplayers vote for Most Valuable Sportswriter, they will give equal consideration to writers from average publications that aren’t contending for the title.

Sep 20

Best wishes to Derrick Hall

Tough news out of Arizona: Diamodbacks CEO and former Dodger executive Derrick Hall has prostate cancer. More from the Diamondbacks’ official site:

… A date for surgery to remove the tumors has not yet been scheduled. Hall underwent a series of tests recently and had a prostate biopsy performed on Sept. 14.

“I was informed by my doctor while in San Diego with the team Saturday,” Hall said. “I am fortunate the disease was caught in the early stages and expect a full recovery. I will use this news as an opportunity to educate and drive awareness, while hopefully saving more lives in the future. I am in great hands, and my family and I are confident we will get through this successfully. I notified all of my staff immediately and am eternally grateful for the overwhelming support, love and prayers.”

Hall underwent a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test, which resulted in elevated numbers and then underwent the prostate biopsy. That test was diagnosed as positive and revealed cancerous tumors.

D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick is a prostate cancer survivor. …

* * *

    Congrats to Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illnesshe’s engaged! To his girlfriend! She finally bagged her a Homer.
  • Matt Kemp won the Dodgers’ Roy Campanella Award, “given to the Dodger player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership of the late Hall of Fame catcher.” Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin, James Loney, Juan Pierre and Jamey Carroll are previous winners of the six-year-old trophy.
  • Frank McCourt winning his hearing on TV rights, Tony Gwynn Jr.’s close friendship and James Loney’s willingness to move to left field — all reasons to speculate about Prince Fielder coming to Los Angeles, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Manny Ramirez plans to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic this year, reports The Associated Press.
  • Tommy Lasorda will be in uniform as an honorary coach for the Dodgers’ home finale September 22, which happens to be the birthday of Lasorda, my daughter and Molly Knight.
  • From the Dodger press notes: Dee Gordon “is tied the for NL lead along with Florida’s Emilio Bonifacio with 28 September hits and ranks fifth on the circuit with a .373 batting average this month (28-for-75). The 23-year-old also leads the Majors with nine stolen bases in 17 September games and overall ranks second among NL rookies with 21 steals in 27 attempts (77.8%). Gordon went 3-for-4 on Sunday to extend his career-long hitting streak to six games and is batting .423 (11-for-26) since the run began on Sept. 13. He is batting .337 (35-for-104) in the season’s second half, which ranks sixth among NL qualifiers.”
  • Tonight’s matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum reunites two pitchers who, as of now, are in the top 20 in major-league history in adjusted ERA for starting pitchers (minimum 700 innings), according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Sep 19

NL MVP race down to two: Kemp and Braun

Reed Saxon/APWith nine games to play, the Bison is leading or in the top three in the NL in batting average, home runs, RBIs, total bases, steals, slugging percentage, OPS and Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs.

The National League Most Valuable Player race, as far as I’m concerned, is down to two finalists: Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp.

Braun has seized the high ground among players from contending teams, pushing aside his Brewers teammate Prince Fielder and Arizona’s Justin Upton. Kemp is the preeminent player from the also-rans.

Kemp and Braun are in something close to a dead heat statistically — Kemp leads in some categories, Braun in others — which, of course, might not be good enough for Kemp, who will be battling the belief by some voters that the MVP has to come from a contender.

On the other hand, despite the Brewers’ run to a division title, I’m not sure Braun has had the nationwide publicity that Kemp has had — I do get the sense that some think Kemp has simply been the best player in the NL this year, and that might be good enough for them.

Kemp also retains an outside shot at the Triple Crown (he trails Braun by .016 in batting average, Albert Pujols by two in home runs and is tied with Ryan Howard for the NL lead in RBI), and if he can do something that hasn’t been done in the NL since 1937, then forget about it. A 40-40 season (he needs six homers in his last nine games) wouldn’t hurt, either.

But Kemp, who singled, doubled and hit his 34th home run in the Dodgers’ 15-1 pasting of Pittsburgh on Sunday, can’t relax until the finish line. He might be No. 1A at this point, but there’s no award unless you’re No. 1.

Top National League MVP candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

PA OPS OPS+ Sept. OPS HR RBI TAV (BP) WAR (B-R) WAR (Fangraphs)
Ryan Braun 595 .997 168 .974 31 103 .342 7.6 7.1
Prince Fielder 654 .960 160 1.064 34 112 .321 4.7 4.8
Matt Kemp 648 .963 166 .945 34 113 .343 9.1 7.6
Albert Pujols 604 .921 154 1.113 36 95 .317 5.3 5.2
Troy Tulowitzki 599 .924 134 .965 30 105 .305 5.9 6.6
Justin Upton 649 .911 145 .932 30 86 .308 5.0 6.8
Shane Victorino 543 .875 135 .617 17 60 .312 5.4 6.2
Joey Votto 675 .971 162 .855 28 98 .332 6.7 7.1
Sep 18

September 18 game chat

“How a line drive percentage boost has helped Matt Kemp,” from Mark A. Simon of ESPN Stats and Information:

Matt Kemp hit line drives on 16 percent of the balls he put in play in 2010. He’s upped that rate to 22 percent in 2011 (statistics through Wednesday’s games).

