Brief Thoughts on the NL MVP Award

Ryan Braun took home the National League Most Valuable Player award yesterday, nudging out Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the presumed favorite. Both rWAR and fWAR had Kemp in the lead. Baseball Reference considered Kemp the better hitter, while FanGraphs had him just slightly behind Braun. It’s not exactly an upset but the results will certainly lead to some interesting conversation and debate.

Overall, the ballot wasn’t terrible, but there were a few surprises. The most glaring finish was Ryan Howard in 10th place, just 13 points behind Roy Halladay. Halladay, of course, was expected to be a heavy contender for the NL Cy Young award after posting the best season of his career. Meanwhile, Howard had arguably the worst season of his career. Still, he hit 33 home runs and drove in 116 runs, which seems to be good enough for BBWAA voters. Of all 26 players that received votes, Howard had the second-lowest rWAR (2.7, tied with reliever John Axford and ahead of shortstop Starlin Castro). Howard’s rWAR was by far the lowest among players in the top-15. Even among his own teammates, Howard had the ninth-best rWAR, with just 0.2 more than Hunter Pence and John Mayberry, Jr. despite 350-400 more plate appearances.

After beating out Halladay for the NL Cy Young award, Kershaw somehow finished behind Halladay in NL MVP voting with 29 points, which included just one fifth place vote and one sixth place vote.

Along with Howard and Halladay, four other Phillies received votes: Shane Victorino (13th, 18 points), Cliff Lee (15th, 12 points), Pence (16th, 10 points), and Carlos Ruiz (23rd, 1 point).

As with any award, the down-ballot nominees are pretty much irrelevant, so there’s nothing worth getting flustered over.

The full results:

Player, Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th Points
Ryan Braun, Brewers 20 12 388
Matt Kemp, Dodgers 10 16 6 332
Prince Fielder, Brewers 1 4 11 9 1 3 2 1 229
Justin Upton, D-backs 1 8 11 6 3 1 1 1 214
Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1 6 11 6 4 2 166
Joey Votto, Reds 4 3 2 8 3 3 4 1 135
Lance Berkman, Cardinals 1 2 6 3 7 2 4 3 118
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies 3 4 8 5 4 69
Roy Halladay, Phillies 1 1 1 6 2 3 52
Ryan Howard, Phillies 1 3 1 1 1 3 39
Jose Reyes, Mets 1 1 3 4 3 31
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 1 1 2 5 2 29
Shane Victorino, Phillies 3 3 3 18
Ian Kennedy, D-backs 1 2 1 16
Cliff Lee, Phillies 2 1 1 12
Hunter Pence, Astros/Phillies 1 1 1 10
Pablo Sandoval, Giants 1 1 7
John Axford, Brewers 1 2 7
Michael Morse, Nationals 1 1 5
Carlos Beltran, Mets/Giants 1 3
Miguel Montero, D-backs 1 2
Yadier Molina, Cardinals 2 2
Starlin Castro, Cubs 1 1
Craig Kimbrel, Braves 1 1
Carlos Ruiz, Phillies 1 1
Mike Stanton, Marlins 1 1


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  1. JR

    November 23, 2011 01:30 PM

    I like Ryan Howard and think many of his critics unfairly dismiss him. It is also nice to have Phillies players on the list. However, giving him a 4th place vote for his 2011 output makes the whole voting process seem like a big joke.

  2. LTG

    November 23, 2011 04:34 PM

    What if Ibanez accepts arbitration?

  3. Dan K.

    November 23, 2011 05:00 PM

    I don’t like that Halladay finished ahead of Kershaw in the MVP, but Kershaw won CY. If Kershaw was the better pitcher, he was more valuable. End of story. Really wish the BBWAA would stick to their story.

  4. dejesus54

    November 23, 2011 06:17 PM

    I would have voted for Kemp, but hopefully Braun winning with Fielder finishing third will take care of the “two MVP candidates on the same team will split the vote” argument for, like, ten or fifteen minutes at least.

  5. hk

    November 24, 2011 07:17 AM


    If Ibanez accepts, the GM should be fired. However, I think that they must have a handshake agreement with Ibanez whereby he won’t accept, which will allow them to recoup a draft pick if he signs elsewhere. Otherwise, how could the GM keep his job after telling management that he (a) cost the team its first round pick by signing Papelbon before the new CBA was announced and (b) paid ~$12M for a below replacement level 40 year old OF because he offered arbitration in an effort to gain a lesser draft pick than the one he lost for Papelbon?

  6. jauer

    November 24, 2011 11:16 AM

    It was fun listening to WIP, though, listening to people try to justify the possibility of Ibanez’s presence on the team next year. And by “fun,” I mean “face-melting.”

  7. Scott G

    November 27, 2011 12:11 AM

    For all those of you who need to combat people’s recollections in favor of stats. I am watching Momento for the first time, and baseball was the first thing I thought of when I heard it:

    Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.

  8. LTG

    November 27, 2011 10:57 AM

    I love the film, but the interpretive nature of memory is just as true of statistical measures and their use for describing what happened on the field. Of course, the use of stats usually leads to more rigorous interpretations than memory can provide (depending on what you want to describe). But since everything is interpretive, making that point about memory will only lead to a blind alley.

  9. Scott G

    November 28, 2011 08:25 AM


    I literally had just finished re-reading this former fjm post that I’m more specifically talking about:

    But one thing I have going for me is that I am old enough to have seen and followed the entire careers of 24 of 25 players on this year’s ballot (I was two when Tommy John broke in so I missed some of the pre-surgery John).

    That in mind, I don’t feel the need to study the stat sheets too hard. I look, but I don’t obsess.

