For his work, and for his importance to the Brewers’ success, Braun should be the NL MVP; Matt Kemp had a spectacular season for the Dodgers, but Los Angeles — hampered by ownership issues and the team’s inability to spend on needed improvements last offseason — never contended this year.
Heyman, making a great case for Kemp:
3. Matt Kemp, Dodgers. He came close to the Triple Crown, leading the league with 39 home runs and 126 RBIs while falling 13 points short with his .324 batting average despite playing in a pitchers’ park with virtually no lineup protection (he was intentionally walked 24 times). Throw in 40 stolen bases in 51 attempts plus above average defense in centerfield and it’s fair to say he was the league’s best player. But the question will be: How much better was he than Braun and Fielder?
Kemp has put up a monster season with MVP numbers, leading the league in WAR, runs, total bases, home runs and RBIs. But his team, the Dodgers, didn’t play a meaningful game for the last two-thirds of the season. Los Angeles was nine games out by the middle of June.
And this business that Kemp had no help in the lineup? Baloney. Kemp batted with 87 more runners on base than did Braun. Kemp had 24 more plate appearances with runners in scoring position — and Braun was the better hitter in those spots (.347-.327). The seasons of Kemp and Braun are too close not to give it to the guy who delivered the most value in terms of context.
Dave Sheinin, Washington Post (who didn’t even pick Kemp in the top three on 9/22):
Matt Kemp is to the NL what Jose Bautista was to the AL — the undisputed best everyday player in the league. But while Kemp still has a shot at the Triple Crown, his Dodgers didn’t play a single meaningful game in the second half. And I’m sorry, but that speaks to a player’s relative value — as long as we understand winning championships to be the ultimate goal. And so, in an otherwise wide-open field, it is Braun who stands out, putting up what must be one of the quietest 30-30 seasons (home runs and stolen bases) in history. As of this writing, he was also second behind Kemp in WAR and first in slugging percentage, OPS and runs scored. Upton, meantime, wins the narrative prize: He has almost singlehandedly carried the surprising D’backs to the NL West title. He has a 145 OPS+; no one else in Arizona’s lineup goes higher than 122.
Jayson Stark, ESPN:
So that brings me to Braun. He could wind up leading the league in hitting, slugging, OPS and extra-base hits. He’s going to land in the top five in runs, total bases, on-base percentage, RBIs, doubles and average with men in scoring position. And he’s tossed in 30-30 club bonus points for our voting enjoyment. When you add it all together, what do you get? An incredible offensive season. That’s what. How many guys hit .335, slug .601, and go 30-30 in the same season? The only two players who have done it are Larry Walker and Ellis Burks, both of whom pulled it off for the pre-humidor Rockies. So don’t try to tell us Braun’s year pales against Kemp’s, OK?
FanGraphs tells us he’s hit better than Kemp, been a more productive baserunner than Kemp and actually compiled a better ultimate zone rating in the outfield than Kemp. So a big chunk of the reason Kemp leads him in wins above replacement is an adjustment for the importance of the positions they play. I understand that thinking. And I understand that Braun has Prince Fielder hitting behind him. But I also understand this: Kemp’s team basically got eliminated from any kind of contention by Father’s Day. So if I’m looking at two players who have had very, very, very similar seasons — and one of them has done what he’s done in an atmosphere where every single game mattered — that’s a difference-making ingredient for me. That’s how I define “valuable.” So that’s how I’ll vote. But I finally did figure out why that beam of light never arrived with the right answer. Because in this debate, there’s no wrong answer. Just different opinions.
Tracy Ringolsby, Fox Sports:
3. Matt Kemp, center fielder, Los Angeles. His Triple Crown bid was intriguing, but the Dodgers were never a factor in the NL West, and it is the Most Valuable Player, not the Player of the Year. Ted Williams actually won two Triple Crowns and didn’t win an MVP either time.
Now, we know the “Dodgers didn’t play any meaningful games” is a complete fallacy; looking at it from the other direction, we also know that the Brewers were up by as much as 10.5 games in early September and probably still win the division without Braun simply based on Fielder, the strength of their starting rotation, and the weak NL Central. It’s hard to say that makes him the “most valuable”, particularly, as someone asked me on Twitter, when Fielder is in the top three conversation as well, because how can Braun be so valuable if Fielder is also that valuable too?
To be fair, I have cherry-picked the above quotes, because Keith Law of ESPN, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com, Anthony Witrado of The Sporting News, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, and even Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm – among many others – have come out in support of Kemp. And like I’ve said before, Braun did have a fantastic season, so there’s no shame in coming in second to him, which is what I believe will happen. It’d just be nice if the voters could focus on what happened between the lines – if you honestly believe Braun was better, fine – and not on the things that the players have no control over, like having Fielder, Rickie Weeks, & Corey Hart helping your team win rather than James Loney, Aaron Miles, and Tony Gwynn.