Matt Kemp was the unanimous choice for the National League Player of the Month for April and has clearly been the best player in baseball to this point in the season, but he's not the only man off to a strong start. Below, in my first full-blown Awards Watch of the season, I take a look at the top 10 candidates for the Most Valuable Player awards in each league.
As I mentioned last week, instead of trying to gauge how the writers might vote, as I have in previous seasons, this year I'm going to be offering my picks for these awards. For the MVP, that means that team performance will not be a factor in my rankings as I believe that player value is absolute. A dollar is a dollar whether you use it to buy a winning lottery ticket or a losing one. A team's success or failure in turning an individual player's value into wins doesn't impact the value itself. To put it another way, the performance of a player's 24 teammates should have no bearing on his own worthiness for an individual award such as this one. Matt Kemp would be the most valuable player in baseball to this point in the season even if his Dodgers were 8-17 instead of 17-8, and the fact that they are 17-8 doesn't make him any more valuable than he would have been otherwise.
I attempted to put Kemp's monster April in context on Monday, ultimately concluding that he had turned in the
It will probably come as no surprise that each of the other men on that list saw their production decline at least a little after April. Four times in the other 13 seasons I examined, the player in question went on to win the MVP (though three of those were by Barry Bonds). Here's a quick look at those 13 April performances sorted by the decline after April 30 in their Gross Production Average (a stat that combines on-base plus slugging but not before multiplying OBP by 1.8 to better reflect the importance of avoiding outs compared to extra bases, and then converts to a familiar scale similar to batting average):
Brett actually led the majors in OPS+ in 1983, but played just 123 games for a sub-.500 Royals team that finished 20 games out of first place. The fragile Burks played in just 21 more games after his hot April in 1994. As for Cey, the only other Dodger on the above list, his 1977 season actually proved to be his worst over a seven-year span from 1975 to 1981, per advanced stats such as OPS+ and Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement, though he never finished higher in the MVP voting in any other season.
The average decline in GPA on the above list is 136 points. A decline that large would give Kemp a .308 GPA from here on out. He had a .326 GPA in 2011. If he does manage a .308 GPA the rest of the way, he'll finish with a better year than he had last year, at least by his rate stats. In other words, as long as Kemp stays healthy, it could be a long time before he moves from this top spot, if he does at all this season.
Kemp leads the majors in all three slash stats, but Wright is hot on his heels in batting average and, before the Rockies walked Kemp three times on Wednesday afternoon, Wright actually led in on-base percentage. Wright opened the season with a 10-game hitting streak and will take an active nine-game streak back home for the weekend series against the Diamondbacks. Just three 0-fers separated the two streaks, and Wright drew a walk in two of those three games.
Molina has started 22 of the Cardinals' 24 games behind the plate and came in half-way through one of the other two. He has thrown out 43 percent of opposing basestealers (compared to a league average of 29 percent) and his four stolen bases (without being caught) are one more than brother Bengie had in his entire 13-year career. Incidentally, three of those were straight steals of second, and the third came on the
Last year, the Tigers' Justin Verlander became the first pitcher to win an MVP award in 19 years, and the first starting pitcher to do so in 25 years. There was
In the six games of the Rockies' current homestand, Gonzalez has gone 11-for-23 (.478) with five home runs, 14 RBIs, as many walks as strikeouts (four), and two stolen bases. Given the huge chasm between his home and road numbers over the last two-plus years (.358/.419/.680 home; .271/.316/.448 road), his placement on this list could have as much to do with timing as performance, but it's hard to argue with that kind of production, no matter where it takes place.
Only Kemp has had a higher batting average, slugging percentage or home run total than Hamilton thus far this season. Hamilton hasn't played since coming out of Sunday's game with a stiff back, but he started every game up to that point, and the Rangers hope to have him back in the lineup on Friday.
Jeter hit .267/.336/.357 over 1,032 plate appearances from Opening Day 2010 until landing on the disabled list with a calf strain last June, looking every bit like a shortstop pushing his 37th birthday. While on the DL, however, he reworked his swing with Gary Denbo, an experienced hitting coach who had been Jeter's first manager in the minor leagues. Since returning to action on July 4 of last year, he has hit .345/.395/.479 in 428 plate appearances. If he can maintain that pace for the remainder of the season, he'll join Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Luke Appling with one of the greatest seasons by a shortstop 38 years old or older in major league history.
The fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft, the switch-hitting Wieters hit .343/.438/.576 in his brief minor league career and was supposed to be a superstar catcher upon arrival in the big leagues in early 2009. Instead, he scuffled through his first two seasons, hitting a solid-but-underwhelming .266/.328/.393. Last year, he picked up the pace a bit, knocking 22 homers, making his first All-Star team and winning his first Gold Glove. Now, with his 26th birthday fast approaching, he seems to finally be emerging as the player he was projected to be, throwing out 37 percent of opposing basestealers while hitting for average with power and patience.
Weaver has allowed a run in just two of his six starts this season while pitching at least six innings each time out and averaging more than 7 1/3 innings per start. He has walked more than one man only once in those six starts, has had more strikeouts than innings pitched in four of the six and has allowed just two home runs. Oh yeah, he also threw a dominant no-hitter on Wednesday night in which he struck out nine against just one walk. That was his second complete game of the season, and he was almost as good in his first start of the year, when he allowed four hits but walked none against 10 strikeouts over eight innings, needing only 97 pitches to do so.
Peavy has allowed one run in 18 innings over his last two starts and over his last three has posted this line: 25 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 20 K. All five of his starts this season have been quality, he has allowed just one home run, and he seems to be getting better each time out. I know I said above that I would try to include only one pitcher per league this early in the season, but Peavy and Weaver are impossible to separate right now.