Braun Improving As Franchise Player

A few weeks ago, I took Ryan Braun with the 10th pick in FanGraphs franchise player draft. Truth be told, I was set to pick Miguel Cabrera before Niv Shah grabbed him with the pick right before mine. I briefly considered an ace like Felix Hernandez or a top prospect, but “settled” on one of the best hitters in baseball who also runs the bases well despite his defense being an all-around negative.

In addition to his durability (150-plus games in each of the past three seasons) and past production (.307/.364/.554 from 2007-2010 with an average of over 70 extra-base hits), I also considered Braun’s improvements at the plate in 2011. His current .417 wOBA is the fourth-best in the National League and would be the highest-single season mark for him since his smashing 2007 debut (.422 wOBA in 113 games).

Braun’s excellent season at the plate is not a byproduct of luck either. His .329 BABIP is actually lower than his career .335 average. In terms of power, his current home run-to-flyball rate of 17.2% is in line with his career mark of 17.7%. In fact, his .241 ISO is
actually slightly lower than his .247 career number. Despite the slightly dips in those numbers, Braun has improved his plate discipline which has led to the favorable overall offensive production.

Braun entered 2011 with a walk rate of around 7.5% and a strike out rate of nearly 20%. This season, he has bumped his walks all the way up to 11.9% while cutting his strikeouts down to 17.3%. With over 300 plate appearances this season, Braun is past the stability thresholds for both metrics. What that means in future years is unknown – and he is still swinging at 30% of pitches outside of the zone – but one would hope it is a sign of maturity as a hitter. Also fueling that thought, his walk rate has improved in each of his big league seasons while his strikeouts declined.

Also steadily improving season to season is Braun’s production versus right-handed pitchers. Not that Braun was a slouch against same-handed pitchers before this season (.388 wOBA in 2010 vs. RHP), but his .422 wOBA thus far is the second-highest wOBA for a natural right-handed batter in the National League behind Matt Kemp (.437). According to pitch f/x data (hat tip Texas Leaguers.com) Braun was susceptible to changeups and sliders from righties in the past (whiff rates above 10%); however, this season, he is making much more contact and has cut down the whiffs drastically – albeit a rather small sample size compared to career numbers.

On top of all that hitting goodness, Braun is also an above-average baserunner. In fact, his current pace (15 home runs and 16 steals) puts him on pace for a 30/30 season should he remain healthy. Of course stealing bases at a high rate – Braun has an 80% success rate this season – is not the only sign of good base running. According to baseball-reference’s extra-bases taken (XBT%) Braun is effective at moving from station to station often advancing more than the average baserunner.

Defensively, Braun is on pace to put up his third straight double-digit negative UZR rating; however, that has not stopped him from being a 5 WAR player before. Although a -5 fielder would be more palatable, his bat and his baserunning more than compensate for his shortcomings in the field. In fact, Braun is nearly at the 5 WAR mark right now and could very well approach the vaunted 8 WAR season if he keeps producing as he is now.

As much as I liked the pick when I made it, I’m feeling even better about it now and beyond 2011.




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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel


12 Responses to “Braun Improving As Franchise Player”

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  1. Yirmiyahu says:

    I’d never realized how bad Braun’s BB rate was. Or, alternatively, how good of a hitter he is in every other category.

    Only 19 other players in baseball history have had a career .300 AVG and .550 SLG. Only 13 players have bested his marks in both categories. Of those 20 guys, Braun has the lowest BB%. No one else is under 10% except for Braun and Vlad Guerrero. For hitters in this group, a 13%-14% BB rate is typical.

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    • Tommy says:

      To me, Braun has been one of those players who I knew was really good, just never paid attention to just how good he was all around. He’s offering at less pitches this season so it appears as if he’s being more selective. If he can get into that 13-14% range, we’re talking next level type of hitter.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        It’s not necessarily due to much change on Braun’s part. He’s swinging at pitches outside the zone as much as ever (30.2%). The big difference is that he’s been seeing fewer and fewer strikes as his career has gone on, and this year it’s down to a low (41.6 %). I think pitchers have slowly realized that, despite the fact he’s such a good hitter, there’s no need to feed him strikes. They just may have gone a bit too far with that this year.

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  2. Eric P says:

    Ryan Braun is good.

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  3. Phantom Stranger says:

    To be fair about the walk rate, I do think it should be mentioned that he has been hitting in front of Fielder for most of his career. While it is probably a marginal effect, pitchers are probably not trying to pitch around him too much.

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  4. JohnnyComeLately says:

    Plus he has a quality franchise player nickname: The Hebrew Hammer.

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  5. Angel Pagan says:

    Fangraphs has him at 3.4 WAR (baseball-ref 3.6) so far this year– is that “nearly at the 5 WAR mark”? Seems like he’s on pace for 7 at best.

    Even Bautista is at 4.5 (and I seem to remember him being at 4.8 2-3 weeks ago, if I’m not mistaken, so he must have been playing below replacement over the last couple of weeks).

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  6. michael bourne says:

    I got piled on for saying Braun is a better pick than Longoria. I stand by my previous statements.

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  7. GiantHusker says:

    Your “I told you so” is justified thus far. Your pick surprised me at the time as I didn’t realized how good Braun is.

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  8. Craig says:

    His outside swing % hasn’t changed much but you will noticed that his contact% has gone up every year. Watching him actually I think I’ve noticed Braun swing at more hittable pitches. He rarely swings at an outside the zone pitch that he can’t hit and he has done a much better job of getting deep counts.

    Throughout his career Braun has always been able to crush hitter count pitches like any good hitter should, but now he has become a great hitter when in 2-2 or 3-2 counts as well and only a slightly below average one at 0-2 and 1-2 counts. The overrall swing rate stats might look the same, but he has definitely gained a better sense of plate discipline if you actually watch him play or just look into the stats more in depth.

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