Braun fit to wear MVP crown with winning ways
Milwaukee slugger worthy award for leading club to division title
Here's something to think about: Clayton Kershaw, who will finish the year with the first pitching Triple Crown since 2007, should and probably will be the 2011 National League Cy Young Award winner. That means if Matt Kemp is named the NL's Most Valuable Player, the two major individual awards will be given to members of a Dodgers team that will finish the season no less than 11 1/2 games out of first place.
Doesn't sit too well, does it?
That may not be particularly fair to Kemp, who almost pulled off his own Triple Crown and is in no way at fault for the Dodgers' record, or that unusual circumstance surrounding him. But I'm of the belief that a player on an out-of-contention team should only be MVP if he has considerably separated himself from everybody else. Despite his remarkable season, that simply isn't the case for Kemp this year.
And that's why -- contrary to the sentiments of colleague Anthony Castrovince -- this year's trophy should instead go to Ryan Braun.
Here's how the two stack up ...
Braun is hitting .335 and is in a heated race with Jose Reyes for a batting title, while ranking tied for sixth in the NL in homers with 33, fourth in RBIs with 111, first in OPS at 1.001, tied for seventh in stolen bases with 32 and second in Wins Above Replacement at 7.7.
Kemp ranks third in the NL in batting average (.324), tied for first in homers (38), first in RBIs (124), second in OPS (.983), tied for second in stolen bases (40) and first in WAR (8.4).
Yes, stats-wise, Kemp -- who plays the more-demanding center field, but isn't a better defender than Braun if you rely on advanced metrics -- has had a better season.
But is it significantly better? Is it significant enough to discount the fact Braun is putting up his numbers for a division winner, a legit World Series contender and a club that has played a lot more games that are significantly more meaningful, more difficult and more intense?
Recent history will tell you it probably isn't.
Of the 22 MVP awards handed out since 2000, only three have gone to a player on a team that finished more than two games out of first place (and Barry Bonds owns the only two that went to someone on a non-postseason club that finished within two).
One went to Alex Rodriguez in '03, when he hit 47 homers and drove in 118 as a shortstop for a Rangers club that was 25 games back. Another went to Ryan Howard, who blasted 58 homers and drove in 149 runs when the Phillies finished 12 behind in '06. And the other went to Albert Pujols, who put up comparable numbers to Kemp in '08 (.357 batting average, 37 homers and 116 RBIs) for a team that was in a similar position as the Dodgers (11 1/2 games out), but who was already one of baseball's premier players.
Kemp wasn't really at that level until this season.
Had he climbed the ladder in the batting-average race to notch baseball's first Triple Crown since 1967 -- which now seems impossible -- there's little question Kemp should've been the MVP, no matter where his team sat in the standings.
But since he won't, and because his numbers look pretty comparable to those of a man on a first-place team, the MVP should be Braun's. It's really just that simple.
One knock against the Brewers' left fielder is that he plays on a club with Prince Fielder, who's putting up MVP numbers of his own -- especially after going deep three times on Tuesday.
But so what?
If you're on a playoff team, chances are you're going to have other great players in your lineup. Josh Hamilton had Vladimir Guerrero, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz last year. Joe Mauer had Justin Morneau in '09. And Dustin Pedroia had Kevin Youkilis in '08.
Braun may have the luxury of hitting in front of Fielder, but Kemp has actually had more plate appearances with runners in scoring position this year (195 to 171) and hasn't hit as well (.331 to .351).
Kemp deserves plenty of praise for the way he bounced back from a disappointing 2010 season to establish himself as one of baseball's greatest talents, and he's definitely worthy of serious MVP consideration. So is Fielder (with his 38 homers and 120 RBIs), Reyes (adding 39 steals and 16 triples to a league-leading batting average) and Pujols (on the cusp of an 11th straight .300-30-100 season).
But the MVP is Braun, a 30-30 man who may win the batting title, does it all for his team -- and hasn't spent the majority of his season playing meaningless baseball.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.