Predicting the National League Award Winners
Following my recent picks for American League award winners, here's my look at the National League. The NL award races are tougher to call and will likely generate a lot of discussion once they are announced. Both the MVP and Cy Young races feature frontrunners having career years for teams that made the playoffs and contenders who put up amazing numbers for the underachieving Dodgers.
Ryan Braun, OF
.333 batting average, 31 home runs, 31 stolen bases, 111 RBI
Ryan Braun had a career year, joining the 30-30 Club by knocking 33 home runs and swiping 33 bases. He also finished second in batting average. Braun has a handful of rookie cards from 2005, including autographs in Bowman Chrome Baseball and Bowman Sterling Baseball. You can check out our full Ryan Braun rookie card guide here. He is no stranger to autographs in more current sets either. Some nice autographed patch cards are available in 2011 Topps Triple Threads Baseball and 2011 Topps Marquee Baseball.
Matt Kemp, OF
Los Angeles Dodgers
.320 batting average, 39 home runs, 40 stolen bases, 126RBI
Matt Kemp made statistical improvements this year in almost every offensive category. He almost won the triple crown, finishing first in home runs and RBIs and third in batting average. Kemp was one home run short of reaching the 40-40 plateau. Kemp was one of the few bright spots for the Dodgers in 2011.
He has a handful of rookies in 2005 sets, the best of which are his 2005 Bowman Chrome autograph and 2005 Bowman's Best autographs. Kemp may be one of baseball's better bargains as his cards generally sell for much less than his peers with similar stats. Should Kemp continue to produce and the big-market Dodgers return to respectability, his card values could soar.
Normally, I feel an MVP candidate should lead their team to the postseason. In this case, Kemp easily had the best offensive year of any player in baseball and deserves the award.
NL Cy Young
21 wins, 198 strikeouts, 2.88 ERA
Ian Kennedy had a breakout year for the surprising Diamondbacks. Leading the upstart team into the playoffs for the first time in five years, Kennedy tied for the NL lead in wins and set a career-high for strikeouts. Kennedy has rookie cards in several 2008 Upper Deck products, including autographs in 2008 Upper Deck Ultimate Memorabilia (/99), 2008 Upper Deck Sweet Spot (/249), 2008 SP Authentic (/699), 2008 SPx and 2008 Upper Deck Ballpark Collection. Collectors can also go back to 2004-05 to find cards, autographs and memorabilia pieces in Upper Deck's USA Baseball releases.
Los Angeles Dodgers
21 wins, 248 strikeouts, 2.28 ERA
Clayton Kershaw put up one of the most dominating pitching seasons ever. He earned the National League Triple Crown for pitchers, leading the league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average. Kershaw's dominance was noticed by collector, as his 2006 Bowman Chrome autographed parallels reached triple digits. Although not true rookies, they are considered among the young pitcher's most desirable cards. Kershaw's rookies are featured in many 2008 products. His autographs have appeared regularly in sets over the years, providing budget-minded collectors with some excellent alternatives.
While Kennedy did lead his team to the postseason, Kershaw had a career year, leading starters in all major categories. Look for the Dodgers to take another major award.
NL Rookie of the Year
Freddie Freeman, 1B
.282 batting average, 21 homes runs, 76 RBI
Freddie Freeman had a solid year for the Braves, proving the team once again has a strong core of exciting young players that might get them over the playoff hump in 2012. Freeman may not have had the same buzz as teammate Jason Heyward did last year, but he was first among rookies in ten offensive categories. Freeman's 2008 Bowman Aflac and 2009 Bowman Chrome autographs are his key prospect card pickups. His rookie cards can be found in 2011 products.
Craig Kimbrel, RP
46 Saves 127K 2.10 ERA
Like Freeman, Craig Kimbrel made a splash in his rookie year for the Braves. He tied for the National League lead in saves and made the All-Star team. Kimbrel struck out an astounding 127 batters in only 77 innings pitched. His 46 saves set a rookie record. Kimbrel is featured on the autograph checklist for 2011 Topps Chrome Baseball and his low-numbered refractor parallels command premium prices, especially for a rookie closer. Kimbrel's 2011 Topps Marquee Museum Collection is another stunning option, although very rare and costly.
Both Kimbrel and Freeman are deserving candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, however Kimbrel's numbers and rookie record get my vote.