Playoff success aside, Buster Posey is not 2012’s NL MVP


Ryan Braun’s stats are far superior to Buster Posey’s in the NL MVP race. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“Soon to be National League MVP.”

That was the phrase I heard throughout the postseason as the San Francisco Giants won their second World Series in three years. Whether it was Fox, MLB Network or ESPN, every commentator and analyst pegged Buster Posey as the NL MVP for 2012. How, is my question?

Granted, the Giants won the NL West by eight games, and Posey led the NL with a .336 batting average, but come on. He shouldn’t even finish second in the race when you compare him in every aspect to the rest of the league. For the final two months of the season, there were heated debates everywhere in regards to who should win the American League MVP. And rightfully so. Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown, a feat that had not been seen since Carl Yastremski did it in 1963. And Mike Trout had a season for the record books, even after playing the first month of the season in the minors. In the NL, only one man put forth numbers anywhere close to those guys and that man is Ryan Braun.

No voter in America can ignore Braun’s production. He finished third or better in average, homers, RBIs, hits, runs and OPS. He led the NL with 41 homers, 108 runs scored and a .987 OPS and even stole 30 bases. And although the Milwaukee Brewers missed out on the playoffs, Braun led them roaring into the Wild Card hunt in the final month of the season, despite selling off ace Zack Grienke at the trade deadline. However, what many of those voters are expected to do is condemn Braun for an offense he was found not guilty of this past offseason.

After winning the NL MVP last season, Braun tested positive for a banned substance some time during the playoffs and was notified of it in October of 2011. Braun immediately appealed the suspension and became the first person to ever actually have a drug-related offense successfully overturned. His strategy? Braun and his lawyers decided he had a better chance to argue against the process rather than attempt to prove his innocence. The transporter of his urine sample was forced to hold it at his home for a weekend because there was no place open at the time to send it in. In which during that time, anything could have happened to the sample. And the argument worked.

So, now you have a player in Braun who is considered one of the best in baseball but who is also seen in the eyes of many as a cheater. The fact that he found a loophole in the drug testing process did not exactly mean he was clean. It just meant the evidence against him wasn’t credible enough to say he was a juicer. So what possible way can you show the world you are clean? You go out and have a career year that no one in the NL could compete with. And you do it without the protection of Prince Fielder hitting cleanup.

Posey was the best player on the World Series Champion Giants and put up the numbers to be in the conversation of NL MVP. But he is only there because that conversation must always be had, even when one candidate is far and above all others. In addition to Posey’s NL best .336 average, his .957 OPS ranked second and his 103 RBIs were sixth. But his 24 homers and 78 runs scored are far from MVP-worthy. In fact, not only did Braun outplay Posey, but so did Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

McCutchen’s breakout season consisted of a .327 average, 31 homers, 96 RBIs, 107 runs, 20 stolen bases, an NL-best 208 hits and a .953 OPS. The only knock on him is that his team, which spent nearly the entire season in the playoff picture, folded down the stretch and finished under .500. But just like with the Giants with Posey and the Brewers with Braun, the Pirates are never in the playoff hunt without McCutchen.

The biggest thing of all is everyone’s obsession with the stat known as Wins Above Replacement (WAR). For those of you unfamiliar with WAR (and haven’t heard my rants), it measures a player’s overall value to his team by measuring hitting, fielding, pitching, base running and etc. For instance in the AL, Trout’s WAR finished at a ridiculous 10.7 this season. Many argue that he is the MVP because of the total impact he has had on the game for his team whereas Cabrera (6.9 WAR) only made an impact at the plate. And therefore, Trout was responsible for 3.8 more wins than Cabrera.

In this case, Posey led the NL with a 7.2 WAR. But it wasn’t much different that McCutchen’s WAR of 7.0 or Braun’s 6.8. Certainly not enough to put him above either man. Simply put, the only argument to put Posey over either man is the fact that the Giants were better than the Brewers and Pirates. And to say that and completely ignore the dominance of Braun is wrong. And so is condemning him of a crime he was found not guilty of, even if he never actually proved his innocence.

Braun is your 2012 NL MVP, and it’s not even close.

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  1. Award ballots are collected before the postseason begins. Playoffs have no relevance in voting for MVP. Seems like a lot of fans have no clue about this. The vote is in Posey won; let’s move on.

