With three weeks remaining in the regular season, all the playoff spots seem to be filled. The Phillies, Brewers and Diamondbacks will win their respective divisions and the Braves will take the NL Wild Card spot. It's now time to speculate on all the postseason awards.
One of the tightest races will be the National League MVP award. Matt Kemp of the Dodgers and Ryan Braun of the Brewers look like they are the two players that appear to have the best shot at the award. Each is having an outstanding season, but only one will come out on top, voted as the league's most valuable player.
WAR or Wins Above Replacement represents the single number of wins a player added to a team over a replacement level player. Matt Kemp is the run-away winner in this category.
According to Baseball-Reference, Kemp's WAR for this year is 8.6, a clear indication of a MVP-type player. The number two player on the list is Braun, but he comes in at just 6.9. That's well above an All-Star level player, but falls far short of Kemp's number.
In comparison, last year's MVP, Joey Votto, has a 6.2 WAR this year, while Albert Pujols has a 5.1 and Prince Fielder has a 4.1.
While defense rarely is a major factor in picking a MVP, it should, nonetheless, be looked at. Kemp roams center field in Dodger Stadium, one of the most pitching-friendly parks in the Majors.
Braun, on the other hand, plays left field in Miller Park. It's a much easier position and ballpark to acquaint one's self to. Braun has turned himself into a Gold Glove-level fielder, but he still doesn't have the range Kemp does.
Kemp has already achieved a 30-30 season with his 32 home runs and 37 stolen bases. Although it's a long shot, he could still reach the 40-40 club with a surge in power over the last few weeks. Braun also has a chance at reaching the 30-30 club, but his home run total is off the pace of Kemp.
Added into the power/speed combo for Kemp is his ability to drive in runs. He's driven in 107 runs, just one behind league leaders Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard. Braun is fifth on the list with 95 RBI.
There is no arguing the fact that both Kemp and Braun are having outstanding seasons. The problem with Kemp comes in his value to the Dodgers. Despite and outstanding WAR, how valuable is he really when the Dodgers are 69-72, good for only a distant third place in the NL West. The counter to the argument would be the Dodgers may be even worse off if not for Kemp's superb numbers in 2011.
Braun meanwhile, although he shares the glory with Fielder, has powered the Brewers to a dominating 9.5 game lead in the NL Central over the Cardinals.
Only Prince Fielder has played in more games than Kemp this year. His ability to be an every day threat in the middle of the Dodgers line-up is one of the main ingredients when making a MVP-type player. He's been one of the bright spot for the Dodgers this year, in what has become one of the worse on and off the field seasons in team history.
Braun, on the other hand, missed time around the All-Star break with a leg injury. His numbers are very good, but they could be much better if he had played in all his team's games.
Although Prince Fielder is the clubhouse leader of the Brewers, it is Braun who presents the on-the-field swagger that the Brewers are known for. His confident attitude sometimes borders on cocky, but he can back it up with his play.
The Brewers have always been known as the franchise of Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, but with Fielder's exit via free agency imminent, Braun has established himself as the clear face of baseball in Milwaukee.
As I said earlier, Braun has put up very impressive numbers, despite missing time around the All-Star break with a leg injury. Had that injury not occurred, he would easily have reached the 30-30 club already and driven in and scored over 100 runs. The injury has also cost him a shot at another 200-plus hit season.
Kemp may have the advantage in power numbers, but Braun would be right there if their games played and plate appearances were even.
Kemp is a very good, if not great hitter. Braun is a Hall of Fame-type of hitter. He became just the ninth player in baseball history to hit at least 150 home runs and drive in 500 runs in his first full five seasons earlier this year.
On top of that, Braun is in position to win his first career batting title. He's currently hitting .333, trailing Jose Reyes by a single point. Kemp is a distant third at .319.
While Kemp and the Dodgers have been realistically out of the pennant race most of the season, Braun and the Brewers have been on an amazing streak since the All-Star break, clearly establishing themselves as a legitimate World Series threat.
Braun continues to put up great numbers in the middle of a race for the best record in the league, while Kemp is playing out a bunch of meaningless games the rest of the season.
While it's clear Kemp is the best player on his team, there is much room for debate on that subject with Braun. While Braun is putting up great numbers, Prince Fielder is doing the same. Fielder also gets more media attention for being the son of Cecil Fielder and for his impending free agency this winter.
Kemp gets the spotlight all to himself in Los Angeles, while Braun is sharing the spotlight in the smallest media market in baseball. Fielder may actually hurt Braun's chances when it comes to voting for the award.
When taking in all aspects of the argument, Ryan Braun should win the NL MVP Award.
He plays on the better team, and his numbers are as good as, if not better than, every player in the league.
Kemp's line reads: .319 BA, 32 HR, 107 RBI, 37 SB, .400 OBP, .567 SLG, .967 OPS, 62 extra base hits, and 92 runs scored.
Braun's line reads: .333 BA, 27 HR, 95 RBI, 31 SB, .402 OBP, .590 SLG, ..992 OPS, 67 extra base hits, and 96 runs scored.
Braun is also the clear favorite for Gold Glove at his position, even if Kemp may be the better overall fielder. Braun has also struck out over 50 fewer times in just 10 fewer games played than Kemp.
It remains to be seen how the Brewers will fare in the postseason this year, but the MVP in the National League is over. Ryan Braun is your 2011 winner.