Wednesday marked the fiftieth game for the Milwaukee Brewers, a note that normally carries no momentous implications along the 162-game marathon season.
For the Brewers, it would have been one of the most noteworthy games during their 2012 campaign, if not for Major League Baseball arbitrator Shyam Das’ overturning of Ryan Braun’s positive drug test.
In February, Ron Roenicke’s Brewers received a monumental boost when it was announced that Ryan Braun successfully won his appeal of a fifty
game suspension for a positive drug test for synthetic testosterone. After losing All Star first baseman Prince Fielder to free agency in the off season, the Brewers could not afford to lose the reigning National League Most Valuable Player and still expect to be contenders in the NL Central division.
Now over fifty games into the season–the point that would signify the return of Braun had the suspension been upheld–the Brewers are 23-29 and 6.5 games back of the surging Cincinnati Reds in the division. Had they been without their left fielder, that mark would undoubtedly be worse and the talks of the team still possessing playoff aspirations would be diminished by an even more sluggish start than what we see with Braun.
Had the Brewers been without Braun, Roenicke would have used a combination of Corey Hart, Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki, and Nyjer Morgan in the outfield. Coming into the season, this seemed to be a collectively fructuous replacement, but, two months into the season, hindsight shows the production would not have been as planned.
With the lieu of injuries the Brewers have faced, Corey Hart has moved to first base, where he starts against left handed pitchers every night and splits time against righties with Taylor Green. Had Braun been out for the first fifty games, the Brewers and Roenicke would have been faced with a sharp dilemma: have the .222-hitting Green get the every day job at first and keep Hart in right or move Hart to first and start the struggling Morgan play every day in the outfield along with Aoki and Gomez.
Either way, the Brewers would be starting three left-handed bats on a nightly basis, which would become a senescent problem with Brewers fans after a short while. Morgan is a career .198 hitter against left handed pitchers in his career and is posting meager .234/.295/.273 slash stats this season. Green hasn’t faced a single southpaw this season, making it clear that Roenicke doesn’t feel comfortable using him in situations versus lefties when he has better options.
Not taking into account any of the other injuries with which Milwaukee has been plagued, the above is a brief synopsis of the problems the Brewers would have been dealt. Not to say that the semi-but-not-really-an-addition addition of Braun to the lineup has divinely saved the Brewers from any struggles (…they’re still 6.5 back), but things would be even worse off without the reigning MVP.
Braun’s team-leading 2.9 WAR ranks fifth in the MLB, meaning that he has been worth nearly three more wins than the replacement player. While WAR doesn’t provide a perfect comparison of players, it creates for one of the best assessments of any given player’s value.
Morgan, one of the players who would have replaced a suspended Braun, has posted a -0.2 WAR through his first 46 games.
There have been, at the very least, three Brewers wins that are attributed to Braun.
On Tuesday, in a 2-1 win over Los Angeles, Braun responded to loud boos from the Dodgers crowd by launching a first-inning two-run home run to right field, his 14th of the season. Those two runs would prove to be the only ones Milwaukee would push across the board. Without Braun’s blast, rookie Michael Fiers’ seven-inning, one-run performance in his first big league start would have resulted in a tough-luck loss.
The four-time All Star’s signature moment of the season came on April 30, when he
became the first player in the history of Petco Park to have a three homer game. Braun didn’t stop there, either, lacing a two-run triple to cap his night. Braun drove in six of the Brewers eight runs and posted a .412 win probability added.
Braun homered, doubled, singled, and drove in two in a close 6-5 victory over Houston on April 23.
Those are all clear-cut examples of games the Brewers would not have won without Braun, leaving out other games in which he had a large impact but may have not been the sole reason behind the win. He provided game-changing performances with a four-walk game in the 13-inning thriller against the Cub and a slump-busting, two-run no-doubter to give the Brewers a late lead over Colorado.
As of June 2, Braun leads the Brewers in hits (57), home runs (14), RBI (36), runs (34), stolen bases (11), slugging (.603), wOBA (.425), OPS (.998), and, obviously, WAR (2.9).
Regardless of how well any replacement player would have performed, the Brewers would be far worse off than they currently are had Braun been suspended fifty games.
Major League Baseball may not be happy with you, Shyam Das, but Brewers fans and Ron Roenicke won’t be forgetting your name for a long while.