Ryan Braun (MLB.com)

By Ethel Hilsenroth, contributing writer

Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, winner of the 2011 N.L. Most Valuable Player award, is having another MVP-type season, excelling with both bat and glove.

Could he win the award again? Statistics-wise, he’s in the mix.

What makes this season very different from 2011, of course, is what happened in 2013. That’s the year Braun finally admitted, after first vehemently denying it, that he had used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Don’t tainted ballplayers get blacklisted from future awards?

First, a little refresher. In late 2011, a report that Braun had tested positive for elevated testosterone during the post-season was leaked to the news media. Braun initially denied using PEDs, and he succeeded in getting the test results tossed on a technicality. Later, in 2013, he admitted fault and was suspended 65 games.

What Braun had done was apply a cream and take lozenges that raised his testosterone levels. The drugs promised strength gain, quicker muscle recovery, and prevention of tissue breakdown. Synthetic testosterone can be purchased legally by people who are being treated medically for low testosterone, but it is banned by Major League Baseball.

Back to the question of drugs and awards. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America is responsible for three key honors: MVPs, Cy Young Awards, and Baseball Hall of Fame members.

When it comes to the Hall, baseball writers have not been particularly forgiving of players who took, or were rumored to have taken, PEDs at some point in their career. Consider Barry Bonds, the all-time record holder in career home runs (762) and single-season home runs (73). Or Mark McGwire, who had the second-best and fourth-best home-run seasons ever (65 and 70) and smacked a 10th-best 583 over his career. Or Sammy Sosa, who hit an 8th-best 609 career home runs, nearly half of them over an incredible five-year stretch.

A ballplayer must be named on 75% of baseball writers’ ballots to be enshrined. But Bonds has never done better than 44.3%, McGwire no more than 23.7%, and Sosa 12.5%. Why? They presumably took PEDs at some point during their careers, so their career stats are tainted. Many writers don’t view the numbers as “real.”

When it comes to single-season awards like MVP or Cy Young, writers appear to be forgiving of prior PEDs use so long as the player is no longer juicing.

Consider Nelson “Broomstick” Cruz, who was suspended 50 games in 2013 for using PEDs. In 2015, he came in 6th in AL MVP voting. That still begs the question: did he outperform any of the other players in the top five? That could be a sign writers were discounting his performance — in other words, punishing Cruz for his past PEDs use.

The answer, looking at Cruz’s performance as measured by WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a single Sabermetric baseball statistic developed to reflect a ballplayer’s overall performance), is “No.” Cruz’s WAR of 5.2 was lower than the WAR of each of the five players who came in ahead of him in the voting. Measured this way, the baseball writers voted for Cruz at precisely the level they should have if ignoring his past PEDs use.

The story was similar for pitcher Bartolo “Big Bart” Colón. Suspended in 2012 for 50 games for PEDs use, he came in 6th the following year in voting for the A.L. Cy Young Award. Each of the five players above him in the voting had a higher WAR.

True, it’s an extremely small sample size. But in the cases of Cruz and Colón, it seems baseball writers took the approach — in single-season awards — that past misdeeds had been sufficiently punished and need not be considered when judging subsequent performance.

Braun’s statistics, this year? He’s presumably clean, so there’s no reason to discount the stats. They’re real. And he’s served his time, so to speak, missing 65 games and losing $3.85-million in salary due to his 2013 suspension.

How good a season is Braun having so far? Through games played June 12 — admittedly early in the year — he ranks high in multiple N.L. categories:

  • 1st in fielding percentage among OFs (1.000/tied)
  • 2nd in range factor per game as LF (1.86)
  • 3rd in outfield assists (6/tied)
  • 8th in batting average (.316)
  • 8th in power-speed rating (6.9)
  • 10th in slugging percentage (.541)
  • 10th in OPS (.919)

Bottom line: Ryan Braun’s 2013 suspension for using PEDs is unlikely to hurt his chances of winning the 2016 N.L. MVP Award. If he doesn’t win? It will more likely likely it will be due to injuries, or being outperformed by his peers over the final 100 games.

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Note: “Ethel Hilsenroth” is the pen name of an attorney who writes for Jewish Baseball News.

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