Ryan Braun should reach his 300th major league plate appearance tomorrow night. Over those first 300 trips to the plate, Braun has been nothing short of spectacular: .346/.390/.665 with 21 homers. Since he’s a rookie, though, we have to wonder: Is he playing over his head? Let’s find out.
When Braun was called up, I was skeptical. This was mostly because I didn’t think he was completely ready, and because his numbers in the lower levels of the minors were less than spectacular. He took only 231 at-bats in Double-A (in 2006) and 109 at-bats in Triple-A (to start this year). I thought he was being rushed.
The Triple-A numbers, while great, were almost too small a sample size to take seriously. He had a 91% contact rate, 11% walk rate, 22% line drive rate, 34% HR/FB. His Double-A numbers were worse: 78% contact rate, 8% walk rate, 12% line drive rate, 22% HR/FB. The power there was the only thing to get excited about. As such, I kept my expectations low for Braun, at least for this year. As I’m sure you’ve realized, he has far exceeded them… to the tune of 9.0 RC/G.
Let’s dig a little deeper into his seemingly great numbers. Behind Braun’s .346 batting average is a 77% contact rate, 7% walk rate and 20% line drive rate. He also has a .385 BABIP. That is probably the most telling number of all.
No hitter>—not Barry Bonds, not Albert Pujols, not Alex Rodriguez>—is capable of sustaining a BABIP that high. It will come down. His 7% walk rate is a little below average and his 20% line drive rate is a little above average, so a BABIP near league average would be more reasonable than the current .385 mark.
Let’s get back to what type of batting average to expect the rest of the year after we examine his power. He currently sports 21 homers, a 24% HR/FB and a 42% fly ball rate. The first place we’ll look to see if that sparkling HR/FB rate is for real is HitTracker.
Of Braun’s 21 homers, 10 have traveled farther than 400 true feet. That’s a nice chunk, making his 24% HR/FB look pretty legit. A couple of days ago I was a little concerned because his furthest had gone only 419 true feet, and he had several in the 400-408 range. Then he hit a 416-foot one on Saturday and a 438-foot one on Monday, easing my nerves a bit.
Batting average revisited
So let’s say he continues to put up a 24% HR/FB and his BABIP adjusts to around .310 (and his contact, walk, and fly ball rates remain constant). That would put his batting average at .294 the rest of the way. It would drop to .287 if his BABIP is only .300. Not bad at all, considering the nice power numbers he’ll put up.
The verdict: Braun is very good. Not .350 good, but very good. Continue to rely on Braun for good power and a pretty good batting average, even if it won’t stay as high as it has been so far. The players surrounding Braun are quite good, so the RBIs and runs should keep coming as well. I didn’t touch on his speed, but it is right in line with what I expected. He should be able to grab five to eight more steals the rest of the year.
I think it shows great maturity and skill for Braun to put up a good line drive rate (20%) and fly ball rate (42%) in his rookie year. Not a lot of hitters are capable of doing both. Quite impressive.
Overall, Braun could be one of the top five third basemen going into 2008, helping in all categories. If you’re in a keeper league and are now playing for next year, a trade for Braun might be a smart move.
If you’re in a redraft league, I doubt you’d be able to get him at a reasonable price given his inflated batting average. Seeing Braun contributing across the board will lead some owners to believe Braun can continue to hit well over .300. It can’t hurt to try to get him, but don’t get your hopes up.
If you own him, sit tight. Expect a slight regression but continued good play.