The Case for Ryan Braun

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.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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SaberTJ
Guest
SaberTJ
4 years 6 months ago

Why exactly is Braun and Kemp’s batting order position an indicator as to had more opportunities to drive batters in? Would it not be important to point out the OBP of the batters hitting in front of them?

@mathewbrown
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I’m a huge Kemp fan, but reality is that playing on the playoff team will lock this up for Braun. I’m not sure it will be close.

Matt
Guest
Matt
4 years 6 months ago

Yikes. I know supporting Braun is a job tough job on a place like Fangraphs when the numbers heavily favor Kemp, but that was one heck of a weak argument.

Dustin
Guest
Dustin
4 years 6 months ago

Heavily favor Kemp? They favor him, but not by that much. Homer much?

f
Guest
f
4 years 6 months ago

Oh, please. Not by much?

Bill
Guest
Bill
4 years 6 months ago

What about the guy that drove Braun in all season long. Will we be getting a post for Prince?

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 6 months ago

So they played at very similar levels. I’ll take the guy who played 11 more games.

Table
Guest
Table
4 years 6 months ago

This article is a disgrace. It seemed like you were forced to write an article about why Braun should win, and you desperately sought out areas in which Braun had edges. You just threw them out there without qualifying them, and analyzing their true value. I mean really, no mention of Braun’s advantage playing in a much more friendly hitter’s park? Throwing the “played for a playoff team” argument out there at the last second? I hardly know what to say, I’m just very very unsatisfied with this article/argument, it was not insightful. Fangraphs has produced a number of lazy articles lately, and while I’m certainly going to keep coming back, I wish this site would not take it’s own quality for granted. DO BETTER.

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 6 months ago

Totally agree. I’ve noticed several articles with lacking or faulty analysis. Time for Fangraphs to shift some focus to quality rather than just putting product out.

Create another site if needed that looks at ‘current events’ (or shift the main page to this and make a new page for thorough analysis).

Xeifrank
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I think of these articles as fun exercises. Kind of like a classroom where one person is asked to defend “Side A” and the other person “Side B” without getting to choose your side. If you think one article is less convincing than the other then maybe the more convincing article has the better MVP candidate?

shthar
Guest
shthar
4 years 6 months ago

You get what you pay for.

Kyle
Member
4 years 6 months ago

If the argument is that one team made the playoffs and the other didn’t then I’m not really interested.

www.thehotteststove.com
Guest
www.thehotteststove.com
4 years 6 months ago

I can’t imagine what Kemp’s numbers would be like if he would have had Fielder hitting behind him. We’ll probably find out next just year how valuable Braun is without Fielder…..

sheath1976
Member
sheath1976
4 years 6 months ago

Batting order protection is a myth and it always has been.

Fan of home team
Guest
Fan of home team
4 years 6 months ago

Fielder put up really good numbers and finished third in MVP voting with Casey McGehee “protecting” him.

AndyS
Guest
AndyS
4 years 6 months ago

How about Kemp’s value being a product of luck? I think that’s the best argument. No way you can look at that .380 BABIP and tell me that Kemp deserves the credit for all of that.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Nobody makes that argument for batters because pitchers BABIP expectation is relatively similar between all pitchers while batters are not.

That said it’s not like you cannot just look at a batters career BABIP and compare it to that (probably what we should do if we really care about removing luck from batter performance).

But for whatever reason people only care about removing luck and defense from pitching performance.

AndyS
Guest
AndyS
4 years 6 months ago

That’s what I’m saying, look at his career BABIP and his batted ball profile and you should clearly see something is up.

We really need to start looking at more luck independent offensive statistics. Seriously, nobody thought Kotchman was an MVP candidate, and for good reason.

AndyS
Guest
AndyS
4 years 6 months ago

Well, okay, Kotchman wasn’t as good as I thought he was regardless, but you know what I’m saying.

adohaj
Guest
adohaj
4 years 6 months ago

being lucky is valueable

Tony Fernandez
Guest
Tony Fernandez
4 years 6 months ago

Did you even read the Matt Kemp article? Check out his LD% and HR/FB% and there’s your answer.

Ivdown
Guest
Ivdown
4 years 6 months ago

Kemp’s had a high BABIP his entire career. BABIP should really count against future play anyways, because “lucky” or not, those are the numbers that were put up.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Interesting, I’ve seen similar arguments made re: pitchers and they almost make Dave Cameron’s head explode.

Fletch
Guest
Fletch
4 years 6 months ago

I think you’re forgetting that Kemp’s career BABIP is .352 over more than 3000 plate appearances. I think he’s convincingly demonstrated the ability to consistently put up well above-average BABIPs. And if you’ve ever watched the man hit, you’d quickly notice that he absolutely smokes just about everything he makes contact with.

