The National League vote for its most outstanding player had none of the qualification drama that the American League had in route to showing Justin Verlander his proper due. As a matter of fact, it had an arguably tougher call to make between which half of the most potent combination in baseball this summer was more valuable. As if that wasn’t hard enough, the next step involved weighing nearly impossible decision against the validity of the stats of the best all-around effort by any everyday player in the game this year, and a classic revival by the game’s best player as well.
Piece of cake right? Well, that largely depends on what kind of sweet tooth you have.
For me, an MVP is the player whose performance was the best balance of individual effort that also pushed his team to the highest level. So when I cast my final ballot for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance Stan Musial Award (our MVP), the National League was the absolute last one I did; because it was the hardest to pull a definite qualifier of that personal criteria for. Do the St. Louis Cardinals pull off their miracle finish without Albert Pujols having one of his best runs of his career (and that’s saying a lot)? As the case with Clayton Kershaw, was it Matt Kemp’s fault the Dodgers treaded water barely all season? What about Justin Upton, Roy Halladay and Lance Berkman? None of their teams live without them to fight as long as they did.
Yet in the end, it came down to last hurrah of Milwaukee’s back-to-back highlight act, and in the end, the first half of it came takes the pole in the awards race as well.
2011 NATIONAL LEAGUE STAN MUSIAL AWARD WINNER – RYAN BRAUN, Milwaukee Brewers
I’ve got to look at this head to head, because it’s a matter of details about details that give Braun the nod over Prince Fielder. When it’s just a statistical comparison, it’s almost a shared stat line in many regards. Both went over 30 homers, 30 doubles and 100 RBI. At one point in the season or another, they had to carry the load during a lull on the other’s half. However, the edge goes to Braun in the impact, because he put it all into motion. His effort shows why impact says a lot more than stats, which was the trend of much of the rest of the pack in the MVP chase this year.
Consistency and table setting was the name of the game for Braun, and nobody did it did to a greater overall effect than him. He didn’t lead the league in average (he lost that race on the last day of the season) and didn’t lead his own team in homers or RBI (Fielder takes both of those honors), but in-between the lines, his impact was monumental for a division winning club. His .332 average was built on the back of a league-leading 77 extra base hits. He scored 109 runs on the year, and he turned in his first 30 homer-30 steal performance of his career.
An MVP doesn’t have to have the most enormous numbers of all, but when his club’s win total is big and his effort is as well, it means more than anything else. Braun was the catalyst, the hammer and the leader of one of the best teams in the National League. In the end, his performance pushed harder and separated his club, by virtue of himself, more than any other in 2011
Here’s how the rest of my ballot (cast on October 21) played out:
2. Matt Kemp: Wins are an important number when gauge a player as “Most Valuable” instead of “best season”, but his year almost threw out the solid logic of an MVP’s team needing to be in contention even for me. He was a few average points short of a Triple Crown, and nearly turned in 40 homers-40 steals as well. Too bad it all happened for a team that was a non-factor outside of his at-bats.
3. Prince Fielder: The end of the nightmare that Braun started in the middle of the Brewers order. His 38 homers and 120 RBI were second best in the league and he was a point short of a .300 year as well. But he benefitted from having the league’s best player in place for him quite often and in the end just didn’t have the biggest impact on his own team. Too bad that wouldn’t have been the case on any other team not based out of Milwaukee or LA. Wrong place, wrong year.
4. Albert Pujols: A tale of two halves. First half: a nearly broken arm and a missed All-Star game. Second half: a near jump to the top of the MVP list, hitting .327 with 13 homers and 34 RBI over the last two months of the season and kick starting the momentum that carried the Cardinals to the top of the game.
5. Justin Upton: His coming of age also pulled his club from the bottom of the West a year ago, to becoming the biggest party crashers of any division winner in the game. His all-around potential became all-around talent, with 31 homers and 39 doubles to his credit, as well as 21 steals.
6. Lance Berkman: The biggest comeback story of the year carried the Cardinals through a rocky beginning of the season, while the rotation sorted itself out and the lineup rarely played healthy together.
7. Joey Votto: Last year’s MVP played with a much lesser supporting cast, but had arguably an even better season than last summer. His 40 doubles led the league.
8. Jose Reyes: The biggest spark in the game won his first batting title for the first time and tossed in 39 steals and 16 triples for good measure.
9. Clayton Kershaw: Dominant performance on the mound, but I already covered what was so remarkable about this 23 year old run into Dodger legend land.
10. Roy Halladay: The anchor of the league’s best rotation didn’t even come in second on my Walter Johnson ballot, yet he was still undoubtedly the best pitcher in the game, once again proving that there are stats, and then there’s impact.
Come back soon for an complete award recap, a few fill in the blank nods for best gloves, bat-men and relievers, as well as a look at the 100 best players of 2011 and a look back at CSP’s MLB Preview from way back in March, and where I went wrong, right and real.
For everything else in-between, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.