Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers Is MLB's 2011 NL MVP
Ryan Braun is this year's NL MVP.
Other players might be in the discussion, namely Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton, but at the end of the season Braun should be adding to a trophy case that already contains Rookie of the Year and three Silver Sluggers.
Braun, who is hitting .332, trails NL Leader Jose Reyes by just one point.
He leads the National League in On-Base plus Slugging percentage (OPS), baseball's best measure of offensive output, at .987. He's one of just three plays in the senior circuit with at least a .400 On-Base and .550 Slugging Percentage (Kemp is just outside with a .399 OBP). Only Votto (.985) is within 20 points of Braun.
Braun has put together such an incredible OPS through a balanced offensive attack. A patient slugger, he's walked enough that his On-Base is 70 points over his impressive batting average. He has 25 homers, 35 doubles and five triples, giving him 65 extra-base hits already - more than any of his potential MVP counterparts except for Upton (68).
Currently leading the league in runs with 93 and sitting fifth in RBI at 91, Braun should easily eclipse the century mark in both fields before season's end.
Among this group, Pujols's 51 strikeouts are the only total less than Braun's 79. Fielder (88) is the only other player under 100.
Of potential MVP candidates, Braun's 31 steals trail only Kemp's 37. Braun, however, is a more efficient stealer than Kemp, stealing bags at an 86% success rate compared to Kemp's 82%. In fact, Braun's rate is better than anyone in the top 10 in stolen bases except for Cameron Maybin, whose 32-for-37 barely bests Braun's 31-for-36.
Braun is also the best hitter, and No. 3 batter for a Brewers club that has opened up an impressive 8.5 game lead in the NL Central. The magic number to clinch their first division crown since 1982, when they were in the American League, is 16. So with 23 games remaining and 24 for the division rival St. Louis Cardinals, any combination of 16 Milwaukee wins plus St. Louis losses will earn them a trip to the playoffs. If the Braun-led Brew Crew plays just one game under .500 the rest of the way, St. Louis would have to go 19-4 just to force a tie.
The other players have all had tremendous seasons of their own, and each deserves some consideration, but ultimately none stack up to the season Braun has put together.
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp is perhaps Braun's stiffest competition for the the award, as he's put together a jaw-dropping .321/.399/.568 slash line with 31 homers, 37 steals, 102 RBI and 89 runs scored. However, he'll finish behind Braun in the voting for two reasons. First, he's struck out 131 times already this season, 52 more than Braun, and second he plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Outside of Kemp and starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers have experienced a year that can only be described by Murphy's Law: anything that could go wrong, did. Owner Frank McCourt's heavily publicized divorce set the tone for the Dodger's season and has turned into a giant distraction on the field. The Dodgers have been out of the race all season, currently sitting 10.5 games out of the West divisional race and 14 games off pace for the Wild Card.
Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
Serving as Braun's protection in the Brewers line-up, Fielder has already clubbed 31 homers and driven in an NL best 105 runs. Braun's production in front of Fielder helps the RBI total, and while Fielder has bested Braun in homers and RBI, he hasn't been his equal offensively. Braun is out-hitting Fielder by 34 points, and brings a much more dynamic and game-changing threat to the lineup.
Fielder could hurt Braun a bit in the polls because they will steal votes from each other, but even though this season will set Fielder up to get paid like the elite hitter he is, he won't be adding an MVP to his resume this year.
Joey Votto, Cincinatti Reds
The reigning NL MVP, Votto has put together another ridiculous year. His .324/.436/.549 line is close to MVP-worthy, but he's on pace to fall short of his home run, RBI and OPS totals from a year ago.
Braun has better numbers in every offensive category except for On-Base, besting his division foe in homers, RBI, runs, steals and batting average.
The Reds also won the division a season ago and have virtually no shot at repeating as they sit 13.5 games behind the Brewers.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Pujols is "suffering" the worst year of his MLB career, by far. For any other player, being 120 points behind their career OPS would signal a horrible year. For Pujols, it merely means a .294/.366/.552 slash line and a league-leading 34 homers.
Last year, voters showcased that even a normal Pujols season isn't enough to win the MVP, as his level of production has gotten almost boring because it happens so often. If that's the case, there's no way a subpar Pujols season will be enough to overcome Braun, even though a late offensive push could give him his 11th straight .300/30-homer/100-RBI campaign.
Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Upton is the leader of the surprise Diamondbacks, who currently top the NL West. He's put together a season most other 23-year-olds could only dream about, posting a .295/.374/.537 line while smacking 26 homers, stealing 20 bases, knocking in 80 runs and scoring 89 times.
Still, he's a poor man's Ryan Braun in every category this year, and even winning the NL West won't be enough to propel him past the "Hebrew Hammer."
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