“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?
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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.