At the All-Star break, this award looked like Jose Reyes’ to lose. The Mets shortstop was having a dominant year, and had piled up 5.2 fWAR in 80 games. In the 46 games after the break, he was worth just 1.0 fWAR, and tailed off in the race. Other candidates stepped up big time, and the award looked a lot more competitive at the end of the day. But when all the votes were tabulated, two candidates stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Midseason winner: Jose Reyes, New York Mets
1) Matt Kemp (88 points, seven first place votes)
2) Ryan Braun (81 points, two first place votes)
3) Joey Votto (50 points)
4) Justin Upton (45 points)
5) Roy Halladay (45 points)
6) Clayton Kershaw (43 points)
7) Troy Tulowitzki (38 points)
8) Jose Reyes (34 points)
9) Prince Fielder (21 points)
10) Cliff Lee (13 points)
11) Albert Pujols (10 points)
12) Andrew McCutchen (8 points)
13) Shane Victorino (8 points)
14) Ryan Howard (6 points)
15) Lance Berkman (5 points)
Matt Kemp is our winner, after his fantastic 2011 campaign. His 8.7 fWAR led the National League, nearly a full win more than runner up Ryan Braun‘s 7.8. Kemp finished one home run shy of going 40/40 on the year, he hit .324, he won both a gold glove and a silver slugger (not that I care much about those awards…), and it was an all-around fantastic year for the Dodgers center fielder. A year after hitting .249 with a .760 OPS, and rumors of him being shipped out of LA, Kemp absolutely exploded in 2011, increasing his batting average by 75 points and his OPS by more than 300. You want to talk about a superstar? Matt Kemp has become that guy for the Dodgers. Braun has also continued his path of rage as a Brewer, and 2011 was his best of five great seasons. He hit a career high .332, cracking the .300 mark for the fourth time in fifth seasons. He also cracked 30 homers for the fourth year, and 100 RBI for the fourth year. In a nice little note about Braun’s career, his walk rate has increased and his strikeout rate has decreased in every year of his career. Braun is the face of the Brewers, and only Kemp was able to prevent him from winning the award this season. A 30/30 season with a .994 OPS is absolutely MVP worthy, though.
Joey Votto had another sneaky good season, a year after winning the NL MVP award. Votto wasn’t as good this year, with his OPS dropping from 1.031 to .947, and his fWAR falling to 6.9 from 7.3, but when we’re talking about a 6.9 WAR season as a decline, that’s a pretty special player. Votto continues to walk at a monster rate, tallying 110 on the year in 2011. He also fell one home run short of 30 in 2011, which would be the second straight year at that mark. Votto couldn’t carry his Reds to another NL Central title, but Justin Upton was able to carry his Diamondbacks to the NL West championship. Upton had the best season of his young career, with an .898 OPS, 31 bombs, and 21 steals. That OPS tied his career high, set in 2009. The scary part about Upton is that he’s only 24, and getting even better.
I talked about Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw in the NL Cy Young voting on Tuesday, and the probable reason that Halladay finished a tad bit higher than Kershaw was probably because of Halladay’s Phillies making the playoffs. Let’s take a look at Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who won both the silver slugger and gold glove this year (again, not that I care), was actually slightly less valuable in comparison to last year (6.5 fWAR to 6.3 fWAR), but he was still an amazing hitter, especially for a shortstop. Tulo homered 30 times, hit .302, OPSed .916 and played great defense for a Rockies team that struggled a lot in 2011. If his team finished higher than fourth in the NL West standings, you have to think that he would have finished higher in the MVP voting. Another NL shortstop, Jose Reyes, struggled in the second half while dealing with hamstring injuries. I talked about his year a little bit in the opening, but he still managed to lead the NL with a .337 batting average while OPSing a career high .877 and stealing 39 bases.
A pair of slugging NL Central first basemen received little support in our voting, with Prince Fielder finishing ninth, and Albert Pujols not even cracking the top ten. Fielder’s 2011 wasn’t as good as his awesome 2007 and 2009 seasons, but it was still damn good. 38 homers and a .981 OPS for a 27 year old free agent? Yeah, I’ll take that. His value to Milwaukee was thwarted a little bit by his awful fielding and baserunning, and the presence of Braun in the lineup overshadowed him a little bit. As for Pujols, he was part of a loaded Cardinals lineup that would end up leading the team to the World Championship, but his .907 OPS was a career low. It was the first year of his career where he didn’t hit .300 (.299) or drive in 100 runs (99). But regardless, he’s still Albert Pujols, one of the best players in baseball. This year though, there were a few players better than him.
Cliff Lee of the Phillies got mentioned in the Cy Young balloting, but a pair of his teammates got some love in the back-end of the MVP voting: Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard. Howard is no stranger to MVP ballots, but 2011 was his worst season ever, with a career low .834 OPS. But hey, when that’s your career low, you’ve got something going on. Howard gets a lot of love because of his high RBI total (116 this year, his six straight year in triple digits), but he’s a terrible defender and baserunner. His teammate Victorino is neither, a fantastic baserunner and fielder who’s bat matured greatly this year. His 19 stolen bases were his lowest since 2006, but his 17 homers were one off of a career high. And then there’s his .846 OPS, a career high. Speaking of stud center fielders, Andrew McCutchen fell off in the second half, but still had a great year in relative anonymity in Pittsburgh. His batting average plummeted to a career low .259, but his rate stats remained consistent for an .820 OPS. McCutchen also went 20/20, with 23 homers and 23 steals on the season. The final man to receive votes on our ballots is NL comeback player of the year Lance Berkman. He had a .959 OPS a year after being left for dead with a season split between the Astros and Yankees. His 31 homers were his highest in a season since 2007. It was a great rebound season for Berkman.