As a 26-year-old slugger signed through the 2015 season for a total of $40 million, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun is one of the most valuable assets in the game. The former Miami Hurricane recently placed twelfth on Dave Cameron’s Top 50 Trade Value list. But, while noting Braun’s bargain contract and history of crushing the ball, Cameron pointed out a downward trend in Braun’s power output:
Braun was a monster in his rookie 2007 season, but he has never been able to repeat those kinds of power numbers. In fact, his isolated slugging has declined in each of the four years he has been in the big leagues, moving in tandem with his strikeout rate, which has also fallen each year. Braun has apparently made the opposite choice that [Colby] Rasmus made, and unfortunately, it hasn’t helped Braun. The skills are still there for him to be a star, but Braun is going the wrong way.
While Braun’s pop remains well above the major league average, his Isolated Power has declined considerably since his rookie year:
The fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft has seen his ISO dip from .310 in 2007 to .268 in 2008, .231 in 2009 and .186 this season. Prior to 2010, both CHONE and ZiPS projected a .259 ISO from Braun.
As Cameron noted, Braun’s making more contact, perhaps at the expense of hitting with as much authority. His overall contact rate has increased each season — 76.3% in ’07, 79.2% in ’08, 80.8% in ’09 and 81.9% in 2010 (81% MLB average). Braun’s K rate has gone from 24.8% in ’07 to 21.1% in ’08, 19.1% in ’09 and 17.3% this year.
Braun’s also hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls:
He hit a ground ball 38.8% of the time as a rookie and 38.7% as a sophomore. But in 2009, that ground ball rate rose to 46.5%, and this season, it sits at 48.2%. Braun’s fly ball rate was 44.9% in 2007 and 44.1% in 2008. In 2009, his FB% fell to 34.1%, and it’s 36.7% in 2010.
So, Braun has been putting the ball in play more, but that extra contact hasn’t been forceful. Has anything changed in terms of where he’s hitting the ball? Not really. Braun’s spray numbers are right in line with his previous seasons:
His performance on those balls put in play, however, has certainly changed. In particular, he’s not pulling the ball with near the same might as in years past:
Braun displayed jaw-dropping power to the pull side in 2007 and 2008, and remained well above-average last season despite a sharp increase in ground balls hit. This season, Braun has actually been worse than the average righty batter on pitches hit to left field.
On pitches hit to the middle field, Braun is still a beast:
When punching pitches to the opposite field, Braun has typically displayed excellent pop. In 2010, he’s not faring near as well:
Though he’s bashing fewer homers this year, Braun is hitting tape-measure shots when he does go yard. Hit Tracker Online shows the average “Standard Distance” on home runs hit. Stand Distance homers are defined as:
The estimated distance in feet the home run would have traveled if it flew uninterrupted all the way down to field level, and if the home run had been hit with no wind, in 70 degree air at sea level. Standard distance factors out the influence of wind, temperature and altitude, and is thus the best way of comparing home runs hit under a variety of different conditions.
Here are Braun’s average standard Distance numbers over the years, as well as the 2010 MLB average:
Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, Ryan Braun is putting the bat on the ball more often while splitting the gaps and clearing the fence less frequently, a combination that has led to a career-worst .362 wOBA — still a quality mark, but well below his pre-season projections of .393 from ZiPS and .404 from CHONE. Braun seems plenty capable of once again hitting for prodigious power, with both ZiPS (.243 rest-of-season ISO) and CHONE (.238) predicting more slides for Bernie Brewer from here on out. To recapture his previous form, Braun might want to let ‘er rip at the plate more often — the extra thump would be well worth a few additional whiffs.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.