After a so-so 2018 regular season but a productive offensive postseason, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun decided to make a change to his swing during the off season to incorporate into the 2019 season. The change Braun wanted to make was an increase in launch angle. The hope was that change could result in ‘vintage’ Braun power numbers similar to early in his career.
For the 35 year old veteran, one of his biggest concerns heading into the 2019 season was his health. From an injury perspective, Ryan Braun succeeded for the most part in 2019. With calf and back issues sending him to the injured list in 2017 and 2018, Braun avoided the injured list completely in 2019!
However, he was not injury free. Towards the end of September he strained his calf and ended up playing in the wild card game with only one good leg. On the bright side, his increased availability this season resulted in his highest amount of games played since 2012 and he recorded over 500 plate appearances in a season for the first time since 2016.
2019 Season Grade: B
After a slow offensive start to the 2019 season, Braun found himself batting under .200 when the calendar hit May 1. It did not take long into May for Braun to finally get the bat going. From May second through the fifth he recorded 11 hits that included a six-hit performance in an 18 inning thriller in which his final hit drove in the two game winnings runs. After a strong May performance at the plate, Braun would stay very consistent throughout the remainder of the season.
His signature moment of the season came on September 15th. With the Milwaukee Brewers playing much better baseball and attempting to chase down the division leading Cardinals, he blasted a go ahead grand slam against the Cardinals in the top of the ninth with two outs and on a full count! The Brewers would go on to win the game. Braun would blast another grand slam ten days later in a 9-2 blowout win against the Reds.
While many fans expected his home run total to return to 30 due to his revamped swing, he ended up finishing with 22. He would record over 30 doubles for the first time since 2014 and his .285 batting average was a lot more desirable than the previous couple of seasons.
But did Braun actually make a change to his swing? In 2017 his average launch angle was 7.1 degrees, 2018 6.6 degrees, and in 2019 7.1 degrees. The stat cast numbers certainly do not support a change.
Statcast also measures average exit velocities. When Braun’s batting average dipped well below his career average in 2018, one thread of hope we hung onto was that he ended that season with a 92.9 mph average exit velocity and could have simply just been unlucky. His 2019 average exit velocity ended slightly slower at 92.2 MPH despite a 31 point increase in batting average. It is worth noting that his hard contact percentage in 2019, according to FanGraphs, was 45.7% which was a career high.
Despite the lack of evidence supporting a changed swing, Braun was a very productive hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers. He would finish fourth on the team in RBIs with 75 and an OPS of .849 that was actually higher than teammates Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal. Looking ahead to 2020, it would be nice to see Braun stay in good health and return to the 30 home run club.