The race between Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp for National League MVP is so very close. Most analysts lean toward Kemp: he played 11 more games, hit six more home runs, stole seven more bases and ended the season with a higher WAR (8.7 vs. 7.8 for Braun).
Let me tell you why Ryan Braun should be the MVP.
Braun outpaced Kemp in batting average, slugging percentage, and weighted on-base average (wOBA), even though Kemp’s on-base percentage was .002 higher. Those numbers also gave Braun the edge in ISO, which isn’t surprising given that Braun had five more doubles and two more triples than Kemp in 39 fewer at bats. Braun also exhibited superior base running, as measured by the Spd statistic.
In terms of scoring runs, Kemp led in the traditional counting statistics: Kemp scored 115 runs to Braun’s 109 and Kemp drove in 126 runs to Braun’s 111. But Kemp also had more opportunities to knock in runs. He had 200 plate appearances/155 at bats with runners in scoring position compared to Braun, who had only 171 PA/148 AB in that situation. That’s not surprising given that Kemp had 531 PA while batting fourth in the order and 158 PA while batting third. Braun hit in the three-spot nearly the entire season. Braun batted higher than Kemp (.351 vs. .335) with RISP, although Kemp slugged at a higher rate those situations (.652 for Kemp to .628 for Braun).
What about getting rallies started? Advantage Braun. He had 119 PA while leading off an inning, batting .361/.420/.611. Kemp had more opportunities, with 169 PA in the leadoff spot, but batted only .289/.361/.500 in that spot. Braun was also better hitting with two strikes, posting a slash of .261/.317/.409 to Kemp’s .243/.299/.402. Kemp struck out at nearly twice the rate as Braun (23.1% for Kemp vs. 14.8% for Braun)
In comparing Kemp and Braun to other players in the National League, Braun comes out on top again. Braun ended the season with a wRAA of 58.6 to Kemp’s 56.2. He also bested Kemp in wRC+ with 179 to Kemp’s 171.
Kemp did edge out Braun in Win Probably Added and Leverage Index stats. Kemp’s WPA/LI was 6.65. Braun’s was 6.39. But Braun was significantly more clutch throughout the season. Kemp ended 2011 with a -.51 clutch rating. Braun’s clutch rating was .26. To put that in context, Chris Young of the Diamondbacks led the National League in clutch rating at 1.89. Braun was 24th. Kemp was 45th, just below Jayson Werth.
When it comes to defense, Kemp and Braun are in the same boat. The traditional defensive statistics — fielding percentage and errors — rate each of them pretty high. Braun had a .996 fielding percentage with one error. Kemp posted a .986 fielding percentage and had five errors. On the other hand, advanced defensive metrics don’t grade either one particularly high. The Diamondbacks’ Chris Young led all National League center fielders with a 12.9 UZR/150. Kemp was sixth at -4.7. The D-backs’ Gerardo Parra led all left fielders with a 11.2 UZR/150. Braun was fifth, also with a -4.7. Kemp did the National League Gold Glove for his play in center field in 2011, but he clearly wasn’t the best center fielder last season, and it wasn’t even close. Kemp does get the edge, though, because center field is a tougher position to play.
Kemp and Braun. Two highly talented and top performing ballplayers who played at the top of their game in 2011. One was slightly better offensively (Braun). One was slightly better defensively, by virtue of the position he played (Kemp). What separates them? Braun led the Brewers to the National League Central title. Of course, it wasn’t only Braun. He had plenty of help in Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and a pitching staff that accounted for 18.1 WAR. But would the Brewers have won the NL Central without Braun? Probably not.
For me, that makes Ryan Braun the most valuable player in the National League for 2011.