Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ryan Braun is Walking Tall

Ryan Braun is quietly piling up a great season. According to the Fangraphs' leaderboard, he is currently seventh in the majors in WAR but he would certainly be higher if his defense wasn't rated so poorly. His wOBA and wRC+ is second in the National League to Lance Berkman and ahead of Joey Votto on both counts. Braun is fifth in the National League in runs batted in and first in the league in runs scored. Plus, Braun is second only to Lance Berkman in the National League in slugging percentage. Yes, all of those things qualify to having a great year. But there is more to Braun's season than his power, which has always been there.

The most striking number in Braun's statistics is his walk percentage. Braun began his career with very little patience at the plate. But his walk percentage has risen incrementally over his first four years. But they weren't significant gains. His first two years were at 5.9 and then 6.3 percent. He made a nice jump in his third year to 8.1 percent but only rose last year to 8.2 percent. This year, Braun is walking 13.8 percent of the time. That's a really nice jump. His swing percentage of pitches outside the zone is at the best level of his career and at the same time, his swinging strike percentage is the lowest of his career.

Last year, Braun walked 56 times and struck out 105 times. This year, he's walked 31 times and struck out 36 times in less than one-third the amount of plate appearances. That walk rate has given him his best ever walk to strikeout percentage of 0.86 and his highest on base percentage, which currently sits at .411. That's the fourth best on base percentage in the National League and it raises Braun's game to a new level. He's always been a very good offensive player. Now he's elite.

The extra times on base haven't been wasted. Ryan Braun has always had a knack for stealing bases. He's stolen 75 in his career and has only been thrown out 19 times (79.8 percent success rate). The highest total he's accumulated in a career was 20 steals back in 2009. But he's already stolen 12 this season with only one caught stealing. The 12 steals matches his home run production. Braun has a legitimate chance for a 30/30 season at his current pace. And as mentioned earlier, he leads the National League in runs scored. So all those extra times on base are really helping him and his team.

As stated above, the extra patience at the plate brings Ryan Braun's game to a new level and puts his game at the elite level among National League players. He was always very good, but now he's great. All he needs to do now is become at least an adequate fielder to put him in contention as the most valuable player in the National League

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