Xeifrank
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Who is writing the “Case For Prince Fielder” article?

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

How about who is writing the case for Roy….I mean Clayton Kershaw?

sheath1976
Member
sheath1976
4 years 6 months ago

No one worth their weight. no pun intended.

sheath1976
Member
sheath1976
4 years 6 months ago

Ryan Braun Was Just announced MVP. 388-332 over Kemp.

Jeff Sikowitz
Guest
Jeff Sikowitz
4 years 6 months ago

Unacceptable.

Steven
Guest
Steven
4 years 6 months ago

Really? .9 less WAR and its unacceptable? Come on man!

Ivdown
Guest
Ivdown
4 years 6 months ago

Maybe not unacceptable, but 20 first place votes to 10 is ridiculous, and 6 third place votes for kemp is just stupid.

Mike
Guest
Mike
4 years 6 months ago

Agreed with Ivdown. Braun and Kemp for that matter should have been 1 and 2 on every ballot. Fielder and Upton getting 1st place votes is laughable.

Phrozen
Guest
Phrozen
4 years 6 months ago

Meh. Michael Young getting a first place vote was laughable. Fielder and Upton, at least, have arguments in their favor. Not good ones, mind, but arguments.

Blue
Guest
Blue
4 years 6 months ago

Choosing between Kemp and Braun is within the margin of reasonableness. Let’s not perseverate on fractional differences in WAR.

Fletch
Guest
Fletch
4 years 6 months ago

It’s only fractional with the WAR used here. Braun is 2.3 brWAR behind Kemp, which is WELL outside the margin of error.

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 6 months ago

Really? Could you provide a link to where I can find the margin of error? I haven’t seen a margin of error published for WAR (either version). I wouldn’t be surprised if just the defensive portion of WAR had a margin of 20 runs.

Dave Cameren made an argument for Verlander to win MVP over Ellsbury even though Velander had 2.4 less fWAR in 2011.

JayT
Member
JayT
4 years 6 months ago

How big of a bonus in WAR does Kemp get for playing center field?

JayT
Member
JayT
4 years 6 months ago

Never mind, I found it. For those curious, Kemp gets 2.5 runs for playing center, Braun gets dinged -7.5 runs for playing left. So in other words, a full 1 WAR difference between the two is on account of where the manager played them. I would assume that Kemp would play a better left field then Braun would, but it’s not like Kemp is an elite fielder, so I wonder what the WAR difference would have been if Kemp were in left instead of center.

sheath1976
Member
sheath1976
4 years 6 months ago

It’s Kinda scary to think what Ryan Braun’s UZR might have been in Center field though. Just Sayin.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 6 months ago

Yeah, it was a thought I was having the other day about Runs added/subtracted for positional adjustment. I’m not saying they are but I am wondering if they are a bit overstated.

Xeifrank
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Kemp would have a much higher defensive rating (vs his peers) in LF than in CF. So you probably wouldn’t see a difference at all.

JayT
Member
JayT
4 years 6 months ago

Colin, this is what I was kind of wondering. Does a guy really deserve a bonus for playing a position at a sub-standard level? I think Kemp should have won the award, but I don’t think I would necessarily be pointing to the difference in WAR as the reason why.

Also, I wonder if Braun would have been significantly worse in center then in left. He has plenty of speed, so the extra ground that needs to be covered doesn’t seem like it would be that huge of an issue.I mean, do you think he would have been 10 runs worse in center? Maybe, I don’t really know.

phecal matter
Guest
phecal matter
4 years 6 months ago

Where was the post for The Case For Ryan Howard?

sheath1976
Member
sheath1976
4 years 6 months ago

Not on an advanced metrics site, that’s 4 sure.

Tyco
Guest
Tyco
4 years 6 months ago

Pretty sure he was joking about the absurdity of Howard getting several votes and finishing 10th.

jack
Guest
jack
4 years 6 months ago

Braun was a better absolute hitter. (wRC+ 179 to 171, or wOBA .433to .413)
Braun was a better fielder. (-3.8 to -4.6)
Braun was a better baserunner. (3.3 to 2.9)

the only factor in favor of kemp is adjustment for offensive contribtuion relative to other centerfielders (vs. braun’s contribution relative to other left fielders)

Bill@TPA
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

A -3.8 left fielder is not a better fielder than a -4.6 center fielder.

jack
Guest
jack
4 years 6 months ago

(I don’t know the answer to this)

Is that objectively true?

