Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Did Ryan Braun deserve the NL MVP award?

A year ago, I wrote a blog post about the similarities between the 2010 MLB awards doled out by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) and those given out by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA). Until the recent release of the BBWAA's MVP awards, this year's awards were looking eerily similar once again. Much to my surprise, that trend has come to an abrupt halt.

The BBA's version of the MVP award, named after Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial, was announced at the end of October. The top five vote-getters for the 2011 NL Stan Musial award (first-place votes in parentheses) were:
  1. Matt Kemp (15) - 195 points
  2. Ryan Braun (0) - 134 points
  3. Prince Fielder (0) - 83 points
  4. Joey Votto (0) - 79 points
  5. Justin Upton (0) - 77 points
That's right, Matt Kemp was the unanimous winner of the NL Stan Musial Award. I almost fell off my chair when I read the results of the BBWAA's NL MVP award voting:
  1. Ryan Braun (20) - 388 points
  2. Matt Kemp (10) - 332 points
  3. Prince Fielder (1) - 229 points
  4. Justin Upton (1) - 214 points
  5. Albert Pujols (0) - 166 points
The results astounded me. Let's take a look at how Braun's numbers compare to Matt Kemp's:

Ryan Braun
Matt Kemp

Clearly, Matt Kemp had better offensive numbers than Ryan Braun. In fact, Braun has even admitted this himself. It's also widely believed that Kemp is a much better outfielder than Braun, so defense can't be the reason why the BBWAA thought Kemp didn't deserve to win the award. The most common reason currently being reported in the mainstream media is that Ryan Braun led his team to the playoffs, while that Dodgers finished with a mediocre 82-79 record. In my opinion, that's just crazy. Why should Matt Kemp be penalized because his teammates were inferior to Ryan Braun's teammates? Doesn't the fact that Kemp was surrounded by inferior players imply that he was more valuable to the Dodgers than Braun was to the Brewers? And what about the huge advantage Braun had with Prince Fielder hitting behind him in the lineup? Kemp had no such luxury.

A similar injustice happened in the American League. The BBA voting was as follows:
  1. Jose Bautista (11) - 225 points
  2. Jacoby Ellsbury (5) - 200 points
  3. Miguel Cabrera (3) - 183 points
  4. Curtis Granderson (1) - 135 points
  5. Justin Verlander (2) - 126 points
On the other hand, the BBWAA voting for the AL MVP was:
  1. Justin Verlander (13) - 280 points
  2. Jacoby Ellsbury (4) - 242 points
  3. Jose Bautista (5) - 231 points
  4. Curtis Granderson (3) - 215 points
  5. Miguel Cabrera (2) - 193 points
While I'm fine with pitchers being considered for the MVP award, giving the award to Verlander just doesn't make sense. Bautista's numbers (.302 BA, 43 HR, 103 RBI, 1.056 OPS, 181 OPS+, 8.3 WAR) were absolutely incredible, and they are all the more impressive considering the lack of talent surrounding him in the Toronto Blue Jays' batting order. I'll never be accused of being a Blue Jay fan (I loathe them, if truth be told), but Bautista deserved much more respect than the BBWAA voters gave him. For once, Blue Jays fans have a good reason to whine. 

Aside from the BBWAA's bizarre penchant for voting for players on successful teams, there is another possible explanation for why Kemp and Bautista got the shaft in the MVP voting. I hate to play the race card, but Verlander and Braun are white. Kemp and Bautista are not. Coincidence? Probably not. Actual figures are not available, but I'd be willing to wager that the overwhelming majority of BBWAA members are old, white men. As for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, we also lack firm demographic figures -- but I'd expect the membership to be significantly younger (white men) than the BBWAA's. And you can be sure that the bloggers are much more likely to be swayed by objective individual statistics than less-relevant team-oriented numbers. In light of these fiascos, it looks like the BBWAA could learn a thing or two from the bloggers. Now just don't get me started on the BBWAA's slight of Joey Votto...