NL MVP 2011: Ryan Braun or Matt Kemp? My Ballot Says Braun

Matt Goldberg@@tipofgoldbergCorrespondent INovember 22, 2011

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 12:  National League All-Star Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers  waves to the crowd during player introductions before the start of the 82nd MLB All-Star Game at Chase Field on July 12, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This afternoon, Major League Baseball will announce the National League's Most Valuable Player Award. Will Milwaukee's Ryan Braun become the third different Brewer to win the award, and first since Hall of Famer Robin Yount took home the hardware in 1989?

Will he? In most pundits’ minds, first place will be a close contest between Braun and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ center fielder Matt Kemp. Expect the voting to be very close, as it should be.

Should Braun win the award? That is my focus, and my conclusion is “yes.” Then again, the case for Kemp is almost equally compelling.

Both Braun and Kemp are quite deserving, and neither player nor his fan base should scream bloody murder if the other player wins. The last and only time the MVP was tied in either league was 1979; there was a stalemate between the Pirates’ Willie Stargell and the Cardinals’ Keith Hernandez that year.

Yes, if it could be orchestrated, it would be appropriate if 2011 saw another deadlock among voters between the two outfielders, who were the only two 30-30 men in the National League.

It should be noted that the Brewers’ Prince Fielder and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton—among a few others—also had big years, if not quite as ginormous as the two frontrunners.

Below are some of the key stats compiled by Braun and Kemp in 2011. For what it’s worth, Kemp played in all 161 of his team’s games; Braun played in 150 of his team’s 162.




























The stat lines are remarkably close. Braun hit for a slightly higher average, but the difference is somewhat negligible. Kemp scored and drove in more runs, although part of that differential was due to more games played. Of course, the Dodgers star should not be penalized for that.

The stats will reveal that Kemp stole seven more bases than Braun, but he was also thrown out five more times. OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) is slightly in Braun’s favor, but the difference is also slim.

Will a few more numbers break this apparent deadlock? Hmmm…







Team Record















The above chart shows that Kemp was more likely to draw a walk than Braun, but also much more likely to fan.

The last few columns may tell the tale for many voters, as the stats are still close to a dead heat.

If you are a fan of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), then you will probably choose Kemp, as he has a significant edge (10 to 7.7) on’s version and a smaller edge on Fangraphs, as well.

I am not a huge fan of WAR—be it for position players or pitchers (let alone as a substitute for political diplomacy)—but at least, both sites identified the NL’s top two players this year.

The final column lists the two teams’ respective records. Kemp sparkled for a team that was never really in the race for the NL West but played well down the stretch to finish in third, 11.5 games behind the Diamondbacks. Braun’s Brewers won the NL Central by six games over the world champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Final Analysis

If you discount counting stats and only look at WAR, then Kemp is clearly your man.

Even if you ignore WAR, it is justifiable to pick Kemp on the basis of his putting up huge numbers with very little help in the lineup. What he did was remarkable, and he never had anyone like Prince Fielder to protect him.

The case for Braun is that the two had very similar stats, but he posted his for a pennant winner.

Clearly, it is not Kemp’s fault that he played for a mediocre team. He and (deserving) Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw probably kept the Dodgers from having a Houston Astros-type season.

It also is not Braun’s fault that he played for a pennant winner, as he was the No. 1 reason that the Brewers took the Central. It should not be overlooked that the just-turned 28-year-old left fielder delivered a ton of clutch hits, including the game-winning three-run homer versus Florida that gave them their first division crown since 1982.

Kemp may have done the same, or more, as Braun this year if he were in a pennant race; we’ll never know. We do know how Braun performed in the clutch—brilliantly.

On my mythical ballot, I would give Braun the slimmest of edges.

If the voters of the Baseball Writers Association of America agree, he will join Rollie Fingers (1981) and Robin Yount (1882 and 1989) as the only Brewers to win the award. If he likes hanging around Hall of Famers, that is pretty special company.

Gold Notes

Ironically, Fingers and Yount won their MVPs when the Brew was an American League club.

A most prominent Milwaukee player, the legendary Henry Aaron, won the 1957 NL MVP with the Milwaukee Braves.

Will the Hebrew Hammer also join Hammerin’ Hank as a Milwaukee MVP?

Stay tuned; this will all be hammered out later today.

As always, thank you for reading. Please check out my site,, and new fan page for more info.


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