Ryan Braun is the highest paid player on the Milwaukee Brewers, and that doesn’t sit well with more than a few people. As the team closed out their rebuilding phase, Braun remained entrenched in the outfield as the final connection to Milwaukee’s last playoff run in 2011. The 33 year old is drawing a $19 mil salary this season (though there are some deferrals), is still dogged by the fallout from his long-ago PED suspension, and has developed a bit of an ‘injury-prone’ reputation.
Whether one likes him or not, though, Ryan Braun is still an elite offensive player.
Now in his 11th season of playing Major League Baseball, Braun remains able to hit the ball like few other men on the planet. Through 65 games played this season, the Hebrew Hammer has pounded opposing pitchers to the tune of a .295/.370/.549 slash line with 13 home runs and 8 steals. His 134 wRC+ is the best among any of the regular players on the Brewers and ranks 10th among National League outfielders (min 250 PA).
Braun has been especially hot of late, too. He has hits in his last 8 games, going 17-for-33 with 3 walks, 4 doubles, a triple, and a home run. Going back a bit further, since he returned from his latest disabled list stint on June 27th, Ryan has hit .321/.385/.567 with 6 home runs across his most recent 148 plate appearances.
In reality, it’s arguable that Braun should be having an even more impressive season at the plate. He’s putting up some of the best batted ball numbers of his career this year. His 22.3% line drive rate is the highest he’s ever produced. Braun is making hard contact with the ball at a rate of 43.6% this season, higher than his totals during his peak years of 2011-12 and the best mark he’s authored since his rookie season of 2007. Only 4 players in the National League have hit the ball hard more often than Ryan Braun has this season (min 250 PA).
Despite those impressive numbers, Braun’s line didn’t reflect just how effective his at-bats have been until recently. He had some terrible luck during the first couple months of the season, with a .282 batting average on balls in play that was some 50 points below his career average despite the awe-inspiring batted ball numbers. More of those scalded baseballs have started falling in for hits of late, and thanks to a reversing of his misfortunes Braun has seen his batting average climb from .262 on June 27th to the .295 (with a .326 BABIP) that he’ll enter play with today.
This season, Braun’s strikeout rate (18.5%) is basically at his career-average while his walk rate (10.2%) is the highest it’s been since 2013 and the 2nd-best mark he’s put up in his career. He’s bested his current .253 Isolated Power just four times in 11 seasons. Not just a threat at the plate, Braun has swiped 8 bags and is on pace to steal double-digit bases for the 10th time in 11 years. His +2.4 base running runs rank 4th on the team behind only Orlando Arcia, Jonathan Villar, and Keon Broxton as well as 24th among all National Leaguers (min 250 PA).
Braun even still grades out well on defense, at least according to one metric. Per Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average, Braun has been worth +2.2 runs in left field this season, which ranks 12th among the 32 listed players (min 250 PA). If wins above replacement is your thing, Braun’s 1.7 fWAR ties him for the 2nd-most valuable player on the Brewers, while his 2.2 WARP ranks him 3rd. By either metric, he’s been the club’s most valuable outfielder this season despite playing in only 65 out of the team’s 120 games.
Injuries have kept Braun off the field a fair amount this year, but when he’s been healthy he’s more than earned his keep on this ballclub. He’s having one of the best offensive seasons of his career at age 33, the sort of elite production that largely negates any notion that he’s “blocking” a prospect like Lewis Brinson or Brett Phillips. Either player would essentially have to be hitting at their 90th percentile outcome in order to match the production that Braun has provided when he has taken the field this season.
Though he’ll turn 34 later this year, Ryan Braun remains the anchor of the Milwaukee Brewers’ lineup and one of the best outfielders in all of baseball. Just like he has been for the last decade.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs