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Braun's numbers worthy of second straight NL MVP

Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers won the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Award. He encored in 2012 by having an even better season.

So where is the argument against Braun winning the NL MVP Award for a second straight year? It cannot be found in his numbers.

Braun, a finalist in the 2012 Baseball Writers' Association of America's NL MVP Award balloting, was indisputably the league's best overall hitter.

The 28-year-old won his fifth straight Silver Slugger Award. He was also an exceptionally good outfielder. And Braun stole 30 bases. After being a 30-30 player in 2011, he moved to 40-30 in 2012, with a league-leading 41 home runs.

Braun also led the NL in OPS (.987), total bases (356) and runs (108). He was second in slugging percentage (.595), RBIs (112) and hits (191). Braun was third in batting average at .319. With all due respect to the other NL MVP Award candidates, no other hitter reached Braun's level of performance.

So where is the argument against Braun's candidacy? Giants catcher Buster Posey has his own obvious merits in a comeback season following a horrific knee injury. The Giants couldn't have won the NL West title without him, but with Posey in the cleanup spot, handling the pitching staff and a focal point of the entire San Francisco roster, the Giants were winners again.

Posey would be, without question, a worthy MVP. But Braun's work again makes its own case.

The Brewers, division winners in 2011, subsequently lost first baseman Prince Fielder to free agency. Fielder had hit behind Braun in the Milwaukee batting order, offering substantial protection. Conventional wisdom had it that without Fielder, Braun's numbers were bound to suffer.

But those numbers did not suffer in the least. Braun's ability as a hitter was not dependent on being "protected" in the lineup.

The Brewers finished third in the NL Central, but they were good enough to make a late 24-6 run. Their primary problems were in the bullpen. The Milwaukee lineup, built around Braun, led the NL in runs scored. It would be difficult to find a player more valuable to his team that Braun was to the 2012 Brewers.

But that isn't the main problem facing Braun's NL MVP Award candidacy, either. The primary issue on the other side of the argument could be a hangover effect from a 2011 positive test for elevated levels of synthetic testosterone.

Braun subsequently appealed the test result and won his case before an arbitration panel. The positive test was found to be invalid, due to fundamental irregularities in its handling. That finding essentially exonerated Braun.

As impressive as his 2011 season was, he was been even better in some regards this season. And Braun certainly hasn't flunked any drug tests in the process.

On the issue of guilt vs. innocence, it has often been stated by Braun's detractors that he "got off on a technicality." No. By a 2-1 vote, the panel hearing Braun's appeal voted that this test sample could not be considered valid, and therefore, Braun could not be considered guilty and could not be suspended for 50 games.

Braun was the first player known to have successfully appealed a positive test in baseball's current testing program. Any reasonable examination of the chain of custody for the evidence in this case would have produced a not-guilty verdict.

Even beyond this, nobody outside the testing program should have known that there was a positive test in the first place. The entire process was supposed to be confidential. The positive test in Braun's case was leaked to the media. The only time that any of this is supposed to become public is at the very end of the process, when the guilty party is named and the penalty is imposed. Since Braun was never found guilty, he and his reputation should have been spared this entire ordeal.

Braun obviously should be regarded as not only a legitimate NL MVP Award candidate, but an untainted candidate as well. If an objective, dispassionate look at the candidates convinces a majority of the voters that, for instance, Posey, is the 2012 NL MVP, then so be it.

But Braun's NL MVP Award candidacy shouldn't suffer because of a drug test that went through the duly appointed process and was found to be invalid. This is assuming guilt on the part of Braun that the process clearly failed to establish.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun