It was an ugly sight.
In the bottom of the third inning with the bases loaded and no outs in a tightly-contested contest with the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun stepped into the batter’s box with every intention of giving his club the lead with at the very least a base knock — something the 28-year-old former National League Most Valuable Player has accomplished a time or two during his tenure with the club.
Problem was, that didn’t happen. Something else did.
After battling deep into the count in his third-inning at-bat against the crafty Barry Zito, Braun came up empty on a high-and-outside (emphasis on the ‘high’ and the ‘outside’) fastball from Zito, ending whatever hope was left for that base knock I mentioned earlier. (Rickie Weeks followed Braun’s strikeout with a clutch double that plated two runners, but I digress.)
Swinging-and-missing is not something Braun has become known for during his career with Milwaukee, but that was exactly what happened Tuesday night. In total, Giants pitching induced eight swings-and-misses from Braun, his highest single-game total of the young season.
But it was that bases-loaded, at-bat ending swing at a pitch nearly eye-level that was most disheartening for Braun in the series opener. I myself questioned its validity.
Whatever the case may be, that swing was, as I said earlier, an ugly sight. Unfortunately, this has become somewhat of a norm for Braun this season.
While it is probably too early yet to conclusively say whether or not Braun is witnessing a regression with respect to his plate discipline this season, the numbers are certainly there to support it.
At first glance, it seems Braun is yet again off to a hot regular-season start — boasting a handsome yet not overwhelming .286/.375/.543 slash line with two home runs, eight runs batted in and a stolen base. He seems to be driving the ball to all fields and getting on base in ways he only knows how. That’s where the positives end and the negatives begin, however.
With respect to the plate discipline I alluded to earlier, things have taken a wrong turn south this season for Braun.
After Tuesday night’s contest — in which he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts — the face of the franchise is has now struck out (15) in 37.5% of his plate appearances (40) this season compared to drawing just five walks, two of which were intentional. This is alarmingly high, notwithstanding the fact that he has played in just nine games this season. And it all starts with the fact that Braun is unprotected in Ron Roenicke’s current lineup.
Since Aramis Ramirez was placed on the 15-day disabled list April 6, Braun has struggled at the plate considerably. In the six games since the injury, he has gone 6-for-27 (.222) with just three extra base hits. More important is the fact that Braun has struck out 12 times and walked just twice.
In Ramirez’s absence, Rickie Weeks simply hasn’t provided Braun sufficient protection. In turn, Braun seems to be pressing to swing the bat at pitches he otherwise would not, despite the fact that he has actually seen less pitches in the strikezone this season compared to last. According to FanGraphs, Braun has seen just 42.7 percent his pitches be called for strikes, a career low, and down from 45.6 percent last season.
These two facts do not bode well for Milwaukee, as sources have indicated that Ramirez will by no means be rushed back off the disabled list. It could be a decent amount of time before he returns to Roenicke’s roster at full health.
Delving a bit deeper into the statistics, we find there is more reason for concern for Braun. FanGraphs’ pitch F/X data says that Braun has struggled to contact pitches outside and inside the strikezone.
The table above illustrates Braun’s early struggles. As you can see, Braun’s overall contact rate has dropped by over 10 points from last season — by far and away a career-low.
His O-Contact rate (the percentage of times a batter makes contact with a pitch thrown outside the strike zone) has also dipped from where it was last season and his Z-Contact rate (contact on pitches in the strike zone) has also dropped, despite the fact that his overall swing rate remains where it was at last season. If Braun’s swing rate this season was considerably higher than last season, there would be an explanation for the lack of contact; more swings generally equals higher chance of contact or lack thereof. But since it remains the same as it was last season, there should be cause for concern.
From a pitch-by-pitch standpoint, we get a more specific look at where Braun has most struggled. His whiff rate on sliders this season is exactly 43.8 percent, up from just 16.3 percent last season. He’s put less four-seam fastballs in play (13.9%) this season than last (15.8%), despite the fact that they’ve been thrown for strikes at nearly the same rate (there’s only a 0.1% difference in strike frequency) and almost half (49%) of the pitches thrown against him have been fastballs, a pitch he customarily tees off on over the course of his career.
Whatever the case may be, whatever the statistics tell us at this early juncture of the season, something is up with Braun. Going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in one game is not player Brewers fans have come to know over the years. Yes, it was just one game and there will be plenty of opportunities to make up for it, but we can only judge what we see; and what we see is not good.
A lack of contact in and out of the zone may be a product of Aramis Ramirez’s absence in the batting order, it may not be. We really have no solid way of knowing. What’s important is that this does not become the new norm for Braun. The fate of the Brewers’ 2013 season and subsequent seasons depend on it.
Statistics provided by texasleaguers.com and FanGraphs.com
After becoming the first player in Major League to appeal and successfully overturn a 50-game suspension for alleged performance-enhancing drug usage last year, Ryan Braun’s reputation for being drug-free is once again in jeopardy.
On Tuesday night, Yahoo! Sports’ investigative reporters Tim Brown and Jeff Passan reported that Braun’s name was included in a Miami-based Biogenesis clinic said to have distributed performance-enhancing drugs. The league has been investigating the clinic’s operator, Anthony Bosch, for his involvement in the dispersal.
Here is an excerpt from the story:
Three of the Biogenesis clinic records obtained by Yahoo! Sports show Braun’s name. Unlike the players named by the Miami New Times in its report that blew open the Biogenesis case, Braun’s name is not listed next to any specific PEDs.
He is on a list that includes Alex Rodriguez,Melky Cabrera and Cesar Carrillo, who the New Times reported received PEDs from Bosch. Also on the list are New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and Baltimore Orioles third baseman Danny Valencia, who weren’t listed near PEDs either. The record matches a document the New Times posted with Braun’s name redacted and Cervelli and Valencia’s cut off.
Representatives for Braun, Cervelli and Valencia did not return multiple phone messages left by Yahoo! Sports.
We will continue to relay information as it becomes available.
Taking home National League Most Valuable Player honors last season, Ryan Braun is in the midst of yet another MVP-caliber season for the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite weathering the PED-firestorm this past winter, Braun continues to post historic numbers for a resurgent ballclub with postseason aspirations.
Now roughly six and a half seasons into his professional career, and the question can now legitimately be posed: Where does Braun rank among the all-time franchise greats? It’s a difficult question to answer with any amount of conviction, given the amount of talent the organization has housed over it’s 40-plus years of existence. However, one cannot argue with raw numbers and, more specifically, Braun’s raw numbers.
So, where does Braun rank among all-time franchise greats?
20. Richie Sexson
Career 162-game averages: .276/.366/.536, 74 XBH, 120 RBI, 97 R, 2 SB (534 G)
Where would the Milwaukee Brewers be today without Richie Sexson?
An average player at best during his three-and-a-half year stay with the Cleveland Indians, Sexson’s career took off once he arrived to Milwaukee via trade midway through the 2000 season, where the then 25-year-old towering first-baseman registered a career-best .409 wOBA in just a half a season’s time.
And it would only get better from there.
The very next season, Sexson mashed 45 home runs and drove in 125 runs, a mark that stands today as the third most for any player in a single season’s time. He nearly matched those numbers two years later in 2003, swatting 45 round-trippers with 124 home runs. It would prove to be his last season with the club, when Milwaukee dealt him to Arizona for (among others) Chris Capuano, Craig Counsell and Lyle Overbay.
In just about any other era, Sexson’s yield would have garnered serious MVP-consideration. Unfortunately, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa tallied just about all of the writer’s votes.
Even so, it’s safe to say that the organization wouldn’t be where it is today without his services, even if it was only from 2000 through 2003. He helped usher in the Miller Park era and helped put the Brewers on the path to success in the early stages of the new millennium.
19. Chris Bosio
Career 162-game averages: 30 G, 3.76 ERA (3.79 FIP), 1.24 WHIP, 107 K/41 BB, .258 BAA (170 IP)
In all honesty, Chris Bosio probably doesn’t deserve to be on this list. He was a marginal reliever at best during his early years with the club and didn’t find a whole lot of success until he was converted to a near full-time starter at the beginning of the 1988 season.
However, he was pretty darn good from there on out.
Never known for having overpowering stuff, Bosio instead utilized his superb placement en route to some Cy Young-caliber numbers. In 1989, Bosio walked less than 2 batters per nine innings pitched and held batters to a .246 batting average despite striking out a very average 17.9 percent of batters he faced. Consequently, his statistical yield gave him a 6.2 WAR rating, which was fourth-best among all big-league starters that season.
Bosio returned for three more seasons in Milwaukee’s rotation, where he registered on average 3.0 WAR per season. His impeccable command manifested itself in the form of a league-leading 1.7 BB/9 ratio during his 1992 campaign with the club. He may be one of the most under-appreciated starters in the club’s relatively short history.
18. Jeromy Burnitz
Career 162-game averages: .258/.362/.508, 72 XBH, 109 RBI, 97 R, 9 SB (782 G)
Upon arrival to Milwaukee midway through the 1996 season to his departure after the 2001 season, Jeromy Burnitz just had a knack for producing at the plate. While his hit-tool was below average, he made up for it with plus-power and a fairly keen eye at the plate. Add in the fact that he had respectable speed on the basepaths, and its easy to see Burnitz was (nearly) the total package on offense.
Between 1997 and 1998, his best two seasons from a pure value standpoint, Burnitz posted a .271/.358/.523 line with a scintillating .252 ISO and a wRC+ of 127. He proved to be surprisingly productive on the basepaths, garnering a SPD rating of 3.7 and stolen base percentage of 61 percent, additionally.
If you’re an advocate of 162-game averages, then Burnitz would rank up there with many of the franchise’s best in terms of raw power and ability to get on base. It’s unfortunate that he only lasted just six seasons with the club — who knows what his career would have amounted to had he stayed for an extended period of time.
17. Mike Caldwell
Career 162-game averages: 30 G, 3.74 ERA (4.07 FIP), 1.28 WHIP, 67 K/44 BB, .278 BAA (1604.2 IP)
Another innings-eater workhorse type from a number of successful 1980s Milwaukee rotations, Mike Caldwell had plus-average command of his offerings and was always around the strikezone, resulting in low walk totals and inherently high hit rates. But what made Caldwell so effective (and valuable) was his durability.
Caldwell’s best season came in 1978 as an experienced 29-year-old veteran. He started 34 games and appeared in three more as a reliever, where his 2.95 FIP ranked fourth-best among all AL starters and his 6.6 WAR was fourth-best among all big-league starters. Consequently, he finished second in American League Cy Young award voting and 12th in Most Valuable Player voting.
While the remainder of his career with Milwaukee was solid, his strikeout totals diminished and hitters took advantage of his propensity to leave the ball over the plate. Still, Caldwell without question ranks as one of the best starters in the franchise’s history.
16. Moose Haas
Career 162-game averages: 25 G (23 GS), 4.03 ERA (3.77 FIP), 1.30 WHIP, 80 K/41 BB, .270 BAA (1542 IP)
Moose Haas was never considered a dominating pitcher and likely never will be. Though he had above-average command of his pitches and subsequent low walk rates, he left the ball over the plate at a far too frequent rate and hardly ever got batters out via strikeout. Still, he is one of the greatest starters in franchise history.
Haas’ best season came in 1980 at just 24 years old, where he posted a 3.10 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and logged a career-best 5.2 K/9 ratio over 33 starts. The most impressive part is that he finished 14 games of which he started, a ridiculous number when you consider that Brewers starters managed just one complete game over the course of the entire 2011 season. In short, Haas was the epitome of an innings-eater.
He would struggle to find the same amount of success in each of his next few seasons with the club, harboring an ERA 3.99 and WHIP of 1.29. Haas made his way to the Oakland Athletics‘ rotation after his stay in Milwaukee, but injuries took their tool and in turn a once promising career.
15. Geoff Jenkins
Career 162-game averages: .277/.347/.496, 66 XBH, 85 RBI, 80 R, 4 SB (1234 G)
Taken with the ninth overall selection in the 1995 first-year player draft, there were plenty of things to like about Geoff Jenkins. He had a blue-collar mentality to him that fans connected with and the statistical yield to provide even more reason to cheer him on.
At the plate, Jenkins provided a ton of pop and at times hit for a decent average. He maintains a career .215 ISO and .354 wOBA, proving that he was one of the franchise’s best at raking-up extra-base hits. A career .277 batter, Jenkins twice reached the .300 plateau and nearly did it in 2006, where he batted .296 and made his lone All-Star appearance for the National League.
There wasn’t anything flashy or extravagant about Jenkins’ game. He went out and did his job day in and day out and as a consequence finds himself among the franchise’s all-time greats from a statistical standpoint.
14. Jeff Cirillo
Career 162-game averages: .307/.383/.449, 51 XBH, 70 RBI, 84 R, 6 SB (978 G)
Probably one of the more overlooked players in franchise history, Jeff Cirillo spent eight seasons in Milwaukee and was extremely productive in each more often than not.
The former 11th round pick of the 1991 draft spent his first six professional seasons with the Brewers, and during that time proved to be one of the best top-of-the-order hitters in all of baseball. He finished among the league leaders with a .307 batting average, .333 BABIP, .384 on-base percentage and a strikeout rate of just 11.6 percent. What’s more, he ranked third-best among all third basemen with an Fld of 49, according to FanGraphs.
After a brief stint with a few other clubs, Cirillo returned to Milwaukee from 2005 to 2006, where he garnered 3.4 WAR in just 189 games. He didn’t put up the biggest numbers, but he’s certainly one of the franchise’s best from a pure value standpoint.
13. George Scott
Career 162-game averages: .283/.342/.456, 57 XBH, 96 RBI, 84 R, 9 SB (782 G)
As with a number of players featured in this list, George Scott wasn’t drafted by the organization and furthermore didn’t have a lengthy stay, either, so his 162-game averages should be taken with a grain of salt. However, there’s still no denying what Scott accomplished during his time in Milwaukee.
After years of mediocrity with the Boston Red Sox, Scott made his way to the Brewers’ dugout at the beginning of the 1972 season and saw immediate improvements to his game, both offensively and defensively. In his five seasons with the club, “Boomer” posted an OPS+ of 131 compared to his 103 with his previous club. He led the AL with 37 home runs, 109 runs batted in and 318 total bases in 1975 yet finished just eighth in Most Valuable Player voting.
What’s most impressive about his tenure with the organization, though, was his defensive prowess. He took home first-base gold glove honors each of his five seasons with Milwaukee — something has has only been accomplished twice since 1975. Scott was by all accounts a complete baseball player.
12. Gorman Thomas
Career 162-game averages: .230/.325/.461, 58 XBH, 89 RBI, 77 R, 6 SB (1102 G)
The pride and joy of Milwaukee baseball from the early 1970s up through the early 1980s, Gorman Thomas was about as undisciplined a hitter that has ever graced a baseball field. He consistently totalled some of the highest strikeout rates in the bigs during his 11-year stay with the Brewers and consequently found his batting average well-below the Mendoza line.
But, man could he hit for power.
Thomas was one of the driving forces behind a slew of successful 1970s and 1980s clubs, twice leading the AL in home runs (45 in 1979; 39 in 1982) and cracking the 100-RBI mark on three separate occasions. Of course, alluding back to my previous statement, Thomas twice led the AL in strikeouts (175 in 1979; 170 in 1980) and posted a career strikeout rate of 24 percent.
Still, Thomas’ “Stormin’ Gorman” moniker is historic in and of itself.
11. Jim Gantner
Career 162-game averages: .274/.319/.351, 31 XBH, 51 RBI, 65 R, 12 SB (1801 G)
Thrust into the starting second-base role as a 26-year-old in 1979, Jim Gantner was never known to possess flashy tools or for having a ton of upside during his stay in the minors, and that sentiment resonated throughout his professional career. However, an above-aveage glove made him extremely valuable throughout his 17-year career.
Carving a niche for himself at second base over his lengthy career, Gantner also maintained the aptitude to play third base and shortstop, and not-so-surprisingly performed well at each. Still the runaway franchise leader with 9.5 defensive WAR, Gantner amassed a range factor of 5.51 at second base, 2.18 at third base and 5.36 at shortstop. By those standards, he was below-average defender only at third base while being proficient both at second and shortstop.
Gantner was a cornerstone to a number of successful 1980s teams and without a doubt deserves to be on this list.
10. Don Money
Career 162-game averages: .270/.338/.421, 50 XBH, 72 RBI, 82 R, 9 SB (1196 G)
Spending his first five big-league seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies before making his way to Milwaukee prior to the 1973 season, Don Money was one of the primary offensive catalysts to many 1970s and early 1980s Brewers rosters.
An very disciplined hitter at the plate, Money posted a career strikeout rate of just 11.6 percent and a walk rate of 9.1 percent. His keen eye and great pitch recognition helped him tap into his power potential at the plate, where he posted a career .421 slugging percentage with Milwaukee and an extra-base hit rate of 7.7 percent. While those numbers are by no means all-time franchise greats, they are a big reason why he is considered one of the better hitters in the organization’s history.
Of course, the biggest reason for Money’s success in the bigs was his exceptional glove. “Brooks” (as they called him) compiled 1.7 defensive WAR over his 11 seasons with the Brewers at third base, second and first base. That, along with his productivity at the plate, gives him the fifth-most WAR (26.1) among position players in franchise history, according to Baseball-Reference.
9. Rollie Fingers
Career 162-game averages: 44 G, 2.54 ERA (3.22 FIP), 1.08 WHIP, 49 K/16 BB, .224 BAA (65 IP)
Considered one of the greatest closers of his generation well before his arrival to Milwaukee as a 34-year-old in 1981, it’s arguable that Rollie Fingers’ best big-league seasons came as the Brewers’ ninth-inning closer at the end of his career.
After posting uncharacteristic numbers during his final season with the San Diego Padres in 1980, Fingers wasted no time in returning to his dominant ways of old. In his first season with the club, he notched a league-leading 28 saves, finishing second-best among all AL relievers with a 1.04 ERA and 2.07 FIP while posting a ridiculous left-on-base percentage of 92.6 percent.
Fingers finished out his final three professional seasons as Milwaukee’s closer, but was far from the productive closer he was in his inaugural season with the club. Still, he is by any standard the greatest relief pitcher in franchise history.
8. Ben Sheets
Career 162-game averages: 34 GS, 3.72 ERA (3.56 FIP), 1.20 WHIP, 151 K/39 BB, .256 BAA (179 IP)
Traditionally a franchise known for it’s abundance of great positional talent and sparsity of pitching talent, Ben Sheets should by all accounts be considered the most prolific starter in Brewers history. Though his career was a roller-coaster at times, one cannot argue that he didn’t have the best stuff of any pitcher in franchise history. The proof is in the pudding.
Utilizing a low to mid 90s fastball, solid-average changeup and quite possibly the best hammer-curveball in modern history (excuse my over-exaggeration), Sheets put up gaudy numbers throughout his stay with Milwaukee. His best season value-wise came in 2004, where over 34 starts he posted a 2.70 ERA, struck out over 10 batters per nine innings and garnered 8.0 WAR that ranked second-best among all big-league starters to only Randy Johnson.
Sheets would finish out his career with Milwaukee with two straight trips to the mid-summer classic in 2007 and 2008. He currently holds the franchise mark for career strikeouts (1206) and strikeouts in one season (264). Had it not been for recurring injury, he’d have presumably broken every pitching record in franchise history with ease.
