The Ryan Braun Comparison: Ken Caminiti


Ken Caminiti was an admitted steroid user during his MVP season in 1996.  Ryan Braun tested positive for a banned substance during his 2011 MVP season.  The parallels are there, yet not many called for Caminiti to be stripped of his award.  It’s a curious situation.  Is it the time that’s passed since Caminiti’s MVP that allows us to forgive or forget? (I don’t think we do both in these circumstances). Is it simply a matter of how soon after Braun’s MVP we found out about the alleged banned substance?

No matter the reason, I thought it would be interesting to examine the top players in 1996 and see how Caminiti’s numbers stacked up.  If he were not eligible for the MVP, who would have received it?

First, let’s start with Caminiti’s numbers:

Caminiti hit .326/.408/.621 in 1996.  He hit 40 home runs and drove in 130 runs.  He had an insanely high 173 OPS+.  Finally, Caminiti put up 7.9 WAR that season.

There’s no doubt Caminiti had an amazing season, but we’ll see if anyone else in the NL was even close.

1. Andres Galarraga – 47
2. Gary Sheffield – 42
3. Barry Bonds – 42
4. Todd Helton – 41
5. Ken Caminiti – 40

1. Ellis Burks – .344
2. Mike Piazza – .336
3. Lance Johnson – .333
4. Mark Grace – .331
5. Ken Caminiti: .326

1. Gary Sheffield – 1.090
2. Barry Bonds – 1.076
3. Ellis Burks – 1.047
4. Ken Caminiti – 1.028
5. Jeff Bagwell – 1.021

1. Barry Bonds – 10.8
2. Jeff Bagwell – 8.3
3. Bernard Gilkey – 8.1
4. Ken Caminiti – 7.9
5. Ellis Burks – 7.6

It’s interesting to see the highest Caminiti ranked on any of these lists was 4th. Perhaps it’s a testament to how far we’ve come with objective analysis, but I’m not sure Caminiti would win the MVP if the voting happened now, let alone win it unanimously. Barry Bonds appears on all but one list and is higher than Caminiti each time.  In fact, Bonds led WAR by a wide margin, although WAR was not a statistic in 1996.  Andres Galarraga probably got some benefit to his home run totals by playing at Coors Field.  I’m sure that affected his placement in MVP voting.  It seems Caminiti must have passed the eye test for voters back in 1996.  His Gold Glove defense probably helped.

Before I discuss the player I would give the MVP to if Caminiti were stripped of the award, let me make it clear I do not think a player should lose an award after the fact.  It cheapens the process and de-legitimizes it.  With that being said, my 1996 MVP vote would go to Barry Bonds.

Bonds had a monster year in 1996.  He led the league in walks with 155, led the league in WAR, hit 42 home runs, and was possibly the most feared hitter on the league.  All this and he was just 5th in MVP voting.

Regardless of Caminiti’s struggles with PEDs and other drugs, his MVP will always be a source of pride in San Diego.  Nothing can take that away, but it is interesting to take his situation and compare it to Braun’s.  However, I’m not sure Caminiti would even be in Braun’s position if his MVP year was in 2011 instead of 1996.  I have little doubt that Barry Bonds or Gary Sheffield, or even Jeff Bagwell would have finished ahead of Caminiti.