Why I’m not worried about Ryan Braun

It should come as no surprise to any of the readers of this site that I am a big fan of Ryan Braun. In fact, prior to the urine sample heard ‘round the world, I was ready to anoint Braun my top overall fantasy pick for 2012.

Since taking the league by storm in 2007, Braun has done nothing but put up at least borderline first-round value every season of his career. If I owned Matt Kemp and was asked whether I would sign for Braun’s career-average production from Kemp in 2012, I’d whip out my Mont Blanc and site.

However, it’s been a busy offseason for Mr. Braun, and additional news has impacted the landscape of potential No. 1 options. Miguel Cabrera is looking down the barrel of third base-eligibility, and Albert Pujols has changed teams. The Kemp supports are still out in force, as well.

As of now, Miggy is my top overall player. As far as Braun, I think it’s hard to make a case for him being anything less than the fourth overall ranked player. I can see a case for Pujols and Kemp in addition to Cabrera, but after that, I run out of legitimate contenders.

Since there are several issues swirling around Braun right now, I’d like to offer my takes on which factors don’t worry me and which do.

Am I worried that Braun was a cheater and that all his majestic baseball powers came from performance-enhancing drugs, so now all of a sudden he won’t be awesome any more because he’ll have to stop taking them?

No. First of all, and I’m going to risk derailing my article and being labeled an apologist here, his legal team’s choice to advance a breech of protocol defense does not even preclude the possibility that he also could have been innocent outright. When you are facing charges in a court of sorts, you mount the defense that is most likely to win, not the one that if successful will make you look the best in the eyes of public.

Talk from Braun’s camp all along was that the substance was banned but not performance enhancing. Even if that were true—like, say, if the prevailing rumor were true—it’s likely he’d still have to serve the suspension. Braun’s obligation is to be on the field for the team that pays him millions of dollars to win them ballgames. So, if he convinced the public he didn’t cheat but just violated the policy (and, let’s be real, that’s an essentially impossible border to straddle in public opinion), it wouldn’t have done him or the Brewers any good anyway.

All that said, it doesn’t matter to me whether he was “using something” and now he won’t be. I have to see him fail before I think of him as anything but one of the very few best players in the sport. You don’t become a perennial MVP candidate by taking a pill.

This is where the over-the-top self-righteousness of the pubic can create value for you in a draft. Don’t buy into arguments driven by the morality police. Until it is proven otherwise—on the field—Braun is an absolutely fantastic baseball player and one of the most valuable fantasy commodities available.

Am I worried about the loss Prince Fielder as his “protection?”

No. Last year, Braun was intentionally walked two times while Fielder was awarded a league-leading 32 intentional passes. Some say Braun won’t be pitched to as much, and he won’t have a stud to drive him in so often. I don’t buy the idea that this will affect Braun’s overall value. I feel this way for several reasons.

Even if Braun does get a significantly higher amount of IBBs, so what? Did the 32 IBBs hurt Fielder’s value much last season? Not particularly, as he still scored 95 runs with Casey McGehee posting .617 OPS in 116 games out of the fifth spot in the order. In terms of enticing pitchers to issue a free pass, Aramis Ramirez will provide greater protection than McGehee provided for Fielder last season.

Also, keep in mind that players who post gaudy IBB totals often seem to be those known to have good plate discipline in the first place, like Fielder. This makes sense because the risk of “pitching around” a well-disciplined and highly dangerous hitter is great and the reward is low, as they are less likely to swing at your non-strike offerings anyway, and a mistake could very costly. (I’ve advanced this theory in regard to Barry Bonds many times in the past.) Braun does not fall into this camp, so while the context may call for a ton of IBBs, his makeup as a batter may not.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s even grant the notion that Braun is given, say, 20 more intentional passes. I’m not sure how that really hurts his value. Fielder managed to score 95 runs with an inept hitter behind him largely because his gaudy walk total, bolstered by a healthy dose of intentional walks, pushed his on-base percentage comfortably above .400. In the previous three seasons, Fielder has had two great seasons and one simply good one; Braun broke 100 runs scored each time.

But, I’m not finished. Twenty more free passes would also result in 20 more chances for Braun to steal bases, and the more times he reaches base, the more chances he has to score runs. Substituting 20 chances to drive in runs for 20 guaranteed times reaching first base could very well actually boost a player like Braun’s value.

Lineup protection is largely a myth in the first place, and this is a non-issue at worst and a blessing in disguise at best.

Finally, the other top overall candidate most similar to Braun is Kemp. Isn’t Kemp’s “protection” even weaker than Braun’s expected “protection?” Wasn’t it just as weak last year? Did it matter? Lineup protection issues can’t be considered any greater detriment to Braun than they are to Kemp.

So, what are you worried about?

The public and a potential media circus. It will be critical for Braun to get off to good start, though if he gets off to too good of a start, that could precipitate its own set of woes. What Braun needs to avoid is doing anything, performance-wise, to feed the write-by-numbers palaver of either “player newly off juice now stinks” or “cheater gets away with crime and taunts league by dominating.”