7. Ben Oglivie
Career 162-game averages: .277/.345/.461, 56 XBH, 97 RBI, 81 R, 6 SB (1149 G)
After a few years spent with the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, Ben Oglivie made his way to Milwaukee prior to the 1978 season, where to the enjoyment of he and many of his fans, his career took off.
Despite his somewhat lanky build at 6’2″, 160 pounds, Oglivie possess massive raw power and that was on full display right from the get-go up until his final season with the club in 1986. In that time-span, Oglivie swatted over 29 home runs on three separate occasions, once leading the AL with 41 in 1980, while posting a .185 ISO. He didn’t hit for a terribly high average, but he certainly knew how to hit the long-ball with the best of them.
His career began to tail off after the hallowed 1982 AL championship season, though he still managed to crack the AL All-Star roster the next season. Injury took it’s toll in each of his final seasons with the club, leading him to retire after the 1986 season.
6. Teddy Higuera
Career 162-game averages: 35 G, 15-10, 3.61 ERA (3.49 FIP), 1.24 WHIP, 176 K/72 BB, .239 BAA (224 IP)
A lifetime Brewer from his 27-year-old rookie season in 1985 to his final campaign in 1994, Teddy Higuera has absolutely earned the right to the title “greatest pitcher in franchise history”. The somewhat surprising part is that his best seasons came early on rather than a few years into his professional career.
Higuera nearly took home AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1985 when he posted a 3.90 ERA over 30 starts, and then proceeded to place second in AL Cy Young Award voting the very next season when he harbored 5.7 WAR over 34 starts. His third year in, Higuera finished sixth in Cy Young voting thanks to a career-best 7.4 WAR that ranked just behind Roger Clemens for tops among big league starters.
The amazing part about Higuera’s career is that his value was aggregated not with overpowering stuff, but with an acute ability to spot his pitches and limit walks. During his best seasons of 1985-1988, Higuera allowed just over seven hits per nine innings and struck out a very average 7.3 batters per nine innings.
5. Prince Fielder
Career 162-game averages: .284/.389/.537, 79 XBH, 109 RBI, 95 R, 3 SB (998 G)
A power-hitting phenom as a prepster out of high school, Milwaukee took Prince Fielder with the seventh overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft and more than likely realized they had an elite talent on their hands. How well he would pan out as a professional, they had no idea. But looking back, it seems as though he panned out quite nicely.
In exactly 998 games with Milwaukee from 2005 up until the end of last season, Fielder put up unprecedented numbers at the plate. Among the most notable of his accomplishments: Became the youngest player in baseball history (23) to hit 50 home runs in one season in 2007, led the NL in runs batted in (141) in 2010 and finished in the top four in NL Most Valuable Player voting between 2007 and 2001.
Fielder currently ranks as the franchise-leader in on-base percentage, is second to only Ryan Braun (more on him later) in slugging percentage and OPS+ (143), and comes in at second on the all-time home runs list behind only Robin Yount.
4. Cecil Cooper
Career 162-game averages: .302/.339/.470, 64 XBH, 105 RBI, 91 R, 9 SB (1490 G)
Up until just recently, Cecil Cooper was considered by far and away the greatest first-baseman in franchise history. Manning the position for over a decade, the left-handed hitting former 1968 draft pick hoarded an impressive statistical yield during his time with the club.
Hitting for a high average seemingly every year, Cooper also knew a thing or two about driving in runs and pounding the outfield gaps with ease. He twice led the AL in doubles (44 in 1979; 35 in 1981) during his tenure with the club and additionally led the league twice in runs batted in (122 in 1980; 126 in 1983). Consequently, Cooper finished in the top five in AL Most Valuable Player voting between 1980 and 1983 as Milwaukee’s first-baseman.
Cooper now finds himself among all-time franchise leaders in a slew of categories, most notably ranking fourth in career doubles (345) and third in total bases (2829). It’s hard to imagine where the franchise would be today without his services throughout the 1980s.
Career 162-game averages: .312/.373/.567, 83 XBH, 119 RBI, 113 R, 22 SB (810 G)
Ryan Braun may just be the greatest player in franchise history if you take into account “awards won per season”. Now in his sixth season with the club, the Miami product has been selected to five consecutive All-Star games, won four consecutive silver slugger awards, taken home rookie of the year honors not to mention a Most Valuable Player award. And he’s just over half way through his sixth professional season.
Needless to say, Braun is already as decorated a player as there’s ever been in the history of the franchise. Currently the franchise leader in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS+ (147) while ranking at or near the top of many other statistical categories, he’s already staked his claim as one of the most prolific talents in the organization’s history. The impressive part is that Braun still has upwards of eight seasons left with the club should he remain in Milwaukee through his contract.
Next stop, Cooperstown?
2. Paul Molitor
Career 162-game averages: .303/.367/.444, 57 XBH, 68 RBI, 110 R, 36 SB
There have been few players in the history of modern baseball who possessed and utilized five plus-average tools (hit, power, defense, arm, speed) to their liking on a day-to-day basis. Paul Molitor was one of those few-and-far-between players.
Known as The Ignitor for his remarkable productivity both as a leadoff hitter and defender at third base, Molitor was one of the best all-around talents of his generation. He had an amazing ability to hit for a high average but also raked up his fair share of extra-base hits, as noted by his career .366 wOBA. A steadfast defender at third base, Molitor posted a career range factor of 2.98 — a number that today would rank nearly best among all big-league third basemen.
Of course, I would be remiss not to mention that he leads the franchise with 412 career stolen bases. Molitor was the definition of a five-tool player during his stay with Milwaukee.
1. Robin Yount
Career 162-game averages: .285/.342/.430, 54 XBH, 80 RBI, 93 R, 15 SB
It’s hard to contextualize everything that Yount did for the franchise. The former third overall pick of the 1973 draft put up ridiculous numbers year in and year out and that consequently resulted in a whole lot of shiny hardware.
From bursting onto the scene as an 18 year old phenom in 1974 to his final season in 1993, Yount took home American League Most Valuable Player honors twice, once coming as as a shortstop in 1982 and the second coming as a centerfielder in 1989. He was a three-time silver slugger and was surprisingly only a two-time gold glover despite a career dWAR of 5.8.
Utilizing what many consider one of the most prolific hit tools in the sport’s history, Yount leads the franchise by a sizable margin in hits (3,142), total bases (4,730) and extra-base hits (960). Braun may surpass those numbers by the time his career is through, but right now there’s no debating that Yount it the greatest hitter in the franchise’s history, not to mention the greatest player.