Fielding runs measure absolute contribution to team, given how a player was deployed by the manager. (as opposed to measuring defensive skill)

If a -4.6 in center is “better” than -3.8 in left, as you say, this is only a value judgement right? or an assumption that the average quality of centerfielders is probably better? (an assumption I would agree with)

Bill@TPA
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

You can find a number of articles on here where Dave Cameron and the like say that UZR (and it’s true of all the defensive metrics) aren’t to be applied across positions like that.

It’s a fact, not an assumption, that center fielders are better than left fielders. That’s why the positional adjustment is factored in (-10 runs, for CF-to-LF). Their UZRs suggest (to the extent the one-year sample suggests anything) that Kemp was about nine runs better than Braun defensively.

Table
Guest
Table
4 years 6 months ago

Braun’s offense is boosted by his home park.

Bill@TPA
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Factored into wRC+.

jack
Guest
jack
4 years 6 months ago

hadn’t thought of that.

using stat corner’s wOBA (which is park adjusted)
Braun – .438
Kemp – .429

CanMan
Guest
CanMan
4 years 6 months ago

The fact that Braun’s wOBA was significantly higher than Kemp’s is because Braun was only intentionally walked 2x vs Kemp’s 24 which was 2nd to Fielder. At least use the adjusted wOBA+ to take into account the hitter friendly parks that Braun plays in, Braun still has the edge at 0.438 to 0.429, but then as I said before IBB!!! Kemp had no support in his lineup, unlike Braun. Since wRC+ is based on wOBA, the same argument applies.

How about looking at value in these terms… Percentage of your teams total runs produced. Kemp was responsible for 31.4% of the Dodgers runs while Braun was only responsible for 25.9% of the Brewer’s offense.

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 6 months ago

Kemp played more games. Durability matters.

“Braun was a better absolute hitter.” However, Kemp had relatively better offense considering position (171 wRC+ in CF vs. 179 wRC+ in LF).

Tony Fernandez
Guest
Tony Fernandez
4 years 6 months ago

WAR is a counting statistic, and MVP should be about who contributed the most, not who put up the best rate statistics. So is citing rate statistics fair? Sure, but remember that number of games played is also very important, otherwise Brandon Lyon should be your MVP.

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
4 years 6 months ago

The case for Braun is very weak. They were essentially similar hitters. Kemp played 11 more games and played center-field instead of a corner. You have to give a substantial “contributions to a winning club” bonus, aka the Shannon Stewart clause, in order for Braun to deserve it.

What makes this one frustrating is that the players were so easily comparable. It is much, much harder to make a judgment like the Ellsbury/Bautista/Verlander one in the AL.

Bill
Guest
Bill
4 years 6 months ago

The writers named the second best player in the league the MVP. With the known bias against players whose teams fail to reach the postseason, I’m encouraged by the closeness of the vote. This isn’t a Ryan Howard vote.

Dave G
Guest
Dave G
4 years 6 months ago

I don’t agree with the whole “winning club” argument. It should be the best player. The best player is by definition the most valuable to their team. However, if the game was on the line and you couldn’t walk either guy, I guarantee most pitchers would fear pitching to Braun more than Kemp. He’s the more accomplished hitter with less holes. Obviously Kemp is the better fielder, though neither is great. The only argument Kemp has is playing CF, Braun is better virtually everywhere offensively.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 6 months ago

Isn’t it strange that Hallady got more MVP support than Kershaw?

john
Guest
john
4 years 6 months ago

Not strange, but certainly interesting.

Sam
Guest
Sam
4 years 6 months ago

If Kemp was on the Brewers instead of Braun, they would’ve made it to the playoffs as well. This whole “only players that make it to the playoffs” argument is bogus.

Jordan
Guest
Jordan
4 years 6 months ago

If you really buy the ‘most value produced by someone on a playoff team’ definition of MVP, don’t you have to start with WPA and then adjust for position and defense?

Paul
Guest
Paul
4 years 6 months ago

fWAR 0 for 4 in the major awards….(evasive action for incoming flak)

also noting that that the CC/Verlander fWAR difference is not a real difference so maybe that is not fair, but the other 3 awards had a clear fWAR ‘winner’ distant from the nearest rival

Not to say that I agreed 100% with the awards voting

It is still very clear that BBWAA do not value DEF, Position, BSR as much as is done here for hitters, and fWAR is nearly a non-factor for pitchers in the voters minds i think (of course we don’t account for ‘winning’, media hype during the seaosn or other narratives which have a not inconsiderable affect).

Even sabr inclined people have doubts about the veracity of DEF values, whether POS adjustments are too harsh and BABIP for hitters and especially pitchers in the fWAR measurements

Happy with the CYA winners, the MVPs leave me slightly unsatisfied

Dan M.
Guest
Dan M.
4 years 6 months ago

“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.”

If ever there was argument for ignoring a stat this is it.

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