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Steroid Use Should Cost Ryan Braun MVP

Because of steroid use, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun should lose his MVP award, and Los Angeles' Matt Kemp should get it. (http://www.thesportsbank.net)

When you get caught cheating, you’re supposed to be punished. Copy your friend’s homework? Zero on the assignment. Run a red light to save a couple minutes? Ticket. Carry on an elicit affair? Divorce, and probably half your stuff.

Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun got caught cheating: he failed a drug test. While a 50-game suspension next season is a sizable penalty, it’s not a punishment.

Braun should lose his MVP award. That’s the punishment.

Some have argued that because previous MVPs who later tested positive for steroids – Ken Caminiti, Alex Rodriguez – didn’t lost their awards, and because Braun passed a subsequent drug test, he should keep his MVP.

The truth about Caminiti and Rodriguez came out years after they’d won their awards. Braun’s situation is immediate – he won the award and tested positive for steroids within a month – and it demands an immediate answer.

By allowing Braun to keep his MVP, the MLB does nothing to dispel the widely held belief that the rich and famous live by a different set of rules than the fans. The Occupy movement proves how quickly that disparity can turn to outrage, with millions of Americans summarily rejecting the federal government in favor of blind protest. A private industry such as the MLB can’t afford a similar rejection.

Kemp Outperformed Braun

Another argument for Braun keeping his MVP is that the Baseball Writers Association of America couldn’t just transfer his votes to second-place Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Some writers would inevitably vote for one of several other MVP candidates, including Braun’s teammate Prince Fielder and Arizona’s Justin Upton.

Let’s compare Braun’s and Kemp’s 2011 seasons:

SEASON TEAM GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Kemp LAD 161 602 115 195 33 4 39 126 74 159 40 11 .324 .399 .586 .985
Braun MIL 150 563 109 187 38 6 33 111 58 93 33 6 .332 .397 .597 .994

Even with Braun’s steroid use, Kemp beat Braun in runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, walks and stolen bases. Kemp also played a Herculean 161 games, still managing to get on base a hair more often than Braun.

Braun really only beats Kemp in the power categories: extra-base hits (except for homers), slugging and OPS. Braun also hit better, but if batting average was the biggest determinant of the MVP, former-Met Jose Reyes would have won it.

Braun won the MVP because of the Brewers’ division title and his own power numbers. Steroids’ inflating effect on power numbers is well-documented – it’s why the words “Barry Bonds,” “home run leader” and “asterisk” are inextricable from each other in conversation.

So, really, Braun won his award because of other players and steroids. Why not give the award to a player who had better overall season and did so honestly? Kemp’s got Upton beat, and Fielder’s a good power hitter but not much else.

Kemp won a gold glove patrolling the demanding center field of Dodger Field. He contributed on offense and defense.

Playoffs Shouldn’t Determine MVP

The Dodgers may not have made the playoffs, but that can’t be the sole determinant of who wins the MVP. Many teams fall out of the playoff race by the All-Star Break, and a few are done as early as the end of May.

Good players on bad teams need a reason not to quit, and it can’t be “for love of the game” or any other ridiculous, misguided philosophical concept. Like everyone else, athletes work hard mainly for tangible rewards: better contracts, personal awards and championships.

Over-valuing an MVP-candidate’s team making the playoffs runs the risk that great players will stop trying once they know October baseball is out of the question. Baseball will become lackluster outside of a few key cities, and ultimately that will hurt the league’s revenue.

The MVP award shouldn’t be playoff-blind, but the emphasis should always heavily lean toward regular-season production.

Matt Kemp out-produced Ryan Braun, and Braun only produced by cheating.

Braun should lose his MVP award. Kemp is the NL’s true MVP of 2011.

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