This past winter, Milwaukee Brewers left-fielder and reigning 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun became the first player in Major League Baseball history to successfully appeal a drug-related suspension. Last February, a three-man arbitration panel ruled against the 50-game suspension handed down by commissioner Bud Selig in early December, vindicating Milwaukee’s most cherished player since the turn of the century.
But in the eyes of many baseball fans, however, Braun still remains far from vindicated. The suspicion surrounding the Brewers’ preeminent slugger has installed doubt in the minds of many baseball fans around the globe — enough so that many aren’t likely to forgive him for his connection to performance-enhancing drugs, legal vindication notwithstanding.
Braun, who last season led the National League with a .597 slugging percentage, .994 OPS, 77 extra-base hits and 8.92 runs created per 27 outs, claimed — among other things — that he was “a victim of a failed process” in a nationally-televised press conference from the Brewers’ spring training complex in Maryvale, Arizona late this past February, saying:
“I will continue to take the high road because that’s who I am, and that’s the way that I’ve lived my life. We won because the truth is on my side. The truth is always relevant, and at the end of the day the truth prevailed. I am a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”
While there were plenty of those to believed in Braun’s innocence throughout the entire ordeal, there were just as many if not more who objected the arbiters’ decision to overturn the 50-game suspension. It didn’t take long for Braun’s doubters to chime in and distribute their thoughts on the matter, which by no means was a surprise given the nature of the situation.
Following the breaking news that Braun had successfully appealed his suspension, Jason Stark, a senior baseball writer for ESPN, cited that MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred “vehemently” disagreed with the verdict in Braun’s case. He wrote:
“Over on that side of this fence, we have MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred, whose duties required him to serve as a member of the arbitration panel, “vehemently” disputing this verdict in a statement of his own. Wow. He didn’t merely disagree, friends. He “vehemently” disagreed. Hmmm.”
Now well over a week into the regular season, and — as expected — the unambiguous hostility directed toward Braun persists. With every at-bat away from the friendly confines of Miller Park, Braun is subjected to incessant jeering and heckling, and that isn’t likely to change as the season progresses.
Last week, new Brewers third-baseman Aramis Ramirez told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he expects Braun to booed mercilessly throughout the regular season, saying:
“I think it’s going to be ugly for Braun everywhere we go,” Ramirez said. “On the road, it’s going to be tough for him. He knows it. That’s no secret. Plus, he got a taste of it in spring training. Everywhere we go, he was getting booed.”
We’ve seen this before in baseball. A player somehow connected to performance-enhancing drugs is never well–received by the general public. Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro all suffered for their connectivity to performance-enhancing drugs and are quintessential examples of how badly a player’s reputation can be tarnished if they are in way or another linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
The obvious difference, however, between their individual links to PEDs and Braun’s is that we still have no conclusive evidence on Braun’s situation. The only thing baseball fans can base their opinions on is the fact that Braun’s suspension was overturned. The fact is, we don’t know what actually happened, which begs the question: How long will it take baseball fans to forgive Braun?
Baseball has always been a game of honesty and integrity and it’s fans have upheld that quality since before the turn of the 20th century. Those who deliberately cheat the game for their own personal benefit live in infamy forever. Those who are proven not-guilty, as in Braun’s case, are usually forgiven with time.
But, while Braun remains exonerated and his name should in theory be cleared from the contemptible list of those who have actually cheated the game, it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit more reserved on the matter, especially when talking about his doubtful fans. Saying that “no one else’s opinion is relevant” won’t earn him any brownie points in the hearts of opposing fans.
“I’ve already been exonerated. Nobody else’s opinion is relevant to me, I’ve got to be honest with you. The people that are close to me – my friends, my family – know the truth.”
Whether Braun knows the truth or not won’t solve his dilemma with fans. Baseball fans will always have their opinions, and that’s something that he’ll have to deal with if he expects to earn the respect from fans anytime soon.
It will be a rough season for Braun as he tries to combat the venom spewed from the mouths of opposing fans, without question, and fan-forgiveness is a long ways off at this juncture.
With time, though, forgiveness will come — hopefully.
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.
The Milwaukee Brewers have endured massive roster transformations over the past few months. Consequently, many of the club’s top players have changed dramatically.
With Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee all leaving through either free-agency or trade and potentially (but not officially) Ryan Braun missing the first 50 games of the regular season due to suspension, a number of the players that led the Brewers to an NL Central division title last season have come and gone.
Now under two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, how does each player on the Brewers’ roster stack up against one another? Let’s go ahead and rank Milwaukee’s top 25 players heading into preseason action.
*These preseason rankings will also incorporate a stock report, with which we plan to update bi-weekly. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to see how each player’s performance impacts their placement on our top-25 rankings*
25. Manny Parra
Manny Parra’s 2011 season was all for naught after suffering a back injury late in spring training. Yet, the Brewers felt the need to bring him back to the bullpen by signing him to a one-year, $1.2 Million deal for this next season. While he’ll be shelved in the ‘pen to start 2012, the 29-year-old lefty still has some valuable traits to his game that could prove valuable. As a reliever, Parra maintains a career 3.19 ERA, 9.7 K/9 IP ratio, .257 BAA and 3.05 SO/BB. Nothing to write home about, obviously, but if he can come out of the gates strong, his stock could rise into the top 15 by the time June comes around.
Current Stock Analysis: Right now, Parra’s stock is rising because, quite frankly, there’s nowhere else for it to go. I would advise fans to track his progress this spring.
In light of their failure to re-sign utility-man Jerry Hairston Jr., the Brewers signed veteran infielder Cesar Izturis to a minor league contract. And while he isn’t yet guaranteed a spot on the opening-day roster, I think it’s safe to say he will be. For his career, Izturis boasts a career .980 fielding percentage, committing just 93 errors in 1168 games played. He also carries a career 4.07 range factor as a shortstop, comparatively better than many utility infielders in the game today. His bat is second-rate, to say the least, but his glove makes him a valuable piece to Milwaukee’s puzzle heading into this season.
Current Stock Analysis: Since there’s really no reason to believe his stock could be going down at this point, I think his value remains steady, if not slightly on the rise. The importance of having a quality backup of Izturis’ caliber is invaluable to a major league roster.
23. Taylor Green
Taylor Green slugged his way toward being named Milwaukee’s top positional prospect last year, and he got a limited shot at the big leagues toward the end of last season. The 25-year-old corner infielder played in 20 games and amassed 37 at-bast, registering 10 hits. He was on the Brewers’ postseason roster but wasn’t able to get a plate appearance in the playoffs. While the Brewers were able to sign Aramis Ramirez to play the hot-corner, Green will continue to play an important role for Ron Roenicke. Speculation around the club says he could eventually find a platoon role with Mat Gamel at first base by season’s end.
