Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun hits a three-run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park. Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE
Don't look now, but Ryan Braun is having an MVP-caliber season. What would it take for him to win the award?
So Ryan Braun is good.
After staring at that sentence for 30 minutes, wondering if it could stand on its own, I conceded that my job description requires me to flesh that theory out. Possibly with some supporting evidence. Here goes: Ryan Braun is good at hitting baseballs, especially relative to his peers. Hear me out, please.
This comes up now because I was recently surprised at how good Ryan Braun's season has been. Then I was surprised that I was surprised. What Ryan Braun does shouldn't surprise anyone by now -- he was the National League MVP last year, you know -- but he's having one of the quietest great seasons in recent baseball history.
There are a couple of likely reasons. The Brewers are terrible this year, with a bullpen that could be improved with an offseason acquisition of Chris Davis. Plus, the FedEx/testosterone brouhaha over the offseason didn't do anything to help Braun's image -- it didn't ruin him publicly, but it certainly limits the number of pro-Braun puff pieces that his season might have generated without the controversy. There's no good way to write about Braun without at least acknowledging that he was possibly involved in something sordid, which is why this sentence exists. It's an awkward sentence to stick into a this-player-is-so-good article.
But Braun is having a magnificent season. It could end up as his best season. He has a .994 OPS, which is the exact same mark as last season. He has already tied his career mark for home runs, and there's still a month left in the season. He leads the league in homers, RBI, and WAR (according to FanGraphs). He's also stolen 22 bases, and he's working on the highest walk rate of his career.
He's a viable MVP candidate.
Well, he should be.
But he won't be. Luckily for a lot of the writers who vote, the Brewers are bad. The ones who weren't going to vote for Braun because of the testosterone accusations don't have to engage that particular debate. They can point to Braun's team being lousy, which makes him ineligible for the MVPOACT award, in which the last four letters stand for "on a contending team."
The three things that would make him a candidate:
The Brewers make a delirious charge to the playoffs
According to CoolStandings, the Brewers still have a 0.4-percent chance of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus has them with a 0.2-percent chance. Do you know what the odds were on your parents conceiving you at the exact moment they did? There had to be nothing on TV, there had to be just the right amount of wine involved, the temperature couldn't be too hot or cold … really, you're a miracle. So, why not the Brewers?
Yeah, okay, probably not. But there's a chance!
Braun wins the Triple Crown
He leads the league in two of the three categories, after all. All he'd need is to overtake the leader in batting average, who … can't bring that average down because of a suspension for testosterone.
Oh, come on, baseball. That kind of irony is a little heavy-handed, no? You're a little more subtle than that.
Based on Braun's at-bat rate, he's on pace to get 109 more at-bats this season. He'd have to go 56 for his next 109 to pass Melky Cabrera for the batting title. Like the Brewer's playoff odds, there's a chance. But, uh …
Braun goes nuts in September
This is the only realistic possibility. He needs 13 homers for 50, 34 RBI for 130, and eight steals for 30. That'd make him the first 50/30 man in baseball history, which is pretty impressive in a cherry-picking kind of way. If Braun has a transcendent final month, it would push his numbers well beyond the other candidates. It might not make him the favorite for the MVPOACT, but he'd be a candidate. He'd be impossible to ignore.
His already-great season? Easy to ignore right now because it's merely great, not historic. That's kind of embarrassing, but it's true. With a strong finish, though, he'd elbow his way into every MVP conversation.
So it goes for Braun, who can't win an MVP with a typically stellar and elite year. He'll have to do something that's almost unprecedented. It's unlikely. But there's a chance. It's weird that it's come to this, but for Braun right now, great isn't good enough.