    I think I know who was great, who was close to great and who doesn’t even belong on the ballot.

  10. Phillie697

    November 28, 2011 10:28 AM


    I think Scott G’s point, and the point of the film, is that while interpretation of memory and stats are fundamentally the same, memories fade and change over time, whereas stats don’t. So while we might improve and change our methodology in interpretation, once that change occurs, we can apply the new methodology to the stats and the result will still be reliable, but that won’t be the case with memory. Saying that ignoring memory will lead you to a blind alley is discounting the fact that you really have NO idea where memory will lead you if you choose to follow it. I for one would like to have somewhat of an idea where I’m going first before I head there.

  11. LTG

    November 28, 2011 01:21 PM

    “Saying that ignoring memory will lead you to a blind alley is discounting the fact that you really have NO idea where memory will lead you if you choose to follow it.”

    I didn’t say anything like this. Rather, I said that in the argument against the memory-over-stats guy, the interpretive point will be true of both sides and turn the argument in the wrong direction…into a blind alley where the real issues involved are obscured. The argument to be had against the memory guy is that he is one-sided where the stats guy, in fact, retains memory as one of the many tools used to evaluate a player. For example, the sniff-test requires the use of memory to evaluate the results that statistical analyses are producing.

    Also, the film itself is somewhat ambiguous about the importance of memory. (I’ll try to do this without ruining the film for those who haven’t seen it, which is a crime but…) The ending reveals that Leonard’s substitute for memory is just as dangerous as the lack of a memory. The facts he records depend on his own projections of their significance, which when wrong distort the conclusions that ought to be drawn from the facts. There is no neutral record of events (if for no other reason than that we have to select which events to record in the first place). To use out-moded literary analysis, Leonard’s tragic flaw is his arrogance about the infallibility of facts (and what ought to be concluded from them). Perhaps if he accepted the truth revealed by memory’s “reshaping” of things, he would have been able to deal with his loss better.

    But film analysis aside, the fmj quote is ridiculous and better explained by laziness than any set of minimally coherent beliefs about talent evaluation.

  12. Phillie697

    November 28, 2011 08:27 PM


    I thought your original response to Scott G. was in direct reply to his quote from the film. Alas, I mis-read you.

  13. LTG

    November 28, 2011 11:23 PM

    It was and it wasn’t. The quote from the film makes it sound as if the problem with memory is that it is an interpretation, which distorts the facts, while facts are just facts. So, my response was to point out that, while memory is interpretive, so are stats (and, yes, even what we usually mean by facts, at least most of them… sorting out the proper relation between facts and interpretation is a very difficult problem). The criticism can’t be based on that difference. Even if the first half of the quote accurately describes the difference between memory and facts, it gets the explanation for it wrong. It is even worse when we conflate stats with what actually happened. Stats, like memories, are indicators of what actually happened. Their reliability depends on the suitability of the background theory that gives rise to the them.

  14. Phillie697

    November 28, 2011 11:40 PM

    Except one very big fundamental difference, LTG. Once that background theory is defined for stats, they do not change. They stay static forever. Memories, no matter how constituted, do not stay the same, and become more and more distorted over time. Now, static is not always desirable, of course, but it is at least dependable. That’s the fundamental difference between fact and memory, irrespective of their interpretative power.

    Now, if you are going to convince anyone of anything, I posit that you probably want reliability, repeatability, and dependability more than anything, even if at a slight cost of accuracy; after all, if it’s not repeatable, who’s going to believe it’s accurate? Now, if you’re not looking to convince anyone, then I really don’t care if you enjoy baseball by pouring over stats or reliving your memories. It’s when one tries to convince another with memories alone, that’s when I develop a disdain.

  15. LTG

    November 29, 2011 12:33 AM

    You are right about stats relation to background theory but of course background theories change and then the stats change as well. And even within a stable framework, what the stats indicate still requires interpretation, e.g., Matt Cain’s FIP. Your points about memory are correct but, then again, stats have to be recorded somewhere. And that place will be finite and destructible just like the human brain. What’s more at issue is what the memories are about. If I remembered every event from a season such that I could recreate all of the statistical data from my memory you would not have a problem with my memory, granted it’s accurate. Of course, then my memory is functioning just like fangraphs or BR. Since most of us are not idiot savants, we need extended mind tools in order to have the events at hand. But, in principle, memory could be stronger. Hence this: “It’s when one tries to convince another with memories alone, that’s when I develop a disdain.” The issue is whether what is remembered is accurate and whether it is about the relevant information from the events under discussion. Usually memory fails at the latter, though it can be quite accurate if interpreted as about what it is really about.

  16. Phillie697

    November 29, 2011 09:45 AM


    I’m not advocating that recorded facts are infallible. As the old axiom says, you can make up a statistic about anything. What I am saying is that memory is inherently unpredictable. You just in your post above mentioned 5 factors that could make memories unreliable, and the WORST part about it is that unlike recorded facts, where you know what the background theory they were created under, where they are recorded, whether they have been destroyed or not, and hence can be honest about their relative accuracy because of those factors, with any given memory, you DON’T know if ANY of the factors that you presented above are present. You don’t know if someone is an idiot savant or is particularly forgetful. You don’t know how much details of a particular event he/she may have observed. You don’t know whether the person is recalling his/her memory with bias or is completely objective. Hell, on the extreme side, you don’t even know if that person actually has those memories are just claiming that he/she does.

    You are arguing about the theoretical usefulness of memories, which I don’t think I’ve ever disputed. Unfortunately, real people, like fjm, aren’t theories, and I’d be caught dead before I would rely on someone else’s memory on faith.

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