Braun: NL MVP not an easy choice for voters
Brewers star a favorite with Kemp in debate for prestigious award
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers slugger Ryan Braun said he could sympathize with those voters tasked with selecting the National League MVP. Should it be the player who had the best statistical season, period? Or the player who had the best season for a contending team?The collective answer is expected at 1 p.m. CT on Tuesday, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America reveals its choice. "I'm glad I don't have to vote," Braun said. "It's not easy. It's probably never easy. It's rare that there's a unanimous selection for any of these awards, one guy who stands out over everybody else's contributions." In one corner of the NL MVP debate you have Braun, who led the NL in slugging and OPS, and hit the home run that clinched the National League Central.
In the other corner you have Matt Kemp, who made a run for the Triple Crown but happened to play for a Dodgers club that went 82-79, finished 11 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West and spent only one day after the All-Star break within 10 games of their division leader.Stastically, Braun and Kemp were in a dead heat. Kemp batted .324 with 115 runs scored, 39 home runs, 126 RBIs, 40 stolen bases and a .986 OPS, leading the league in homers and RBIs and finishing third in batting average. Braun batted .332 with 33 homers, 111 RBIs, 33 steals and a .994 OPS, trailing only NL batting champ Jose Reyes in average and leading the league in OPS, a good measure of offensive production. Other NL MVP contenders include Braun's teammate, Prince Fielder, who finished second to Kemp in home runs and RBIs while dealing with the pressure of a pennant race and a contract year. The D-backs' Justin Upton and the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman should also garner some votes, as should pitchers like Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Roy Halladay of the Phillies. "Every year you're going to have a bunch of candidates who are all deserving," Braun said. "It's a big challenge to decide who contributed the most, especially when there is no specific criteria. A lot of people are going to figure in team success, but a lot of people don't. "I imagine it will be an interesting vote. Probably a close vote." BBWAA voters cast their ballots after the end of the regular season but before the start of the four Division Series, so Braun's strong October showing did not help his case. Braun declined to reveal his own opinion about team success figuring into individual awards. History could provide a guide. Of the 22 MVP awards handed out since 2000 -- 11 in the American League and 11 in the NL -- only five went to players from non-playoff teams and only three from teams that finished more than 2 1/2 games out of first place: Pujols in 2008, the Phillies' Ryan Howard in '06 and the Rangers' Alex Rodriguez in 2003. The most recent exception was Pujols, who batted .357 with 37 homers and 116 RBIs in '08 and led the Majors in slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases. The Cardinals finished fourth in the NL Central, 11 1/2 games out, and he received 18 first-place votes to Howard's 12. The Phillies won the NL East that year. It was a virtual flip of the roles from 2006, when Howard's Phillies finished 12 games behind the Mets in the NL East but he edged Pujols -- of the NL Central champion Cardinals -- in MVP balloting after leading the Majors with 58 homers and 149 RBIs. Rodriguez is the ultimate example of an MVP emerging from low in the standings. His Rangers were 71-91 in 2003 and finished 25 games out of first place in the AL West. The BBWAA makes public on its website the criteria sent to each voter: Dear Voter: There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier. The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: 1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense. 2. Number of games played. 3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort. 4. Former winners are eligible. 5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team. You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration. Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters. Braun will wait for word on the outcome at home in Los Angeles. More than a month has passed since the Brewers were eliminated with a loss in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series. Braun didn't watch. "This was the first year where I got home and it didn't feel right," he said. "I felt like we shouldn't have been home yet, and that was kind of tough. Then comes the process of decompressing, of escaping the day-to-day grind of baseball." He will find out Tuesday whether his grind paid off. The Brewers have not had a league MVP since Robin Yount won in the AL for the second time in 1989.