Batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS.
NL MVP Ryan Braun rated better (barely) than Matt Kemp in those three categories this season. In all the others, Kemp was superior.
I knew going in that the vote was going to be a toss-up between the two talented outfielders. On one hand, Matt Kemp was clearly the best player in the National League and probably all of baseball in 2011 as the five tool stud finally put it all together in one monster season. But Braun (20 first place votes and my preseason choice for MVP) compiled similar statistics, and enjoyed the added bonus of playing for the NL Central champions. In the end, their teams' respective finishes determined the outcome as the voters penalized Kemp (ten first place votes) because his Dodgers were irrelevant in the NL West all year and failed to make the postseason.
I had hoped Kemp (10 bWAR, compared to Braun's 7.7) would win because he deserved it; he enjoyed the better season. Although exceptions have been made in the past for stars like Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Alex Rodriguez that put up huge numbers for lousy teams, the BBWAA just wasn't willing to hand Kemp the trophy this year, not when Braun was basically right behind him in numerous categories.
But should Kemp pay the price for his team's mediocrity? He's just one man (along with Clayton Kershaw) on a team of 25, after all, and he obviously did all he could for them while playing half his games in a pitcher's park without much offensive support. And what about Braun, who had Prince Fielder (third place and one first place vote) protecting him in the lineup all season long and had plenty of help leading the Brew Crew into October with Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and a strong rotation headed by Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Yovani Gallardo? Even if Braun had missed significant time with an injury or posted more ordinary numbers, Milwaukee still would have probably won the division.
The award should go to the best player. Period. But until we have a concrete definition of "valuable," there will always be controversy.
Other notes: Justin Upton (one first place vote) finished fourth, which oddly enough feels both too high and just right at the same time. His numbers weren't anything special, but he carried an otherwise pedestrian Diamondbacks lineup to an NL West title. I'm surprised Albert Pujols still managed to finish fifth in the worst season of his career. Just goes to show how great he is. Teammate Lance Berkman (seventh) put up better numbers and was more valuable to St. Louis in my opinion. Reigning NL MVP Joey Votto took the six-slot between them. Ryan Howard (tenth) finished ahead of teammate Shane Victorino (thirteenth) despite being about half as valuable according to bWAR. I'm guessing too many voters were seduced by his 33 home runs and 116 RBI for a first place team.
The Senior Circuit ballot's version of David Robertson was Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia's catcher who amassed gaudy numbers like six home runs and a .383 slugging percentage. Gotta love the randomness of those down-ballot votes, especially when guys like Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Aramis Ramirez, and Andrew McCutchen were left off the ballot entirely.