We are all used to seeing Ryan Braun put up video-game type numbers. When we think about Ryan Braun (excluding his performance-enhancing drug use) we are thinking about one of the top players in the game, who brings a high average and monster power to the plate. I think we can all agree on that.
But yet, despite hitting .294/.333/.538, the 2011 NL MVP is not performing up to our, and probably his, standards. Right now, Braun is little more than an above average player, and that’s not what we’ve come to expect from Braun. We expect Braun to put up perennial numbers year in and year out, and dominate the offensive leaderboards. But this year, he’s not. And before I go any further, please know that I realize a down year for Braun is still a better year than that of 75 percent of baseball players. Besides, I’m not even claiming that he’s having a down year. 29 games is far too small of a sample size. All I’m saying is that right now, as of May 22, Braun isn’t being Braun.
In 2014, Braun has a wOBA (weighted on base average) of .374. wOBA measures a hitter’s overall offensive value by realizing that not all hits are created equal. Now, according to fangraphs.com, Braun’s wOBA is considered great. However, he posted wOBAs of .426 and .413 in 2011 and 2012 respectively (I didn’t include his 2013 season because he only appeared in 61 games). This year, he ranks 37th in this category surrounded by the likes of Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion.
Like Braun’s wOBA, his isolated power, WAR and wRC+ (if you don’t know what wRC+ is go here for a clear definition), have all dropped from his previous two seasons, excluding 2013.
A big reason for this drop in production is his inability to hit the fastball. Before this season, Braun owned a career batting average of .317 and a slugging percentage of .608 against fourseam fastballs. This season, the Brewers’ slugger is hitting .177 and slugging .353 against the heater.
What could be the cause of this? How can someone who is used to dominating fastballs, struggle so badly against them? Some, maybe many, would claim that since he is no longer using PEDs, that his bat speed has decreased and can no longer catch up to fastballs. While I don’t necessarily believe that, the claim may have some merit.
Courtesy of FanGraphs
The chart above details every batted ball by Braun this season. As you can see, he hasn’t been pulling the ball too often this season but when he does, it’s usually a groundball. Braun is having a very difficult time putting the ball in the air when he pulls it. According to fangraphs, when he pulls the ball, he hits it on the ground 61.8% of the time versus 19.2% when he goes to the opposite field.
Braun has also been dealing with a sore thumb to the point of not being able to tell how hard he is gripping the bat. This could also be a reasonable factor in his inability to pull the ball, as a reader pointed out. It would make a lot of sense actually.
To further portray his struggles with fastballs, Braun’s wFB (fastball runs above average) is -.03. To put it in context, a score of zero is average. To put this in even more context, Braun’s wFB was 39.0 in 2011 and 32.4 in 2012. This year, he ranks 155th against the fastball. But despite his battle against fastballs, Braun is excelling against other pitches, such as sinkers and curveballs, which is keeping his average up at .294.
So, while Ryan Braun is still putting up numbers that could warrant an All-Star selection, he’s still not putting up Ryan Braun type numbers, and that stems from his scuffle with fastballs.
Statistics from fangraphs.com and brooksbaseball.net.