The rumor mill is still turning that Ryan Braun might be traded during this offseason, but given that Norichika Aoki has moved on to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Will Smith, he will most likely be in Milwaukee for 2014. It is worth considering the kind of return we should look forward to with Braun this season.
Braun is a career .312 hitter, but his numbers suffered slightly during his 61 games in 2013, batting .298 with just nine home runs. Projecting for a full season Braun would have hit a meager 24 homers in 2013, with a fairly strong 101 RBI’s. However, the most worrying statistic has to be the dramatic fall in his slugging percentage at .498. He was below .500 for the first time in his major league career and nearly 100 points down from 2011 and 2012. It is worth noting that this might be partly explained by an injured thumb that Braun battled for a significant period before his suspension.
So, what can we expect from Braun in 2014?
I would expect Braun to struggle in the early part of the season. A move to right field will add to uncertainty and initially he is likely to be under a lot of scrutiny. On the road there will be a lot of negativity, putting pressure on the right fielder to counter with home runs, leading to an increase in strike outs. Once settled into the new position in right field and a couple of months removed from the drama of his return, I believe Braun will begin to prosper.
Assuming the Brewers are healthy they should have Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, Scooter Gennett, Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy all capable of getting on base on a regular basis. Braun, coupled with Khris Davis should provide the power, especially as Braun settles down after the all-star break. Furthermore, I would certainly expect Braun to be an upgrade from 2013 Brewers right fielders, who batted .280 with 10 home runs and 45 RBI’s, far below Braun’s least productive season. Assuming Braun can bring this improvement and the first base train wreck is at least partially dealt with, the Brew Crew batting lineup should be formidable.
It is important not expect miracles from Braun who missed a total of 101 games last season, between suspension and injury. However, I have no doubt that within a couple of months, he will be providing a strong home run threat from the third/fourth spot in the line up. This should benefit those batting around him, expect who ever is batting before Braun to see more hittable pitching and more RBI opportunities. It probably isn’t going to be smooth going immediately and there will likely be a few teething problems; particularly playing in unfamiliar right fields around the majors. Yet, Braun will bring the consistent on-base percentage and home run threat the Brewers will need to compete in 2014 and this will begin to move the spotlight away from the unpleasantness of the last twelve months.