  2. MVP, stands for MVP—that means the TEAM does not win, or work when he is away….sorry Posey is the man hand’s down. Two seasons’ two championships and did you see the way he caught Timmy in the playoffs..or am I missing something… NO brainer–Posey hand’s down…stats are not the only measure of MVP.

  3. I will say this again: Offensively, Braun is superior both at the plate and on the bases (which everyone seems to completely ignore for some reason). Defensively neither player stands out. I do however respect the fact that the Giants made the playoffs. The leadership argument I will completely ignore. I am not acknowledging the what-ifs. If Posey didn’t play such a “difficult position” or if he had just as many at bats or if he played in Miller Park. He doesn’t and he didn’t. There are no stats to tell how Braun plays in SF’s park or hold up behind the plate for a full season. Why does Braun get punished for that? Braun outplayed Posey point blank in my eyes.

  4. You completely lost me on leadership. We have no idea what type of people these guys are, or the impact they have on teammates, unless we are in the clubhouse. And stop it with the team success argument.

  5. I know I’m jumping into this thread way late, as the MVP winners will be announced later today and the point is moot, but I am blown away by how misdirected arguments like this against Posey for MVP are. This award is for Most Valuable Player. The bulk of your argument is for a hypothetical Golden Slugger Award. If they awarded the Silver Sluggers, and then from all the recipients picked the best offensive player in each league, you’d be correct. They don’t, and the award doesn’t exist. This is the MVP award, not the MOP (Most Offensive Player) Award. Let’s break it down.

    Offensive Numbers:
    This is the ONLY valid category out of many where Braun is “superior”, but only in some categories. The numbers have been gone over pretty well already in your article and by others. But I have to point out one omission…at-bats. You mention how Posey’s homeruns and runs aren’t MVP worthy. If MVP was based purely on offensive stats I’d agree, but it’s not and you also have to consider Posey plays in less games than Braun by the very nature of his position. Posey got one run in every 0.147 at-bats and one homerun every 0.045 at-bats over a season total 530 at-bats. Nominalize that with Braun’s 598 at-bats this season and Posey’s number go to a projected 88 runs and 27 homeruns. Not huge jumps, but the reality is that Posey’s numbers are a bit deflated due to relative lack of opportunity to produce more runs and homeruns, and the rest of his numbers make up for those two “short-comings”. You also leave out one of the most important stats as it relates to helping your team actually win ball games, RBI’s. If you again nominalize Posey’s 103 RBI’s at one RBI every 0.194 at-bats, his extrapolated number becomes 116 compared to Braun’s 112. It’s a hypothetical projection, but it illustrates the point. We also can’t leave this part of the discussion behind without mentioning Braun’s “suspected” use of banned PED’s. If we are to believe he really did use PED’s in 2011, which almost everyone does, then his 2011 offensive numbers are inflated as a result. That would also apply to this season’s numbers as well. Let’s say he did use PED’s in 2011 and didn’t in 2012, he would still reap the benefits in 2012 of cheating in 2011. When you stop taking steroids, your gains don’t just disappear. Steroids build muscle, and as long as you continue to workout, you maintain those gains. It taints everything he does offensively.

    Defensive Capability:
    Both are excellent players at their respective positions. But let’s consider the difference in positions. Posey is involved in every pitch of every at bat. In the majority of the opposing team’s at-bats, Braun just stands there. Posey has to know the pitcher, all the batters, the situation, and call the appropriate pitches. That’s an extra, specialized skill and responsibility no other defensive position has. Braun’s special skill would be to aerate the field with his cleats as he wanders around. Posey’s extra responsibility helps to create one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, Braun’s helps the grounds crew.

    Leadership:
    How many times do you hear Posey’s name thrown around when people are talking about leadership on a ball club? How many times for Braun? Exactly! When the batting leader of the Giants got suspended, the Giants needed someone to step-up, and Buster did…big time. The loss of a player like Melky would have a huge effect on most teams, both in numbers and psychologically. But Buster stepped up when he needed to and lead by example. At the time the Giants were still neck-and-neck with the Dodgers. After Melky’s suspension he exploded offensively and helped carry them into the post-season. Where is Braun’s leadership? If anything, he gets a negative in that category. Buster leads by example at the plate, behind the plate, and in the dugout. Braun leads by example by being a cheater who got off on a technicality. We all know it. Bonds did the same thing…we all know it whether there is proof that will withstand legal challenges and lawsuits or not.

    End Result:
    What did Braun’s offensive numbers ultimately get his team? Nothing. What did Posey’s numbers and overall efforts get the team? Into the post-season at the time of MVP voting, and ultimately a World Series title.

    Bottom line:
    If you want to give the most productive player in each league an award, lobby to create the Golden Slugger Award. If you want to give an award to the player that was OVERALL the most valuable to their team in their respective league, then keep the MVP and give it to all-around players like Posey that produce great offensive numbers, excel defensively, show leadership, and actually make a difference. We’ll know in a few hours….

  6. One thing to consider, though, is who votes — the Baseball Writers Association of America — which, for the most part, is old school. A majority of that crowd will vote against Braun for his ties to PEDs despite being “innocent” rather than vote for Posey because of his sabermetric stats. Posey’s chances increase because of this more than because of his peripheral stats. While sabermetrics are earning a place at the table, many old school writers don’t even look at them. If Braun didn’t have the PED issue, he’d likely win. All baseball writers don’t consider value in the way you illustrate. They often consider value based on what they see with their eyes on the field. And that doesn’t always award the right person, which has been proven numerous times.

  7. This is not a sabermetric argument. This is about understanding value on a general level. The stats just tell us in more concrete terms about what is actually happening, but the end result is the same. User-based observation is inherently biased and flawed, and you’re demonstrating that on a fundamental level. The argument that Braun was “far and away” the best player in the NL is groundless. Facts are facts, no matter how hard you might try to discredit them. “Old-school” is not a shield. It’s a badge of willful ignorance.

  8. The great thing about sports is disagreements like this can go on forever so I’ll just say this and be done with it. You have made the best sabermetric argument of everyone here. Put me with the old school critics however, because I don’t value the sabermetrics like you do. Personally I feel that most of that stuff over-analyzes baseball. Offensively Braun outplayed Posey both at the plate and on the bases. Defensively, neither player stands out. I am not into discrediting a player because another guy has it harder based on ball park or position. Give me their actual statistics and their splits and measure them by the same standards. But clearly we are going to agree to disagree at the end of the day.

  9. That when you have comparable offensive production, you give the edge to the player who plays a more difficult position with better defense.

    OPS+: Posey 172 (best in the majors), Braun 159
    wRC+: Posey 162, Braun 162
    fWAR: Posey 8.0 (best in the NL), Braun 7.9
    bWAR: Posey 7.2 (best in the NL), Braun 6.8
    fFld: 7.0 (at C, which is difficult), Braun 2.8 (at LF, which is not)

    The average catcher in the NL this year hit .252/.324/.401, below the overall league average. The average left fielder in the NL this year hit .265/.329/.434, above the overall league average. These are trends that have been consistent for decades, and LF is even down in value right now because most of the premium outfield talent is playing right or center field these days. So it is much more difficult to find premium hitting talent at catcher than it is from left field. Offensive expectations are, quite reasonably, lower at CF or SS than they are at LF or 1B. When you have two players with comparable offensive production at two different positions, the more difficult position is a more valuable player.

    When you account for park, position, and frankly quality of competition (which these particular stats do not), Posey was better offensively, defensively, and overall.

    Braun will not win because he used sterioids. Posey will win because he was the best player in the NL this year. Your failure to understand the facts does not make your arguments exempt from them.

  10. I agree he won’t win but it’s simply because of how people personally feel about Braun and not about what each player actually did this season. If you have an argument saying otherwise I would love to hear it.

  11. And what exactly are the “facts” here? Because the only thing I keep hearing is the fact that Posey caught and Braun played left somehow means Posey had the better year.

  12. Obviously everyone commenting knows baseball, it seems to me that viewpoint is getting in the way in most of your comments, whether or not Posey deserves Mvp is up for grabs, but if your going to give a guy MVP honors solely on the fact that he is catcher that alone shows bias. Yes Posey is probably one of the best offensive catchers ever but you can’t just say disregard Braun based on fielding position, not a lot of guys can have an MVP season one year and put up and even pass those numbers the next year, again I’m not saying Braun should be the MVP but I do believe that the whole steroid scandal has had some kind of effect on how people view Braun, at any rate if you are going to hand off the MVP to which ever fielding position you feel is the toughestgive R.A. Dickey the MVP. Although this is an extreme claim its just my attempt at proving that this MVP race is not at all what it should be. As Lebron James said about the 2010 MVP race in the NBA seems like the media has already decided who the MVP 2012 MVP is ging to be. Once again the 2012 MVP race shoud be abit more contested than people are making it seem.

