For all intents and purposes, the 2011 NL MVP Award race is a battle between Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun, both of whom I believe are correctly identified as the two players pacing the field.
As you likely already know, I’m a huge fan of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Matt Kemp, so you might not be inclined to care what I think about an awards race that involves both my favorite team and my favorite player. However, I’m also a fan of objective analysis, so I will be doing my best to stay away from bias in this argument.
As such, I figure the best way to start (and in many ways, end) this discussion, is to lay out the objective numbers right off the bat (no pun).
wOBA (park adjusted), wOBA+, and wRAA are all taken from Stat Corner. I choose Stat Corner because their park adjustments are shown all the way through.
UBR is taken from FanGraphs and EQBRR is taken from Baseball Prospectus. I have subtracted EQSBR from EQBRR so that both UBR and EQBRR are without influence from stolen bases, which is already factored into oWAR.
DRS is from FanGraphs and FRAA is from Baseball Prospectus. I choose these two metrics because I believe they best objectively evaluate defense.
Taken from FanGraphs.
Taken from FanGraphs.
You probably noticed that I created my own version of WAR by using what I feel are the best metrics we currently have at our disposal. Going forward, I will be using this same WAR calculation methodology until it’s shown it can be improved upon.
Anyway, my own formula of WAR has Matt Kemp at 8.4 and Ryan Braun at 7.4, a clear advantage as far as objective analysis goes. Additionally, before any accusations of bias seep in, I would just like to state that the far easier way to go about this would be for me to cite fWAR (8.7/7.8) or rWAR (10.0/7.7) or WARP (8.1/6.9), metrics that all have Matt Kemp beating Ryan Braun quite handily.
As far as whether being on a playoff team should matter or not, I think the BBWAA already spelled that out clearly enough.
There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.
Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.
Now how about the common belief that Matt Kemp played with no pressure and Ryan Braun did?
I think Joe Posnanski effectively tackled that already.
If you’ve read this blog at all you know: I’ve covered a lot of bad teams in my life. I’ve been around some good ones, too. And as far as “pressure” goes, well, from my observation, it’s not even close. There is infinitely more pressure on players on lousy teams than on good ones. Obviously, this depends on how you define pressure, but if the textbook definition of pressure is “the feeling of stressful urgency cause by the necessity of achieving something,” well, absolutely, there’s way more pressure on the lousy teams.
Think about it: What pressure is there on players in pennant races? The pressure to win? Sure. But players come to the ballpark energized. Everyone on the team is into it. The crowd is alive and hopeful. The afternoon crackles. Anticipation. Excitement. There’s nothing in sports quite like the energy in a baseball clubhouse during a pennant race. Players arrive early to prepare. Teammates help each other. Everyone’s in a good mood. There’s a feeling swirling around: This is exactly the childhood dream. The added importance of the moment could, in theory I suppose, create extra stress. But the reality I’ve seen is precisely the opposite. The importance sharpens the senses, feeds the enthusiasm, makes the day brighter. Baseball is a long season. Anything to give a day a little gravity, to separate it from yesterday, to make it all more interesting — anything like that, I think, is much more likely to make it EASIER to play closer to one’s peak.
A losing clubhouse? Exactly the opposite. The downward pressure is enormous and overwhelming — after all, who cares? The town has moved on. A Hawaiian vacation awaits. Teammates are fighting to keep their jobs or fighting to impress someone on another team or just plain fighting. The manager might be worried about his job. The reporters are few, and they’re negative. Smaller crowds make it easier to hear the drunken critics. Support is much harder to come by, and there is constant, intense force demanding that you just stop trying so hard. After all: Why take that extra BP? You’ve got the swing down. Why study a few extra minutes of film? You’ve faced that hitter before. Why take that extra base? Why challenge him on that 3-1 pitch? Why? You’re down 9-3 anyway.
It’s absolutely AMAZING to me when a player puts up a fantastic year even when the team around him stinks.
That’s all well and good, but how does this relate specifically to the cases of Matt Kemp/Dodgers and Ryan Braun Brewers?
Jon Weisman put forth the effort to show how the Dodgers games did in fact matter.
All that being said, the idea that the Dodgers’ games have been meaningless this season is a complete fiction.
They were clearly meaningful in April and May, before anyone had broken free in the National League West.
They were also meaningful later in the season, even after the losing began. If not for Arizona’s remarkable breakthrough this season, something that no one could have guaranteed, the Dodgers’ second-half rally would have put them in the thick of the race. With five games to go in the season, the Dodgers have 79 victories, which means they still have the chance of matching their division-winning total of 2008 and surpassing the Padres’ division-winning total of 2005.
When, exactly, were the Dodgers supposed to stop trying?
But even if you concede that this team was not going to go to the playoffs, the indispensable point is this: The Dodgers have had meaning all season as an opponent.
From April through September, the Dodgers played games that mattered because winning or losing had a direct effect on the pennant races. In addition to their own postseason dreams, there were also postseason dreams for their opponents. On Tuesday, San Francisco came to Los Angeles, having won eight games in a row in making a late run for the playoffs. With two out in the first inning, Matt Kemp singled and then scored a run off Tim Lincecum in what became a 2-1 victory that severely damaged their hopes.
Then, a day after the Giants beat the Dodgers to keep their hopes alive and a day before San Francisco had a showdown series with Arizona, Kemp went 4 for 4 with three doubles and a home run in a Dodger victory that was crushing for the Giants.
You want to tell San Francisco’s fans that that didn’t count?
The Dodgers were not eliminated from postseason contention until September 17. Every game they played to that point counted for themselves. In their entire 2011 season, they will have played eight games – two against Pittsburgh, three in their current series against San Diego and three to finish the season against NL West champion Arizona – that had no bearing on the postseason (though keeping in mind they still mean something to the fans who watch).
Ryan Braun’s Milwaukee Brewers, who like the Diamondbacks clinched their division title Friday, will play five games this season that have no bearing on the postseason.
That’s a three-game difference out of 162. Three games in which Kemp’s performance mattered less to the playoff race than Braun’s.
Generally speaking, it seems to me that whenever you see a writer arguing over the semantics of the word “valuable”, it’s just code for “I’ll pick whoever I like the best, objective evidence be damned”, which I suppose is their right, but I think it’s a damned shame.
It’s a shame because over the course of the 2011 season, Matt Kemp has essentially provided as much offensive value as Ryan Braun has, and Kemp has been the better baserunner of the two. True, Kemp has played worse defense, but he has done so at a position that is significantly more difficult, and he has done this while playing in more games than Braun.
While I’m not against choosing with your gut or with a narrative or with your eyes when the objective analysis is neck and neck (like it seems to be in the 2011 AL MVP Award race), in this case, Kemp’s advantage over Braun is clear cut and obvious.
So does Matt Kemp deserve to win the 2011 NL MVP Award?