Matt Kemp, the Los Angeles Dodgers centre fielder, may have lost out on the National League Most Valuable Player award last season to Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, but he has used it as motivation to launch an impressive campaign so far in 2012.
While Braun has been hearing boos around visiting ballparks by fans who believe he lied about his steroid suspension, which was overturned, Kemp has been serenaded to chants of "M-V-P" at Dodger Stadium, like he was on Wednesday after hitting his 10th home run to lead all major leaguers.
Ten home runs in April matched the Dodgers' record held by Gary Sheffield. It gave Kemp four homers more than any other player in the National League and more than the entire rosters of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs.
He was leading the majors in every major offensive category, including batting average (. 449), runs batted in (23), on-base percentage (. 513) and slugging percentage (. 942).
He is doing this while supposedly trying to live up to a mega-contract he signed in November, for US$160 million (Dh587.2m) over eight seasons.
Pressure? Kemp not only does not mind it, but seems to bask in it. A week after signing his new contract, Kemp predicted to the media that he would become the first major league player ever to hit 50 home runs and steal 50 bases in a season.
He finished one home run shy of becoming the fifth player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in 2011. Jose Canseco did it in 1988, Barry Bonds in 1996, Alex Rodriguez in 1998, and Alfonso Soriano in 2006.
"I'm telling you, you all created a monster," he said, two hours after learning he finished second in the MVP vote. "I know you all are over there thinking I'm crazy but I'm trying to take it to another level."
He hit safely in 17 of his first 19 games, homered six times in his first 10 games, won NL player of the week the first two weeks of the season. And he made a statement by hitting home run No 7 in Braun's home stadium, Miller Park in Milwaukee, on April 19.
Kemp has done it without swinging for the fences. He is staying within his game plan of using the whole field. Six of his 10 home runs have been to the opposite field, which for the right-handed hitting Kemp is right field. Three were to centre, and only one was to left field, and it came on an inside pitch which made sense to pull.
"I'm studying video to see what everybody is trying to do, finding a pitch and hitting it hard and driving it," Kemp told MLB.com. "I'm not trying to hit home runs, just put the bat on the ball and let my strength take over. I used to be that guy going to the plate trying to hit home runs, but the result was never that good. Now whatever happens, happens."
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