If we’re going to talk about the Brewers, the most appropriate place to start would be with Ryan Braun. The defending NL MVP has been tearing up National League pitching over his last 25 games, hitting .356/.421/.6 with 6 homers, 7 doubles, 18 RBI, while going 7 for 8 in steals. Braun now leads the NL in homers, slugging percentage, OPS, total bases, while ranking 2nd in WAR and RBI. This type of production has vaulted the Milwaukee offense to the top of the National League in runs scored and back into the playoff hunt, which is going to present what may perhaps be the season’s most interesting scenario: What happens with the NL MVP award if Ryan Braun continues his tear for the next two weeks and the Brewers sneak into the playoffs?
Nearly every objective analysis of the statistics should have Braun as either the frontrunner or one of the 2 or 3 favorites to win the MVP award. Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, and Andrew McCutchen all have solid arguments to take home the hardware. Posey has been baseball’s best player in the 2nd half, hitting nearly .400 since the break for a team that’s running away with its division. Molina is baseball’s best defensive catcher, impacting the game behind the plate in a way that only a handful of players in baseball history can, and is also putting together an excellent offensive season to boot. McCutchen has absolutely carried what is probably a bad Pirates team to the cusp of competing, a big step for a franchise that hasn’t finished above .500 in nearly two decades. But it’s Ryan Braun who currently has the strongest case, and his is also easily the most interesting of the four players.
Braun was actually suspended for 50 games during the offseason for failing a drug test due to an elevated level of testosterone that was 5 times more than the average males. Braun was able to escape punishment on a what is essentially a technicality, because the specimen collector took too long to ship the 2011 MVP’s urine to a lab. Sports writers who vote on awards and accommodations are still arguing about what to do with PED users who become eligible for the Hall after they retire, so it only makes sense that Ryan Braun’s merits are going to become an issue.
Some members of the aforementioned voting block have already made their opinions known on the steroid issue by failing to vote for known users like Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Neither former slugger even approached the 75% benchmark needed for election with McGwire topping out at 23.7% and Palmeiro sitting at 12.6%.
Even more damning for Braun is the fact that Jeff Bagwell, a player with a .948 career OPS which ranks 22nd all-time, can’t even muster more than 56% of the vote due to suspicions that he may have used PEDs. Bagwell should be an easy, no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer if you take a look at the context of his career and the mere notion that some sort of steroid or amphetamine is in play has prevented the former Astros great from garnering the crucial number of votes to reach that magic 75% plateau.
From my perspective, the voters have already spoken loudly and clearly: Ryan Braun will not be winning the MVP award this year, no matter what else he does, no matter where the Brewers wind up. And that’s a shame because in most ways his 2012 season is better than his MVP-winning 2011 campaign. His defense has never been better, his power is up, his walks are up, he has a good shot at swiping more than 30 bags again, and this year’s edition doesn’t have Prince Fielder in tow as well.