Matt Kemp sets sights high for 2012

Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp came tantalizingly close in 2011 to winning a Triple Crown and joining baseball's rare 40-40 club before falling short on both. Tuesday, Kemp fell short in his pursuit of the National League Most Valuable Player award, finishing second to Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.

So, less than two hours after learning he wasn't the MVP and a year after predicting he would go 40-40 in 2011 -- he finished just short of that goal by hitting 39 homers and stealing 40 bases -- Kemp, armed with a new, eight-year, $160 million contract extension he signed last week, made an even bolder prediction for 2012.

"I'm going to go 50-50 next year," he said. "I'm telling you, y'all created a monster. I'm about to get back in the weight room super tough so I can be as strong as I was last year. … Forty-forty is tough, so 50-50 will be even tougher, but anything can happen. I have to set my limits high so I can try to get to them as much as I can. I'm going to try for 50-50, which has never been done.

"I'm serious. If I don't [get there], it means I let y'all down and lied to you, and I don't like being a liar. I know y'all are over there thinking I'm crazy, but hey, I'm trying to take it to another level."

Kemp spoke on a conference call with a handful of Los Angeles-area media members in the wake of the announcement that Braun had won the award. Kemp would have been the Dodgers' first MVP since Kirk Gibson in 1988.

Braun won the award with 20 first-place votes and 12 second-place votes from a select panel of 32 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for a total of 388 points. Kemp, who received 10 first-place votes, 16 seconds and six thirds, finished with 332 points. The two remaining first-place votes went to Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, who finished third, and Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton, who finished fourth.

Kemp offered congratulations to his friend Braun.

"We play against each other a lot during the season and in spring training," Kemp said. "He is somebody who is one of my favorite players, and he has been good ever since he got on the scene. He has been an All-Star. I admire his game, and he is a great player. He deserves every bit of this award. I am definitely happy to know him as a person and for him to win it."

Still, Kemp said the fact he fell short will serve as strong motivation for him this winter as he prepares for next season.

"Definitely, it is motivation," he said. "You always want to be known as the best. I feel like I had a great year, and I feel like a lot of other people felt I had a great year, but I wasn't the MVP. Not to take anything away from Ryan, but I feel like it gives other people who didn't win the MVP the motivation to be even better. It definitely gives me the motivation to be even better and to do something big next year."

Already this winter, Kemp has received the Silver Slugger Award as the best offensive player at his position and the Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence at his position. He also was a first-time All-Star in 2011, and last week, a year before he would have been eligible for free agency, Kemp signed his new contract, the richest in Dodgers history in terms of total value.

Kemp and Braun, a Granada Hills High School graduate who lives in Malibu, put up offensive numbers that were virtually identical in 2011, further fueling the argument that the Brewers' success -- they easily won the NL Central while the Dodgers finished third in the NL West -- could have put Braun over the top. Kemp hit .324 and led the NL in home runs (39), RBIs (126) and runs scored (115) while posting a .399 on-base percentage, .586 slugging and .985 on-base-plus-slugging. Braun hit .332 with 109 runs, 33 homers and 111 RBIs while posting a .397 OBP. He also led the NL in slugging (.597) and OPS (.994).

Braun had 38 doubles to Kemp's 33 and struck out once every 6.8 plate appearances while Kemp struck out every 4.3 plate appearances.

Kemp also stole 40 bases, leaving him one home run shy of becoming just the fifth member of baseball's heralded 40-40 club.
The Brewers' success "definitely could have been a factor, but who knows?" Kemp said. "The writers voted, that is who they voted for, and that is who they felt should have won. Like I said, I respect their decision. I have to be better next year and make the playoffs so I can make that decision even easier for them."

Kemp would have been just the fifth Dodgers player to win the award since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, joining Maury Wills (1962), Sandy Koufax (1963), Steve Garvey (1974) and Gibson. Dolph Camilli (1941), Jackie Robinson (1949), Roy Campanella (1951, '53, '55) and Don Newcombe (1956) won the award while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.