  13. There is a fundamental lack of understanding of the Braun case. He successfully appealed his suspension, but with the tamper-proof seals all intact there is no rational reason to believe the sample was tampered with, and given how testosterone and epitestosterone work in terms of decay there is no scientific or rational reason to believe that his sample was 1) a false positive, 2) tampered with, or 3) invalidated by the delay in its delivery. The chain of custody issue is a pure technicality and in no way reflects Braun’s guilt or innocence in actually using PEDs. He used; his lawyers just found a clever way to not get him suspended for it.

    But all of that is mostly irrelevant, since Buster Posey was actually the best player in the NL this year. Anyone who claims that Braun won “and it isn’t close” clearly has no understanding of, or at least any regard for, the facts. Here’s to grasping at straws, mate.

  14. Along with the other comments, this article ignores the MAJOR difference in where each player (Posey and Braun in this case) plays half of their games during the season. Braun plays in one of the best hitter’s parks, while Posey plays in one of the hardest parks to hit in. It takes the numbers entirely out of context if you simply state, “Braun hit more home runs so Posey is nowhere near as good.” How many catchers have EVER hit 40 home runs? Five, for a total of six seasons. Catchers only have 33 individual 30-HR seasons, which tells us what any educated baseball fan should already know–catching is HARD and, truth be told, ANY offense a catcher is able to provide, especially in the second half of a season, is a plus. Posey only hit 24 home runs, he must suck huh? Well, HARDLY ANY catchers have EVER hit as many as 30, so the fact that he hit 24, playing half his games in AT&T, is impressive. His OPS+, which takes park factors into account, was highest in baseball. There’s a reason why everyone makes a big deal when a catcher hits .300 or slugs .500 or has an OBP of .400…there’s a reason we make a big deal when ANY player does all these things in a season. By the way, he did all this while calling pitches for one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. None of this mentions the intangibles he brings to the table.

    This isn’t even a third of my case for Posey, but I wanted to show you how to put stats into proper perspective. The article basically says, Braun had more this and more this and Posey only had this many these, but statistics do not exist in a vacuum. I can hit 50 home runs, but if thirty-seven other players hit 50 in the season, and for next the eight seasons all these players hit 20-30 on average, those 50 home runs might simply mean there were other factors at play. Hitting stats jumped after 1920 at comparable rates to the 1990s. Does this mean all those players in the dead ball era sucked because they couldn’t hit the ball out? Of course not, the philosophy, conditions, and the ball were all different. Offense dipped in the 60s and in the early to mid 80s. Hitters weren’t as good in those periods, I guess, if you go by the article’s rationale.

    Now, Braun is a great player, whether he was guilty of the testosterone use or not. When Braun won the MVP last year, I thought Kemp had the upper hand, but I was still glad Braun won, it was a great season and arguably just as deserving as Kemp’s. McCutchen is another great player, my favorite non-Giant (I’m a Giants fan, clearly). However, McCutchen really, REALLY struggled the last two months of the season (I think something like a .240 avg and .400 slug, don’t have those numbers in front of me) which directly coincided with his team’s complete collapse down the stretch. They had one of the best records in the NL before, and one of the worst in MLB after. He may very well win MVP next year after another great season, but sorry, he’s not the MVP this season. Braun helped to lead his team nearly to the playoffs when we all thought they were basically done, so, considering his high level of production really made a difference, he’s a much stronger candidate. However, his home park and his lineup, having Ramirez hitting behind him, made his job much easier. This isn’t to say he needs to “apologize” for this, but when award voters need to decide who to award, these are the kinds of factors that must be considered relative to the particular situation–the situation, in this case, being the 2012 regular season.

  15. First of all, forget about McCutchen for MVP. He had a great season, but his OBP and slugging were basically the same as Posey’s. Except McCutchen plays outfield and Posey’s a catcher. I think you really underestimate the importance of position here. Playing catcher is way, way, way, way, way harder than playing LF or even CF. Braun does have better offensive numbers than Posey (less OBP more much more slugging), but not enough to overcome the difference. You cite the WAR values which suggest they are basically equal in value (a difference of 0.4 WAR is not significant). You can make a good case for either guy, but to say it isn’t close ignores a lot of evidence to the contrary.

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