Current Stock Analysis: Right now, Green’s stock is at a steady rate. However, it’s only inevitable that his stock will rise as his value to the team has nowhere to go but up.
Longtime prospect and journeyman Frankie De La Cruz has the makings of a solid power-type arm out of the bullpen. He can run his fastball up to the mid-90s and continues to make progress on his command. Last season, De La Cruz made 23 starts in triple-A ball, flashing his durability and strikeout abilities to the tune of 126 strikeouts in 137 innings, enough for a 8.3 K/9 IP ratio. He also held batters to a .249 BA and .297 BABIP. He struggles with walks and hits, but he’s got potential — and Ron Roenicke is aware of that. The Brewers will need his talents throughout next season.
Current Stock Analysis: De La Cruz could emerge as a star out of Milwaukee’s bullpen this season. And since his stock is comparatively lower than the rest of the relievers, I think he’s on the rise as we speak.
21. Chris Narveson
Say what you will about Chris Narveson’s raw statistics, but there’s no doubting he’s one of the best end-of-the-rotation starters in all of baseball. Last season, he went 11-8 and posted a 4.45 ERA with a respectable 7.0 K/9 IP ratio. Narveson’s spot in Milwaukee’s rotation is all but sealed up at this juncture, though it remains to be seen how well he performs in spring training. If he struggles, that could open the door for Marco Estrada, but that doesn’t seem likely as the Brewers will need to utilize his lefty arm throughout next season.
Current Stock Analysis: Expectations for Narveson are extremely low, so he’ll have a chance to shoot up our boards early on. For now, though, his stock is unwavering.
Depth and player personnel is of the highest importance in MLB, and the addition of three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki will give the Brewers the support they need. The two sides agreed to a two-year, $2.5 Million contract last month and, needless to say, Aoki will have big shoes to fill in left field with Ryan Braun likely to serve his 50-game suspension. Aoki has a sound, contact-oriented bat and drives the ball to all corners of the field. He also has speed on the basepaths and could emerge as Ron Roenicke’s lead-off hitter if he produces enough in spring training.
Current Stock Analysis: Aoki has already had a spring training, of sorts. Both Roenicke and GM Doug Melvin scouted Aoki at a private workout prior to their announced signing, so it’s safe to say they know how high his ceiling might be. That said, his stock is on the rise, regardless.
19. Marco Estrada
Often overlooked, Marco Estrada was a serviceable arm out of the bullpen last season. He posted a 4.38 ERA and struck out 55 in 51.1 innings of work, hoarding an impressive 9.6 K/9 IP ratio and 2.89 K/BB. Where Estrada separates himself from the rest of the relievers, though, is that he can also contribute as a starter. Filling in for Chris Narveson, Estrada went 3-2 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.087 WHIP in seven starts last season. He has good command and limits his walks, something that Ron Roenicke will embrace throughout 2012.
Current Stock Analysis: The Brewers will return their entire bullpen from last season, and unlike 2011, 2012 will prove to be a season where Estrada is used on a regular basis. His stock is definitely going up.
In an effort to clear room for incoming third-basman Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers dealt Casey McGehee to Pittsburgh in return for 31-year-old reliever Jose Veras. A seasoned relief arm with much experience, Veras looks to bring depth and talent to Milwaukee’s bullpen. Last season with the Pirates, Veras appeared in 79 games and posted a 3.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and struck out 79 in 71 innings, enough for a 10 K/9 IP ratio. He can struggle with walks and command at times but brings a solid repertoire with a history of having above-average strikeout abilities.
Current Stock Analysis: Veras will be called upon to augment Milwaukee’s success out of the bullpen all through next season. He should get a ton of opportunities to get settled this spring, and for that reason alone, his stock is on the rise.
17. Kameron Loe
Save for John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe will be undoubtedly Milwaukee’s most steadfast and dependable reliever in 2012. Last season, the 6’8″, 220 pound right-hander utilized his upper-90s fastball and impressive command religiously. He posted a 3.50 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, struck out 61 while only walking 16 batters in 72 innings, good enough for a sumptuous 3.81 K/BB ratio.
Current Stock Analysis: With LaTroy Hawkins gone, Loe’s value and relevance out of the bullpen will skyrocket. Consequently, his stock is on the rise as we draw nearer to spring training.
If catcher is the most important position to a major-league ballclub, then back-up catcher is the second most important. Luckily for the Brewers, George Kottaras is arguably one of the most productive backup catchers in all of baseball. Playing second-fiddle to Jonathan Lucroy last season, Kottaras posted a .252 BA, five home runs, 17 RBI and a .459 slugging percentage in just 111 at-bats. The highlight to his season came back in early September where he hit for the cycle against the Astros, marking just the seventh time in franchise history a player has accomplished such a feat. His left-handed bat makes him extremely valuable in tight situations and has the capabilities to fill-in for Lucroy should he hit a rough patch and need a few days off.
Current Stock Analysis: The Brewers came to terms with Kottaras in early December, avoiding arbitration. Needless to say, the deal was absolutely necessary given his aptitude both at the plate and in the field. As far as I’m concerned, his stock is always on the rise.
15. Mat Gamel
After years of waiting and a few false starts, 26-year-old first-baseman Mat Gamel will finally get his shot to be in the everyday starting lineup. He’ll have big shoes to fill, obviously, but the Brewers seem confident in his capabilities. Last season in triple-A, Gamel torched the Pacific Coast to the tune of a .310 BA, 28 home runs and 96 RBI. He finished second among Brewers prospects with a .540 slugging percentage and also posted an impressive .912 OPS. Gamel has had limited chances at the majors and 2012 will go a long way in determining his future with the organization. If he produces up to his standards, he could get a contract extension. If he falters, his future with the club will be in serious question. He will be on a short leash with Milwaukee this season.
Current Stock Analysis: Gamel figures to come into spring training with an enormous chip on his shoulder. His doubters have said he won’t effectively replace Prince Fielder and that he won’t be able to be a consistent contributor at the big league level. I look for him to come out of the gates strong and improve his stock considerably.
Randy Wolf is the epitome of an “innings-eater”, averaging 209 innings of work per season through is 13 years in the big leagues. And contrary to popular belief, he’s actually gotten better with age. In 2010, his first season with Milwaukee, Wolf amassed a career-high 215.2 innings and posted a 4.17 ERA. Last season, he nearly surpassed that, hoarding 212.1 innings with a 3.69 ERA. He finished first in innings pitched and second in quality starts (21) among all Brewers starters last season. While the front-end of Milwaukee’s rotation will garner most of the attention, it’s Wolf who provides the steadfast mentality and play needed to compete in such a competitive division. Few pitchers in the game are able to do what he does on a start-to-start basis.
