MILWAUKEE — No matter what you think of Ryan Braun, whether you think he is a rule breaker or the best hitter in the National League, a Hall of Famer or someone who belongs in the Hall of Shame, there are two undeniable facts about the Milwaukee Brewers’ left fielder that anyone who knows anything about baseball should ultimately agree with.
One: Ryan Braun’s 2012 season was the best of his career — better than his 2011 NL MVP season.
And two: Ryan Braun’s 2012 season was MVP-worthy.
The second of those statements is perhaps the most contentious, but there is no denying the facts. Braun led the league in home runs (41), runs (108), OPS (.987) and total bases (356), while finishing second in RBI (112) and slugging percentage (.595), third in WAR (6.8), fourth in OBP (.391) and ninth in stolen bases (30). That sheer combination of eye-popping statistics is unmatched by anyone else in the National League.
Regardless of whether Braun wins the award when voting is made public next month, his season is undoubtedly deserving of an MVP. He’s not the only one in the running, of course — Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen and Yadier Molina all have had seasons that could arguably be considered MVP-worthy, depending on whom you ask.
The race will be close, with Posey likely representing Braun’s greatest competition. Playing a harder position on a better team, Posey seems to be the chic pick to win the prestigious award. He is certainly a deserving candidate.
But no one is more MVP-worthy than Braun, all things considered. Winning an MVP award in back-to-back seasons is a tough vote to swing and often requires a candidate who is unquestionably ahead of the pack.
Braun’s 2012 season is worth that kind of unlikely honor.
And it’s not just the statistics — however great they may be. Put down the box scores for a moment and compare the environment Braun has played in with his fellow MVP candidates.
All season, the Brewers left fielder has been operating in the shadow of a tumultuous offseason. He’s been chanted at and heckled in nearly every at-bat away from Miller Park. It upset him sometimes and it motivated him sometimes, and still, every day, Braun showed no signs of slowing down. He was a man on a mission.
It didn’t matter that Prince Fielder wasn’t protecting him in the lineup and that opponents were very noticeably pitching differently to him. Braun delivered again and again.
There’s little doubt Braun’s positive PED test, its subsequent reversal and the controversy that swirled around him will be on the minds of some MVP voters. One vote swung for that reason could very well cost him the award — the race is that close.
But that kind of swing would be an embarrassment to Major League Baseball. The 2012 MVP award should be reflective of the 2012 season — nothing before. No matter how you feel about Braun, there’s no denying the statistical significance of the defense of his last award. Braun set out to prove his doubters wrong, and he did just that — and then some.
“He went out there this year and proved to people he’s one of the best players in the game,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. “He just keeps getting better. Somewhere along the line, players have slumps or off-years, but he’s amazing, how he performs in all parts of the game. There’s not much else to say other than we’re very thankful to have a player of that caliber. Those kinds of players, I tell (Brewers principal owner) Mark Attanasio, they only come around every 10 to 15 years.”
And it isn’t much more frequently that a player puts together a season as well-rounded as Braun’s 2012 version. Like Melvin said, he is improving, which — judging by his statistics right now — is almost unbelievable. He’s the only player in baseball to tally 100 runs and 100 RBI in four straight years, and he’s still improving??
Posey with his good defense, amazing WAR and contending team is the favorite to win this award. There’s an argument to be made for how pushing your team to the playoffs should boost your candidacy, and when fellow Giant Melky Cabrera was suspended, Posey stepped up and truly carried San Francisco to the postseason.
Last year, it was the Brewers’ postseason candidacy that pushed Braun over the top against a worthy opponent in Los Angeles’ Matt Kemp. This year, Posey could beat Braun for the same reason, even if the 2012 Brewers had plenty more playoff life than Kemp’s 2011 Dodgers.
But 30 more runs, 29 more stolen bases, 17 more home runs and nine more RBI mean something. Braun’s defense is nothing to shrug at, either, so Posey’s supposed advantage in that department isn’t as valid as it may seem.
In the end, however, it’s how Braun did it that makes his season truly MVP-worthy. With the entire league doubting him, opposing fans heckling his every at-bat, Braun put together an even better season than he did when voters deemed him worthy of an MVP award.
So will Braun be MVP again? The guess here is that the odds are worse than 50-50 at this point.
But after the best year of his career and one of the best offensive seasons in the past half-decade in the NL, one thing is for certain: We haven’t seen the last MVP-worthy season of Ryan Braun’s career.