when we were discussing the american league mvp race, we addressed three questions due to the candidacy of justin verlander, a pitcher. in this case, we do not. both ryan braun and matt kemp are outfielders, although braun is a left fielder and kemp is a center fielder. we'll get to that part.
therefore, we will simply address two questions:
1) what is the difference in value between ryan braun and matt kemp?
2) whether the bbwaa favors players from playoff teams?
1. since we already discussed war in a previous post, let's get right to it. both fangraphs and baseball-reference have matt kemp with a higher war than ryan braun, who is second in both rankings. fangraphs has them at 8.7 and 7.8, respectively. baseball-reference has them at 10.0 and 7.7, respectively. therefore, matt kemp's combined war is 18.7 and braun's is 15.5, which is a difference of 3.2 or a 1.6 average.
a 1.6 difference in war is pretty significant. it's the difference between ryan braun and jose reyes; the difference between jose reyes and cameron maybin (according to fangraphs). war clearly favors kemp over braun. onto the 2nd question.
2. the national league's history of mvp winners coming from non-playoff teams is much greater than the american league's. four times since 1995 (vs. one time in the american league) have players won the award when their teams have failed to make the playoffs. besides larry walker in 1997 (who was bested by craig biggio in both war rankings), in the other three years (bonds in '01 and '04; pujols in '08) the mvp winner led both rankings in war. this only serves to confuse the issue further.
conclusion: i'd like to be able to say that this year's voting demonstrates that the bbwaa clearly has a predilection towards players from playoff teams, but i'm not sure that is the whole truth. obviously, other players have won the award when they have clearly been the best player in the league even if their teams haven't made the playoffs, and when comparing both kemp and braun in 2011, it's pretty obvious that kemp had the better season even without the help of war. kemp had more hrs, runs, rbis and steals. they both had comparable batting average and ops, even though kemp played in a much less favorable home park. and to top it all off, kemp plays a decent center field (one of the 2 or 3 most important defensive positions) while braun plays a lousy left field (one of the 2 or 3 least important defensive positions).
the difference must be then that braun's team made the playoffs while kemp's did not, right? perhaps. but i would say that that's only part of the answer. the other part, and one we can't really know for sure, is that braun's name carries more weight. he has been an mvp-caliber type player for five years now, while kemp is still considered a rising star, a player whose time will come... maybe in 2012.
you can read the case for ryan braun and matt kemp on fangraphs if you are interested in reading more.