Current Stock Analysis: Strictly based of expectations, Wolf was filthy last season and performed well-above expectations. If he is able to perpetuate his execution, Milwaukee will have no choice but to pick up his $10 Million 2013 option next winter. His stock is on the rise.
13. Carlos Gomez
Carlos Gomez was nothing short of sensational last spring. In 13 games, he batted .390 with 13 runs scored, two home runs, seven RBI and finished second among all Brewers with 30 total bases. For whatever reason, though, he wasn’t able to translate his spring training successes over to the regular season. He batted just .225 with six home runs, 31 runs scored and garnered just a .273 on-base percentage prior to the All-Star break before suffering a broken collarbone in late July. There’s no doubting Gomez’s defensive and base-stealing prowess. He’s one of the biggest speed-threats in the game today. However, his bat remains an enigma, or sorts. He’ll need to prove he’s worth bringing back next season with a solid 2012 campaign from the batter’s box.
Current Stock Analysis: Gomez thrives in spring training. He’s proven to be one of the best preseason players in all of baseball over the past few seasons. Unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much. Right now, his stock is declining ever so slightly.
12. Alex Gonzalez
The Brewers had an acute need for a defensive upgrade this past winter, particularly at shortstop. After declining Yuniesky Betancourt’s 2012 club option, GM Doug Melvin turned to Alex Gonzalez early on in December. Gonzalez, 34, brings a seasoned veteran glove to a Milwaukee infield that ranked as one of MLB’s worst last season. He maintains a career .972 fielding percentage and has tremendous range, even for his age, garnering a 5.938 zone rating last season in Atlanta. His production at the plate has waned a bit and while he may not have as much raw power as Betancourt, he certainly knows how to put the ball in play and remain a contact-oriented hitter.
Current Stock Analysis: Gonzalez’s stock throughout this season will hinge largely on his serviceability in the field. He’s had an above-average glove for his entire career and with Milwaukee’s strong lineup, all he’ll need to do is remain steadfast at shortstop. His stock is a constant one at the moment.
Acquired shortly after the All-Star break last season, Francisco Rodriguez took on an instrumental role in Milwaukee’s regular and postseason successes. In 29 regular season innings, the 30-year-old proved he still has what it takes to be an effective late-inning reliever, posting a 1.86 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while striking out 33 and walking just 10. In the playoffs, he pitched just five innings but struck out eight and gave up only one earned run. The Brewers avoided arbitration with Rodriguez, signing him to a one-year, $8 Million deal last month. A lofty monetary figure of that caliber for a pitcher his age wasn’t exactly ideal for Milwaukee, but if they have any hopes of returning to the postseason they’ll need his veteran arm the whole way.
Current Stock Analysis: K-Rod has a lot to prove this season as he’ll be a free-agent at season’s end, and you can count on him jumping up our boards as the year progresses. He’s currently treading water in our rankings.
10. Jonathan Lucroy
Everyone has their fair share of doubters to some extent, but it seems Jonathan Lucroy has been subject to an awful lot of slander in his two big-league seasons — why? In his first season as Milwaukee’s full-time backstop in 2011, Lucroy posted a .265 BA with 12 home runs, 59 RBI and a .317 BABIP batting in front of the pitcher for nearly the entire season. The 25-year-old is as sturdy as the come from the batter’s box and considering he’s still relatively new to the big-league pace, I’d say he’s performed well. Defensively, though, Lucroy really excels. He garnered a .992 fielding percentage and allowed just one passed ball last season despite Milwaukee’s league-high 70 wild pitches.
Current Stock Analysis: Lucroy is truly one of the most steady players on the team, and I honestly don’t think his stock will rise or fall much at all this season. Likewise, his stock is also firmly in place.
Nyjer Morgan, Tony Plush or Tony Gumbo (whatever you want to call him) Nyjer Morgan was simply remarkable in his first season with the Brewers. As a late-spring training pickup last season, Morgan resurrected his previously washed-up career as Ron Roenicke’s primary center fielder. In 119 games, T-Plush batted .304 with four home runs, 61 runs scored and 37 RBI. He also provided speed on the bases, nabbing 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts. As with Rodriguez, the Brewers eluded arbitration by inking Morgan to a one-year, $2.35 Million deal, making him arbitration eligible each of the next two seasons. If he can prolong his services through this season, there’s no questioning he’ll be back with the club in 2013.
Current Stock Analysis: Morgan’s ceiling on our rankings is limited, as he’ll have to split time with a healthy Carlos Gomez in center field. It’ll also be hard to surpass his own number from a season ago as they’re simply astounding all-around. Nevertheless, his stock is at a steady pace.
8. Shaun Marcum
Shaun Marcum was brought in last winter to help bring stability and durability to Milwaukee’s needy rotation. Needless to say, he managed to do just that, having his best season to-date all the while. Last season, the 30-year-old former Blue Jay set career-bests in innings pitched (200.2), games started (33), opponent’s OBP (.284) and slugging percentage (.372). He also tied his career-high for wins by going 13-7 with a 7.09 K/IP and 2.77 K/BB. Milwaukee agreed to terms with Marcum on a one-year, $7.725 Million deal to avoid arbitration last week and it remains to be seen whether or not the Brewers will try to re-sign him at season’s end. Regardless, he’s worth every penny GM Doug Melvin hands over to him.
Current Stock Analysis: Many surmised that Marcum’s postseason mishaps and struggles could transfer over to spring training. We’re now under two weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting and it doesn’t look like that will happen. He’s a veteran who knows the ropes and for that reason, his stock is currently unwavering.
7. Rickie Weeks
Injuries aside, Rickie Weeks is one of the best all-around second basemen in the game today. He can hit for power and average, run, play the field and utilize his strong arm when needed. Last season, Milwaukee’s 29-year-old infielder was well on his way toward a career-best year prior to spraining his ankle in late July. He batted .278 with 17 home runs, 39 RBI and 67 runs scored before the All-Star break and was consequently elected to start at second-base for the NL in the mid-summer classic. Weeks will be looking to complete just his second injury-free season of his career (2009) this year. He tends to catch fire early on and watch his production wane slightly from then on out, but he seems poised to put together a complete season in 2012.
Current Stock Analysis: Weeks struggled in the postseason, garnering just a .146 BA with two home runs and four runs batted in. He’ll need to vindicate those mishaps early on this season if he is to move up our boards. His stock is declining slightly.
