Ryan Braun won the 2011 National League MVP award and I have no problem with that. He was an extremely deserving candidate putting up monster numbers all season long. I do, however, have a problem with the reason why he won the award. The race between Braun and Matt Kemp was so tight, you couldn’t have slipped a dime between them, but ultimately, the reason why Braun was named the 2011 NL MVP was because he played for a contender.
Saying that Braun was more valuable to his team than Kemp is because the Brewers made the playoffs is completely irrelevant. The Most Valuable Player award is an individual accolade, completely separate from the team. The moment you start using team records and success as part of the voting equation, you severely limit the candidates who qualify for the award.
Need more proof that the record of the team a candidate plays for is irrelevant? Imagine this scenario if you will. The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers have Matt Kemp and the 2011 Dodgers have Ryan Braun. Do you truly think that the situation would have played out any differently? Would the Brewers have missed the playoffs with Kemp instead of Braun? Would the Dodgers have won the NL West with Braun instead of Kemp? I think you know that the answer to both those questions is a resounding “no.”
You can argue either way about the quality of the numbers each player put up. Kemp had the higher RBI and HR totals, while Braun had a better average and very comparable home run and RBI totals. Advanced metrics bear out the difference between the players as well. FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement — which adjusts for batting average on balls in play — has Kemp with 8.7 WAR and Braun with 7.8 WAR. The Baseball-Reference version of WAR — which does not adjust for BABIP — has Kemp at 10.0 WAR and Braun at 7.7 WAR. In other words, if Baseball-Reference is to be believed, Kemp was worth more than two wins over Braun in 2011.
If the MVP award is truly about value to a team, (any team, regardless of record), then Kemp wins the award. You can’t deny the stats and the figures that put Kemp’s season above Braun’s – although not by much. The human element of the voting is what separates the MVP award from something like the BCS in college where a computer crunches the numbers and a winner is produced. But you can’t vote on intangibles and irrelevant information for an award like this.
These two players are going to be around for a long time and will likely have a few more MVP awards between the two of them, but this year Kemp was better. The numbers don’t lie.