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Opening Day Countdown: Ryan Braun's arm

We're less than fifty days away from baseball! To celebrate let's look at Ryan Braun's arm. What? That doesn't make sense to you?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

After today I have 48 of these article left to write. We're almost at the halfway point. But I find myself stretching the number tie-in rather tenuously. It's actually gotten to the point where I kind of want to see what is the most ridiculous numerical connection I can make. Today I may have found that zenith. We're 49 days away from opening day. So the tie-in? Well, Ryan Braun has an average 49 grade for his arm accuracy as provided by the "Fan Scouting Report" on FanGraphs.

Confused as to what the Fan Scouting Report is? I don't blame you. They don't really explain what it is on the page. But I think I know what it is. Every year before the season begins, FanGraphs allows you to enter your own projection for players. I think all of the fan projections are what comprises the Fan Scouting Report. It's a neat experiment. But it's also incredibly subjective. Which is probably why the grades for Braun's arm are somewhat confusing--note that the fan reports go back to 2009 and therefore don't incorporate his time at third base.

The main thing I find confusing is that fans rated his arm strength better than his accuracy. He has an average strength grade of 60. Maybe it's just me, but I've always thought Braun's arm strength was rather pedestrian. I mean, it's not quite as bad as Khris Davis (sorry buddy). But I certainly wouldn't rate it better than average. I always thought his accuracy was ahead of his arm strength--as an outfielder.

I wonder if Braun's issues at third base affected fans perception of his defense. When Braun came up his first season he was a third baseman. Well, he wasn't a third baseman, but that's where he played. He was terrible at the position, in large part thanks to terrible throws.

I typically caution people from using errors to judge a fielder's ability. Errors don't tell you anything about a fielder's range, speed, arm strength, etc. And an official scorer can only apply an error to a fielder if he was able to get to the ball, and either didn't make the play or screwed the play up. So errors are very subjective and don't tell the whole story. However in this instance I do want to bring your attention to errors to show how much trouble Braun had at third.

In the outfield Ryan Braun has been credited with 18 errors. That's 18 errors for his entire career as an outfielder. That's 18 errors across eight seasons--six in left, two in right. Of those 18 errors, 7 were throwing errors. In his single season as a third baseman Ryan Braun committed 26 errors, 16 of which were throwing errors. Braun made nearly as many throwing errors in his single season at third base as he has any kind of error the rest of his career to date in the outfield.

This doesn't prove anything, mind you. This doesn't prove that he suddenly has a great arm as an outfielder. That's not my point though. My question is whether that one season at third base colored people's perception of Braun's arm accuracy, even as he moved to an entirely different position. I think it's possible.

Because, at least in my recent memory, Braun's arm has been rather accurate. But it's not often that I see him gun anyone down. His arm is strong enough to keep most base runners honest, and occasionally catch one of them. But I think that's thanks to a combination of decent strength and accuracy, not just raw strength.

This is something that should be considered when deciding the ultimate make-up of the outfield this year. With Khris Davis no longer in the mix, the Brewers will have to decide where Braun and Domingo Santana slot in. Unlike Braun, Santana does have plus arm strength. Given his better arm and familiarity with right field--4476.2 minor league innings there vs 636 in left--it seems to make sense that Braun should shift back to left.

Unless the Brewers want to keep him there to maintain maximum value in hopes of a future trade--right field is defensively a step up from left field and therefore more valuable. That actually makes a lot of sense, so I can't blame the Brewers if that's what they decide.