In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 3.
Ryan Braun is unquestionably the cornerstone of the Brewers’ franchise for the foreseeable future. He has produced at a very, very high level each year he has been in the majors. He has started the all-star game three years in a row, deservedly so. He has won three straight silver slugger awards. He is under contract through 2015. Braun is the gem of a very good major league lineup, and according to this countdown is the Brewer’s most important hitter entering 2011.
To clarify – the only reason that I haven’t placed Braun in the #1 or #2 spot on the countdown is merely due to the fact that the Brewers of the last few years have proven that no matter how good the offense is, they will never excel without good pitching. It is not a knock on Braun. Last season, Braun hit .304/.365/.501 with 25 home runs, 101 runs, 103 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases in 17 attempts. He finished second in the NL in hits, behind only Carlos Gonzalez and second in doubles behind only Jayson Werth. This all in a year where Braun had his first extended slump. Battling a sore wrist, Braun’s batting average dropped from .320 on June 1st to .295 by July 1st and .274 by August 1st. All told, in June and July, Braun hit just .234/.272/.394. And he still finished the season with the eighth highest batting average in the national league.
Peak age for baseball players is typically in the 27-29 range. Braun turned 27 in November. Bill James expects a pretty big year from Braun: .310/.372/.551, 33 homers, 108 runs, 114 batted in, 46 doubles (which was good enough to lead the NL in 2010), and 15 stolen bases. It seems reasonable to expect a higher stolen base number, due to some comments made by Ron Roenicke in his introductory press conference in November. In any case, Braun projects to be a major piece of the Brewer lineup, and as the number three hitter in front of Prince Fielder, it will be important for him to get on base, in addition to the high number of RBI situations he will bat in.
By this point in his career, we all kind of know what to expect from Braun. He doesn’t offer a whole lot defensively, so we threw him in left field. He is one of the most consistent hitters in the Majors, and honestly, if he puts up numbers like the ones that Bill James projects, he should be an MVP contender. Braun hit more than 30 home runs in each of his first three years, and his big slump last year affected his power numbers. I would expect Braun to improve upon the 25 homers from last year. 33 seems reasonable. Remember, though, that during Braun’s rookie season, when he hit 34 home runs in only 113 games, he was thought of as a legitimate 40 home run threat.
So I’ve proven that Braun is worth a good look in round one of a fantasy draft, but that isn’t all. Braun is probably the most outspoken player on the team, looked at as a leader of sorts. He has been a clutch hitter in his career, and if the Brewers need a big hit they will look to him. This week Ryan Braun is cheering for the Packers, with the rest of Wisconsin, but in a couple weeks it will be all about him. Braun is the rare Wisconsin baseball player to become popular on a national level – as evidenced by the all-star voting – and he will be the poster boy for Milwaukee this year if they achieve the things that fans are hoping. Unless, of course, Mark Kotsay beats him out in spring training.
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