Torrin’s Take on… Ryan Braun

Torrin Thatcher

When I was just a little guy, I went to the local softball park and watched my mom play her weekly softball game with her friends. I kept myself busy playing a game called “pickle” and collecting Brewers baseball cards from the great police officers of Whitewater. I credit these experiences for germinating my love for baseball, stats and the Brewers. I distinctly remember attempting to collect all the players’ cards from the team, memorizing the stats on the back and comparing these numbers to other baseball card packs I bought from the grocery store checkout line.
Because I grew up on a dairy farm, my other sources of stats were found in either the newspaper, Sports Illustrated or a very slow internet when it eventually came along. I think the relationship between milking a cow and downloading a webpage was a direct one.
At the end of the season, it’s fun to predict who will win the individual trophies based on their stats. This is the part where being a Brewers fan had its difficulties; the only thing we competed for was a top pick in the draft or having our mascot slide into a big mug of Miller.
Not only are we in the days of fielding a competitive team, but the days of hopeful hardware are around now that Brewers fans are able to enjoy the play of several perennial all-stars Prince Fielder, Ben Sheets and Ryan Braun. These three have garnered multiple trophies, All-Star appearances and top ten finishes in major voting categories. Thanks to Braun, the Brewers collected their first Rookie of the Year Award since Pat Listach in 1992.
Braun was taken with the fifth pick in the 2005 draft out of the University of Miami and he has done nothing but rake the ball his way through the minors and into the big leagues.
As a newcomer playing rookie ball with the Helena Brewers in 2005, he batted .341, had an on-base percentage of .383, a slugging percentage of .585 and had 10 RBIs in just 41 at-bats. Soon realizing that Braun was able to go up a level in the minors, he went to the single-A West Virginia Power. In 37 games, Braun had stats of .355/.396/.645, 35 RBI and eight homeruns in 152 at-bats. Braun remained here for the rest of the season.
He began the 2006 season with the single-A+ Brevard County Manatees. In 59 games, Braun compiled stats of .274/.346/.438, 37 RBI, 7 homers and 14 stolen bases. Even though his averages had taken a slight hit, his season was divided between the Manatees and the double-A Huntsville Stars. While there in the Southern League for 59 games, Braun had averages of .303/.367.589, 40 RBI, 15 homeruns, and 12 stolen bases. Braun played better on the double-A team than on the single-A+ team. Because of play and continual improvement, the Brewer suits couldn’t keep him from climbing.
In spring training 2007, there was much talk of whether Braun was going to make the opening day roster or start the year on the triple-A Nashville Sounds. Doug Melvin decided Braun should get more at-bats against minor league pitching and, most importantly, improve his defense at third base. Braun played shortstop for the Miami Hurricanes, and the transition to third was slightly difficult because he has never been solid defensively.
While playing for the Sounds, he killed the ball with averages of .342/.418/.701, and hitting 10 homers in 34 games. The Brewers now had no reason to keep Braun out of their big league lineup.
In game 48 of the season against the San Diego Padres, Braun made his major league debut at Petco Park. In his first game he went 1-4 with a double and scored a run in the Brewers 8-6 loss. The next day, he went 3-4 with his first career homerun. Throughout the rest of the season, Braun had many milestones to mark his rookie season. His first four-hit game came in his 25th career game against the Royals and his first multihomer came in his 38th career game versus the Nationals. He finished the season with averages of .324/.370/.634 and other stats of 34 homers, 97 RBI, 15 stolen bases, 26 doubles, 146 hits and 91 runs in 113 games.
These numbers laid the grounds of one of the greatest rookie seasons ever. But just how good was it?
He broke Mark McGwire’s record for slugging percentage that he established in 1987 and the Brewer rookie record of 28 homeruns that Prince Fielder hit in 2006. The 20 homeruns he hit in 64 games were the fastest in the majors since Albert Pujols did it in one fewer game in 2001; Pujols finished 4th in MVP voting his rookie year, Braun 24th. He was the quickest to 25 and 30 homeruns, 82 and 94 games, since McGwire, 77 and 84 games spanning the end of the 1986 season and beginning of 1987. Since 1947, Pujols was the only other NL rookie to hit at least .320 and clobber 30 homers, and of all prior NL Rookies of the Year, only Pujols and Willie McCovey hit for higher batting averages. Because of this awesome display of efficiency at the plate, Braun beat out Troy Tulowitzki for the Rookie of the Year Award by receiving 17 of the 32 1st-place votes.
There are several heads on ESPN who believe Braun will compete for batting titles for years to come, but the facet of his game that’s lacking is his struggle with defense.
His defense at third base doesn’t need to improve. Because of the acquisition of center fielder Mike Cameron, the team moved Bill Hall, the incumbent center fielder, back to third base, where he played some early in his career, and moved Braun out to left field once it was vacated by Geoff Jenkins. Through the first six games of the season Braun has not committed an actual error, but he has misjudged some balls. But with only ten putouts on the year and no assists, it is too soon to judge how successful he’ll be in left.
With the lineup that the Brewers are able to put on the field, Braun should have many opportunities to knock in runs and see pitches to hit. His run of success proves that he’ll be able to swing the lumber for years to come. With the way the season has started, it will be difficult for opposing pitchers to keep the Crew off the board. I’m not worried about Prince not hitting any homers because as long as we’re winning, all is well!