Justin Verlander and Ryan Braun. The respective Major League Baseball most valuable players of 2011 certainly earned their awards. But despite their gaudy statistics, leadership, and tremendous ability, there will always be a debate on what really makes a player deserving of the award. After all, what does 'valuable' mean when it comes to who deserves the coveted yearly award?

My opinion has drastically changed on this from when I was a younger fan. Clutch hits, game winning runs batted in, and lifting your team to victory in extra innings against division rivals used to impact my thinking. I was under the belief that great, MVP caliber players won games by themselves. It was easy to dismiss candidates on mediocre or losing teams because of the standings. I overvalued the word "valuable" in discussions for the award that recognizes the greatest players to play the game.

My opinion has changed on how and why voters should make their selection based on a few things. First, the criteria that voters are encouraged to vote on has absolutely nothing in it that says the play must play on a winning or playoff caliber team. The following are suggested guidelines given to voters:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team."

Basically, voters are encouraged to vote for the best player in the league. Valuable is a subjective thing. Some are adamant that means a player must be a great one on a great team. My problem with that? A voter can cast a vote for an individual award based on the supporting cast of the particular player. Honestly, how much more or less valuable was Matt Kemp than Ryan Braun? If you switched the two players for an entire season what is the difference in wins/losses for their new/old team? A game or two? Three at the most? Despite that logic, on a day like today Ryan Braun is praised for leading his team while Matt Kemp is considered a great player but can't win an award like this because he didn't "lead" his team to enough wins. Did Ryan Braun "lead" his team to more wins because he's a better player than Matt Kemp or because he had Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart surrounding him in the lineup?

While I understand the aversion we have to giving an MVP Award to a player on a last place team, none of it made particular sense to me. Voters and fans have independently decided what valuable means. For me? I have decided to cast my imaginary vote for the best player in the league. In my opinion, the best player is the most valuable player. By playing better than anyone else in the sport, the best player helps his team on the path to victories more than anyone else. The MVP shouldn't be penalized for the failure of his teammates.

Agree? Disagree? Either way, Ryan Braun, Justin Verlander, Jose Bautista, and Matt Kemp are all tremendous players.