Distractions can be a hard thing to combat in any situation.
Just ask Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.
After defying the odds to become just the first player in Major League Baseball history to successfully appeal a performance-enhancing drug suspension late last month, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player has struggled mightily this spring for the defending NL Central division champs.
Through eight spring training games against Cactus League pitching, the 28-year-old Braun has gone cold, going a mere 1-for-15 for a .067 batting average, his lone base-knock coming off a home run over 10 days ago.
Braun had this to say to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com last Saturday after going 0-for-2 during an 8-1 Brewers loss to the Los Angeles Angels:
“There’s never a quantity of at-bats in Spring Training that would concern me, ever,” Braun said. “Spring Training has never been result-oriented. It’s always process-oriented. The process is certainly a little different this year. It’s an adjustment I’ll have to make.”
Say what you must about how both spring training fulfillment or failures are meaningless from a statistical standpoint (for the record I completely and utterly agree with that sentiment) and that they are no indication of what a player may or may not accomplish during the regular season. However, the distractions that have come with being the first player in the history of baseball to have a 50-game drug-related suspension overturned have influenced Braun this spring.
The evidence is pretty conclusive.
Since being drafted by the Brewers in 2005, Braun has lasted through each of the last five spring trainings with Milwaukee, on average compiling roughly four home runs, 12 RBI, nine runs scored and a .315/.370/.647 line (also note that Braun holds true to a .315/.370/.563 career 162-game average for his career).
I’m no math major, but with only seven games remaining this spring, it will be awfully difficult for Braun to boost his numbers up to par with his career spring-training averages.
The only thing left for Braun is to try and establish some type of momentum heading into the regular season. Clearly, Milwaukee’s poster child and face-of-the-franchise has been out of sorts this spring. I mean, it’s one thing trying to deal with the casual, everyday heckler, but it’s another thing to hear chants of “Urine sample!” and “You’re a cheater!” during every at-bat.
Still, with the regular season just under two weeks away, pestering from fans isn’t about to subside. Heckling will only amplify as games become more meaningful and Braun can expect to get an earful on each road-trip this season. The only way to put an end to the hatred is to produce up to expectations.
So far, he hasn’t been able to do that.