Aramis Ramirez is 33 years old and surely has his better days behind him, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Brewers will need his big bat to shoulder the offensive load for at least the first third of the season. Last season, Ramirez batted .306 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI in a destitute Chicago lineup. The Brewers are hoping that he can add to those numbers with a far better supporting cast. While no one player can possibly replace Prince Fielder’s offensive productivity, Ramirez will still be held accountable to being a viable power threat out of the clean-up spot in the lineup. He’s proved that he can still do it, but it remains to be seen how he performs early on.
Current Stock Analysis: Ramirez’s stock will remain a relative mystery until spring training rolls around. However, given his resume as a big-league hitter, he’s clearly deserving of a high ranking prior to preseason competition.
5. Corey Hart
Corey Hart was sensational in 2010 and if not for injury, it’s conceivable that 2011 would have been his best season to-date. After sitting out the first month of the regular season with an abdominal strain, Hart returned to Milwaukee’s lineup and returned to his ways of old. In 130 games last season, the Brewers’ lanky outfielder batted .285 with 26 home runs and 63 RBI. He also logged eight stolen bases and scored 80 times. Though it remains to be seen where he’ll be stationed in Ron Roenicke’s lineup, there’s no doubting that he’ll produce regardless of where he’s placed in the batting order.
Current Stock Analysis: Hart’s postseason efforts were pedestrian but his August and September endeavors were scintillating. Prince Fielder’s departure puts Hart in a unique position to produce at a career-best clip and for that reason his stock is on the rise.
4. Zack Greinke
The first half of Zack Greinke’s 2011 campaign with the Brewers was nothing to write home about and had many fans questioning whether or not he was worth Milwaukee’s three top-tier prospects. That scrutiny was quickly put to bed. Following the All-Star break, Milwaukee’s preeminent off-season addition went 9-3 and boasted a 2.59 ERA in 15 starts. He held batters to a .234 BA and finished with MLB’s best strikeout per nine innings ratio (10.54), additionally, going 11-0 in 15 home starts. Reports suggest Greinke has a vested interest in returning to Milwaukee after this season. He is set to make $13.5 Million this year and will command a ton of interest from other teams next winter.
Current Stock Analysis: After a marvelous finish to his 2011 season, Greinke’s stock is on the up-and-up and if he’s anywhere close to where he was at the end of last year, he could elevate to No. 1 on our boards.
John Axford was filthy good in his first full season as Milwaukee’s go-to ninth inning man, exceeding expectations in a fashion no one had previously thought was possible. The 6’5″, 195-pound Canadian-born righty led all National League closer in with a remarkable 1.95 ERA in 73.2 innings of work, striking out 74 and holding batters to a feeble .211 BA in the meantime. Axford tied for the league-lead with 46 saves, enough to set the franchise benchmark for saves in a single season. It will be a formidable task for him to outperform his 2011 campaign this season as he probably wont’ get as many save opportunities with Milwaukee’s weakened lineup. Still, I wouldn’t put it past him to have another historic season out of the bullpen.
Current Stock Analysis: Coming off arguably the greatest season a closer has ever had in a Brewer uniform, Axford’s stock is soaring. Look for him to get his reps in at spring training and to come out of the gates strong in 2012.
2. Yovani Gallardo
Given his success and time in the league, it’s easy to forget Yovani Gallardo is only 25 years old and still has his best day ahead of him. Last season was without question his greatest, though, setting a career-high in wins by going 17-10 with a career-best 3.52 ERA in 207.1 innings. He finished fifth in the NL with 207 strikeouts and ninth in K/BB (3.51) and led all Brewers starters in almost every meaningful statistical category. If Gallardo can continue to lower his ERA while still maintaining his impressive strikeout abilities, he’ll stack up against the competition nicely and will have a shot at taking home NL Cy Young Award next season.
Current Stock Analysis: Gallado’s stock has been on the rise since his rookie season of 2007, and that doesn’t look to fluctuate much as spring training draws nearer. However, since he comes in second on our board, his stock remains steady as there isn’t much more ground to gain on the rest of the team.
1. Ryan Braun
It’s been an indelibly disappointing off-season for Ryan Braun and his collective legacy as a Brewer, but how can you deliberately rank anyone higher than the 2011 NL MVP heading into spring training? Simply put, you can’t. Braun facilitated Milwaukee’s lineup to the tune of a .332 BA, 33 home runs and 111 RBI. He led the league with a .597 slugging percentage, .994 OPS and his .397 on-base percentage ranked fifth. He’s still in the appeal process to overturn his 50-game suspension and word on the street says we should know what his future holds in store shortly. Suspension or not, he’s No. 1 on our list heading into spring training.
Current Stock Analysis: Braun’s stock can’t get any higher even if it wanted to, and if his suspension is upheld, the only realistic direction it can go is down. Right now, though, his stock is even-keel.
It’s been a rather unpleasant offseason for Milwaukee Brewers left-fielder and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun, but if recent indications prove true, it may take a turn for the better.
Last month, news broke over Braun’s positive drug test for a banned substance that earned him a mandatory 50-game suspension to start his 2012 campaign. He has since appealed to the league in order to prove his innocence, but many were skeptical, if not doubtful, over whether or not his case had a legitimate shot of being overturned.
Brewers beat-writer Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cited earlier today that former ESPN personality Dan Patrick, host of the Dan Patrick radio show, has unearthed from “somebody in the process” that Braun may in fact be an innocent man and that he may indeed be relieved of his suspension.
According to Haudricourt himself:
Patrick said he was told Sunday, again, by “somebody involved in the process” that the MLB test might be at fault and that Braun could be found innocent. The arbitration panel, with independent arbitrator Shyam Das expected to cast the decisive vote, has 25 days to render a verdict but it could come as soon as later this week.
Braun, who officially accepted his National League Most Valuable Player award on Saturday night in front of the Baseball Writers Association of America in New York City, has denied the allegations against him, told USA Today that the charges filed against him were “BS”.
Last season, Braun, along with first-baseman Prince Fielder, shouldered the offensive load for the Brewers to the tune of 33 home runs, 111 RBI and a league-best .994 OPS. He also fell just decimal points behind former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes for the NL batting title.
If found innocent, it will not only clear Braun’s name from the infamous list of players who have failed MLB’s drug-testing policy, but it will give the retooled Brewers an obvious offensive boost toward repeating as NL Central champions in 2012.
Braun’s official appeal took place last Thursday, according to the New York Daily News, but there is no definitive timetable for when an announcement regarding the matter will take place.