How much of a difference does a six percentage point jump make? Let’s explore:

In 2010, Matt Kemp had 50 hits on his 71 line drives (50-for-69, .725 BA, two sacrifice fly)

In 2011, through Wednesday, he has 72 hits on 91 line drives (72-for-90, .800 BA, 1 sacrifice fly)

Hypothetically, let’s say that Kemp was hitting line drives at a similar rate to last season and that he was getting hits on them at a similar rate to last season.

In our new situation, that would give him 48 hits on 66 line drives

That would give him 24 fewer hits than he has right now.

To account for those 25 balls he hit that we’re no longer considering line drives (91 minus 66), Let’s presume he still hit those balls- but hit flies and grounders.

Kemp has hit fly balls and ground balls this season at nearly the same rate. So let’s give him 13 fly balls and 12 ground balls. And his hit rates on those are such that it should add about 8 hits to his ledger.

In all, that would mean that the increased line drive rate and line drive performance has been worth about 16 hits to Kemp’s ledger.

If we took those 16 hits and turned them into outs, it would chop 30 points off Matt Kemp’s batting average.

He’d be hitting .286 instead of .316. Still pretty good, but would perception be any different, given that he’s still a 30 HR-30 SB player?

* * *

On Thursday night, I read a review in the New Yorker (abstracted here and also discussed here) of a new novel, “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach.

In Friday’s mail was a copy of the book, sent to me by my father. Nice.

Sep 10

Close calls for Kemp, Kershaw in MVP, Cy Young races

Top National League Cy Young Award candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

IP ERA ERA+ WAR (B-R.com) WAR (Fangraphs) WHIP K/9
Roy Halladay 210 2/3 2.44 159 6.5 7.7 1.049 8.7
Cole Hamels 194 2.60 149 5.4 5.0 0.954 7.9
Ian Kennedy 202 2.90 135 4.8 4.2 1.109 7.9
Clayton Kershaw 213 2/3 2.36 156 6.0 6.6 1.002 9.7
Cliff Lee 203 2/3 2.47 157 6.0 5.9 1.031 9.0

How I might rank them today:
1) Halladay
2) Kershaw
3) Lee
4) Hamels
5) Kennedy

While you can certainly make a top-flight argument for Kershaw, it’s hard to make a top-flight one against Halladay – which I think is significant since because seems like it has been Halladay’s award to lose for a while now.

Top National League MVP candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

Ryan Braun 564 .981 163 27 95 31 .339 6.7 6.3
Prince Fielder 624 .940 153 31 108 0 .316 3.9 4.2
Matt Kemp 609 .962 166 32 107 38 .341 8.7 6.9
Albert Pujols 569 .919 153 34 87 7 .317 5.1 5.1
Troy Tulowitzki 591 .930 135 30 103 9 .306 5.8 6.6
Justin Upton 615 .933 151 30 85 20 .315 4.6 6.9
Shane Victorino 506 .893 141 15 56 18 .319 5.1 6.3
Joey Votto 636 .967 161 26 91 7 .331 6.2 6.5

How I might rank them today:
1) Kemp
2) Upton
3) Braun
4) Tulowitzki
5) Victorino

Among other subjective observations, I would argue that 1) Kemp has had the worst lineup of the contenders surrounding him and had to carry more of the burden of his team, 2) none of the other top contenders are in any kind of pressure-filled pennant race.

Kershaw and Kemp still have work to do, but there’s still a good chance that they could win the awards. They would be the 19th teammates to do so but the first to win the awards simultaneously for a losing team (if the Dodgers don’t win 81 games, or 10 of their last 18.)

Kemp and Kershaw also remain contenders for the batting and pitching triple crowns. Kershaw leads the NL in ERA and strikeouts and trails Kennedy in victories by one. Since the Cy Young Award was established, no pitcher who has led his league in wins, ERA and strikeouts has failed to win the Cy Young Award, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

2007 Jake Peavy
2006 Johan Santana
2002 Randy Johnson
1999 Pedro Martinez
1998 Roger Clemens
1997 Roger Clemens
1985 Dwight Gooden
1972 Steve Carlton
1966 Sandy Koufax
1965 Sandy Koufax
1963 Sandy Koufax

For the batting triple crown, Kemp trails Jose Reyes in batting average by .016, Pujols in homers by two and Ryan Howard in RBI by four. Can he pass them by in a 161-game season?