It's election time again, and I can't tell you how energized and enthusiastic I am. Not for either of those guys in the ads, although my guy does appear on TV regularly. No, my guy plays baseball and his name is Ryan Braun. And I hope he's as excited as I am, because he's going to need to kiss a lot of babies if he hopes to win the National League's Most Valuable Player this year.
I realized we had a great candidate on our hands right about the time Braun was hitting his 200th career home run. As the ball sailed gracefully toward the Tundra Territory, it occurred to me that the reigning NL MVP is having his second consecutive MVP-type season. But for some reason, I hadn't really considered the possibility until that moment. Perhaps that's because, with Matt Kemp and Braun both statistically strong choices last year, voters had overwhelmingly chosen the guy whose team made the postseason. But as that ball hung in the air, I realized the Brewers are in this, at the time only 2.5 games back of the second wild card spot. By the time the ball landed, we had the crowd chanting, "MVP!"
Braun's case is almost undeniable. His 40 HR, 104 RBI, .601 SLG, and .990 OPS set the pace in the NL. Braun is second in runs with 96 and tied for second in bWAR (6.5). If baserunning is your thing, Braun swiped 3 bags last night, giving him 27 on the season. There's a good chance he'll reach 30. Only 8 players in Major League Baseball history have had 40/30 seasons.
I say "almost" because there is this little matter about a mishandled drug test. You see, back when the MLB and Player's Association agreed on some ground rules for drug testing, they didn't anticipate all the scenarios. Specifically, they didn't anticipate a situation in which a urine sample collector mistakenly believed that he could not ship the samples and stored them in his basement in an unsecured Rubbermaid container for nearly two days. So when Braun's sample tested positive for testosterone and he challenged the resulting suspension, it shouldn't really come as a surprise that the only member of the arbitration panel who voted against Braun was the MLB's representative. With his drug test overturned, you would think Braun would receive the benefit of the doubt.
What is most troubling about the skepticism surrounding Braun's legitimacy is that we can be fairly confident that Braun's offensive output this year is not a product of banned substances. In most media circles, Braun is lauded as intellectual and business-savvy; only an idiot with no concern for his image or career would take performance enhancers after the kind of offseason scrutiny Braun received. In addition, Braun has, in all likelihood, been tested more this year than at any other time in his career. Under the Joint Drug Agreement, players can be subjected to a testing program if the MLB has "reasonable cause to believe that a Player has, in the previous 12-month period, engaged" in the use of performance enhancers.
Nonetheless, some have cast Braun aside. The most common names I've heard mentioned are Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey. Both have had great years, particularly McCutchen, who leads the NL in runs and hits. They should finish second and third, respectively. Neither has been as consistently exceptional as Braun, who had truly developed into a five-tool player, and perhaps the best player in baseball. If the Brewers secure a postseason spot, Braun's unique blend of power, contact, and speed will have carried them there.
There is no other choice for MVP.