Ryan Braun is a Superstar

And I'm not talking about his new house. Check this out:

Percentage of plate appearances ending in a walk

2007: 6.0%

2008: 6.4%

2009: 11.1%

Or to put it in graphical form, it's this. He's above the league-average walk rate now. And he's not striking out more. The three-year trend on strikeouts: 24%. 21%. 21%.

Braun was an all-star and considered a star as a .285/.335/.553 hitter last year-- certainly a good line, and a .377 wOBA which is quite a bit above the league average and 26 runs above average hitting over 663 plate appearances. But that OBP is barely league average, which was .333 last year. That's a really important part of being a great hitter. 

Besides the improvement in plate discipline, Braun has a different profile as a hitter this year. His batted ball tendencies have really changed, though we have yet to know if that's a long-term thing or a short-term fluctuation. But the breakdown now is that he's hitting line drives at the highest rate of his career, and hitting groundballs at the highest rate of his career-- obviously at the expense of fly balls. He's collecting a lot more infield hits-- possibly an indication that he's hitting harder groundballs into the holes. And with less flyballs, his home run/flyball rate is up as well, because he's maintained a pretty normal home run pace.

That flyball dropoff is pretty drastic to me. After 44% of his balls in play his first two seasons were flyballs, that's way down to 31% this season. That's probably a good thing for his average but not such a good thing for home runs in the long term. HR/FB rates usually stay pretty constant, and a hitter needs to hit plenty of fly balls for some to make their way into homers. His rate doesn't look too far out of line right now, so it's not a worry at this point.

Overall, it would be easy to dismiss Braun's .318/.410/.572 (.422 wOBA) line as a product of a .356 BABIP. But with these changes in his hitting style and batted ball tendencies, he shows the signs of being a hitter that can maintain a really high BABIP. Miguel Cabrera is probably a good comparison for our new Ryan Braun-- Cabrera has a career .350 BABIP and a career .311/.382/.542 line. Braun has evened out from the .320 AVG/ .370 OBP/ .630 SLG player he was as a rookie and has settled into to an extremely productive trend as a guy with no real weakness as a hitter.

In not even half the plate appearances he had last year, Braun has amassed 23 batting runs above average. It's a cumulative stat, and he had 26 all of last year. Braun has become a much better hitter this season, and his defense-- which is now sticking between average and -5 or so-- keeps his value in the upper tier of all of baseball. He has a chance to be a 6-win player this season, and that's a pretty rare accomplishment, only about 20 players in baseball did it last season.

Remember when we wondered how good Braun would be if he'd learn to take a walk? It's here, folks. Let's enjoy a prime year of an incredibly talented and productive hitter.

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