There's still a month left in the season, but it's pretty clear the Brewers have the potential to do something special this year. At 81-55 heading into Wednesday, the Brewers need to go 15-11 in their final 26 games to break the franchise record for wins in a season (95, held by the 1982 and 1979 teams).
It's also turning out to be a special year on an individual level. For the first time since 1982 (when the team had six players receive MVP votes), the Brewers have two legitimate MVP candidates in Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.
Sure, there have been other years in which the Brewers placed a couple players in the Top 10 -- Braun and CC Sabathia finished a distant 3rd and 6th, respectively, in the 2008 MVP voting -- but this year is a bit different. Both Fielder and Braun have very strong cases to actually walk away with the award.
So here's the question -- if you could only choose one MVP candidate from the Brewers, who would you pick between the two?
Fans of traditional numbers are probably more likely to side with Fielder in this debate. Coming into Wednesday, Fielder was tied for the NL lead in RBI and trailed Albert Pujols and Matt Kemp by two on the home run leaderboard. Those things matter to a lot of people, including a sizable portion of the baseball writers voting on the award.
Of course, Braun's traditional numbers aren't too shabby, either. He's five home runs away from just the second 30-30 season in Brewers history. His .331 batting average trails only Jose Reyes' .335 in the race for the NL batting title. His 35 doubles ranks second in the NL, and he leads the NL in runs scored (mostly thanks to hitting in front of Fielder) and slugging percentage.
On the surface, the two seem to be neck-and-neck. When you dive a bit deeper into the numbers, though, Braun seems to edge ahead.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR) tries to quantify a player's all-around value to his team by factoring in offense, defense, and even baserunning compared to a "replacement level" player (think career minor-leaguer who wouldn't add or subtract any value to your team). There are a couple different versions of WAR out there, with the differences coming in how certain people want to measure defense and how you define replacement level.
Braun trumps Fielder when it comes to both FanGraphs WAR (which uses Ultimate Zone Rating for its defensive measurement) and Baseball-Reference WAR (which uses Total Zone), and it isn't even really close: Braun holds a 2.6-win lead over Fielder in bWAR (6.6 to 4.0) and a 2-win lead in fWAR (6.0 to 4.0). Both versions of WAR are cumulative so there's still a chance for Fielder to make up some ground in September, but at this point in the season, that's a big difference.
There are other metrics in which Braun is outpacing Fielder, too. His Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA, used on the same scale as On-Base Percentage) is .435 to Fielder's .397. His Weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+) shows that he created 80 percent more runs than league average, while Fielder comes in at 54 percent above league average. His Isolated Power (ISO, which is just slugging percentage minus batting average) is .257 to Fielder's .249.
In the end, the only argument that can be made for Fielder over Braun in the MVP race at this point are home runs and RBI. Just about everything else shows Braun to be the better all-around player through the first five months of the season. Of course, there's still a month to play, and plenty of other MVP candidates across the league -- you could make a strong case for Kemp, Justin Upton, Troy Tulowitzki, or even Roy Halladay.
The Brewers haven't had two players finish in the top five of MVP voting since 1982, when Robin Yount won the AL MVP and Cecil Cooper finished 5th. There's a lot of baseball left, but if the first five months are any indication, we could see it happen again this year. If this is in fact the final go-around for the Braun-Fielder duo, they're certainly going out with a bang.
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