Over time, Braun will revert to his career norms if left alone, but the public scrutiny of a media circus can grate on a player and move toward becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Braun just has to go out and be Braun, but if he doesn’t, he will invite the storylines and coverage that can draw a season out to feel like an eternity, and over time that begins to affect one’s play.

I think Braun will be fine and will put together a standard, awesome Ryan Braun campaign. What I fear most when it comes to reasons why that might not happen have nothing to do with Ryan Braun.

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Comments

  1. Mark Himmelstein said...

    In a league format with fewer bench spots, where positional flexibility provides greater reward, I could see arguing that Bautista is at least even money with Braun. I’ll take Braun from a pure roto-production standpoint, but its close enough that in the ESPN type format (5OF/CI/three bench spots) I might take Bautista for his versatility. The difference is really a steal or two and maybe .010-.015 in AVG (FWIW, the projections are more bearish on Bautista’s AVG, but his strikeout rate is basically league average so the only concern is his BABIP regressing from .309 to .280ish thanks to all the fly balls he hits).

  2. mark f said...

    I am not sure that IBBs will lead to higher SB totals.  First of all, I would expect few double steals with runners on 1st and 2nd (Braun being on 1st) and secondly the only other SB opportunities will occur with runners on 1st and 3rd (Braun being on 1st) and they would more likely lead to defensive indifference or no SB attempt.

    There is a moderate to high likelihood that his overall numbers will drop across the board.  (past 27-age season, chance that past years were aided through medical practices, fewer PAs generated by the team (drop in team OBP with loss of Fielder will lead to fewer team PAs), Braun trying to do more to prove something, Braun swinging at more sliders off the plate, etc.)

    While we would have be surprided if Braun went “just” .300 with 25 HRs and 25 SBs in 2011, nobody should be shocked if these are his 2012 totals.

  3. JR Ewing said...

    “that the substance was banned but not performance enhancing”

    It was elevated synthetic testosterone that he tested positive for. I don’t see how elevated testosterone is not performance enhancing. No it can’t help you see a curve ball, but it could help you get a little more bat speed. To think that whatever substance elevated his testosterone turned an average Joe into Ryan Braun (and that his carriage will turn back into a pumpkin now assuming he stops taking it) is silly. However, it is equally silly to say there’s no added risk that his performance will decline.

    Maybe he was clean all those other years he put up big numbers and was taking something to get over a nagging injury before a post-season run. Maybe he’s been good/lucky in avoiding detection and he’s never hit over 30 clean HRs in any year. We don’t know for sure. All we can do is be honest that there is some risk, but be realistic at the amount of real risk there. The whole PEDs thing adds an additional element of gut feeling into fantasy baseball.

    Most people seem to have him in the 4-9 range, and I think that’s reasonable. Personally I’d draft him #5 or 6, probably ahead of Cano and Bautista but behind Tulo.

  4. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Fair points, mark. …Although, steals in your second situation shouldn’t be considered defensive indifference in most cases. DI is reserved for when the opposing team does not care whether a player steals a base, not when they simply don’t attempt to throw him out. …I have a side gig where I deal with official scorers in the minor leagues and this is a pet peeve of mine because it’s something people constantly get wrong.

    Anyway, if his RBI and Run totals remain about 100, .300 25/25 is perfectly fine top 5 value, IMO.

    JR,

    I know that he tested positive for elevated testosterone that was determined to be synthetic. If you cross-reference that info with the prevailing rumors, that gives you a reason why those levels might be elevated for reasons unrelated to baseball… but not unrelated to scoring.

  5. lewp said...

    Major league baseball is fighting the reversal.  Isn’t there some non-zero possibility that they would succeed, and Braun’s suspension could be (partly) reinstated?

    I admit I haven’t followed the case closely enough to know.  But if there’s any possibility at all of that happening, it’s enough to knock Braun back a few spots, if not out of the first round.

  6. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Lewp,

    I don’t think that will happen. And, frankly, I think MLB needs to STFU on this and let it go. IMO, they’re making themselves look bad. I know that the public narrative is kind of on their side because they can play the cheater got off on a technicality, we’re fighting for the moral high ground card. But, in reality, what happened was a program that they agreed to required the fulfillment of specific protocol that they stipulated. They agreed, as part of the overall program, to specific means of adjudicating controversies. So, the people carrying out THEIR protocols, to enact THEIR policies made an error. Both sides were heard in an independent process THEY agreed to. Now, they didn’t get the outcome they want and they’re crying?… This is THEIR process – any failure to get the outcome they were hoping for was THEIR fault. So, I don’t even know to whom exactly they are crying? Blame yourself and move on…

  7. The Nena said...

    I understand your love for Mr. Braun but do you henstly think that he is not a cheater?

    He is clearly a dominant fantasy player but he is also clearly tainted.

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