Who will have the better 2012?
I'll Take Kemp
The Albert Pujols billboards are popping up all over Los Angeles. Whether they read, "City of Angels" or "El Hombre," each one features an oversize image of Pujols following through on one of the sweetest swings in baseball.
There is no question Pujols is a bigger name and a better player historically than Matt Kemp. That's not even debatable. What also is not debatable is that Kemp had a better statistical season than Pujols last year and is at least five years younger than him. This isn't to say Kemp will go on to have a better career than Pujols, but it stands to reason Kemp will once again have a better statistical season than Pujols this year.
Let's first look at last season, when Kemp hit .324 with 39 home runs, 124 RBIs and stole 40 bases. Pujols hit .299 with 37 home runs, 99 RBIs and 9 stolen bases. The averages and home runs are fairly similar, but Kemp gets a big edge on RBI and stolen bases and that's not going to change anytime soon.
Obviously, the big concern with Kemp is last season was by far the best season of his career and he was rewarded with an eight-year, $160 million contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers before they could find out if it was an aberration or the start of a great run. It's entirely possible Kemp could go back to the player he was in 2010, when he hit .249 with 28 home runs, 89 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. A more likely scenario, however, is Pujols' numbers will slightly drop as he adjusts to life in Anaheim and to the pitching in the American League with the Angels while Kemp's productivity will continue to rise with the Dodgers as he enters the prime of his career with a supporting cast that will surely improve with new ownership.
I'LL TAKE PUJOLS
Choosing Albert Pujols in this debate is about as daring as predicting another sunny, 72-degree day in Los Angeles in mid-May. In 10 of his 11 seasons, Pujols has hit .312 or better, smacked 34 or more home runs and driven in at least 103 runs. Last season was the only year he didn't -- which his critics will point to as a sign of decline -- but if decline is hitting .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs in 147 games, sign me up!
Yes, there could be an adjustment period for Pujols as he moves to the American League. And yes, pitchers may try to pitch around him and take their chances with the rest of the Angels' lineup. But there's a reason Pujols is often referred to as a machine. Every year, no matter who is hitting behind or in front of him, no matter how good the Cardinals have been, no matter if he has a nagging injury or two, Pujols produces unbelievable numbers.
None of this is a knock on Kemp, who had a season for the ages and still has room to grow as a hitter, but very few hitters in baseball history have been as consistent as Pujols. And, it's not like the Dodgers were able to add much protection for Kemp in the offseason. Juan Rivera had a nice second half, Andre Ethier should be healthier after knee surgery and James Loney finally started hitting the last two months of the year, but if you're an opposing pitcher, none of those guys scare you the way Kemp does. The Dodgers and Kemp both recognize the problem -- which is why Kemp agreed to structure his contract in a way that allowed GM Ned Colletti to make an under-the-radar run at Prince Fielder -- but until the team has a new owner willing to spend what it takes on upgrading the lineup, Kemp will have to keep trying to do more with less around him.