Brewer Spotlight

Is Braun’s Decline Real? A Statistical Investigation…

Ryan Braun lived up to the hype after being selected with the fifth pick in the 2005 Draft. Since winning the MVP in 2011, his stats have been on a gradual decline. BREW MATHs breaks down all the data to see what Milwaukee Brewers Fans can expect in 2019.


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In 2018, Ryan Braun posted numbers that were below his career averages across the board. A quick comparison makes the disparity clear:

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But not to fear! While Braun has demonstrated a steady decline at the plate, he still is performing better than the ‘average MLB hitter.’

  • Braun’s weighted on-base average (wOBA) has trended downward; most sharply since 2012
    • Last year, he finished with a wOBA of 0.330, his lowest mark in that metric yet
  • On-base percentage (OBP) follows a similar downward trend and actually dips below MLB average last year
  • While his power numbers also show consistent decline, they do so at a slower rate.
    • This is how Braun remains relevant even as the march of time does its work
  • Lastly, we see a very sharp decline in Braun’s batting average on balls in-play (BABIP) over the last two years.
    • On one hand, this could represent age-related decline as he enters the twilight of his career
    • On the other, it could be bad luck and predict that Braun is due for a productive regression back up to his baseline (i.e. the mean).
NLCS Brewers Dodgers Baseball

Who Can Find Yasmani?!?

Taking a broad look at Braun’s stats affirms what we have already seen above:

The ‘more red’ a number appears the closer it was to the league lead. While Braun still produced at a respectable clip in 2018, he has cooled off since his MVP Days (won it 2011 and was second only to Posey in 2012). That said, he clearly is still hitting the ball very hard:

Both exit velocity AND barrel percentage were rising at the end of The 2018 Season. In fact, Braun’s hard hit percentage of 49.5% last year was 5.2% higher than his career average. When we color-code his 2018 exit velocities it is plain to see that Braun still crushes anything near the zone:

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Upon even closer inspection, Braun spent almost the entire 2018 season above league average in terms of exit velocity… it appears he has still got it!

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Interestingly enough, Braun hits the ball harder the deeper in the count he goes…

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Finally, his Statcast Ranks drive home the fact that Braun still can rake with the best of them:

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A BALANCED HITTER WITH PULL TENDENCIES…

…BUT IS HE PRESSING TOO HARD?

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Up until this point, it appears that all of Braun’s swing metrics and production stats are improving. So what is the leading to the decline we defined at the beginning?

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  • Braun is swinging at every type of pitch progressively more as his career goes. Especially since the 2013 season
    • This may be representative of him trying to ‘do too much.’
    • It also could be a byproduct of improved confidence and vision at the plate
  • The good news is the only pitch that he is missing more is of the offspeed variety:

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In fact, Braun hits just about every type of pitch with authority:

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And his Home Run / Fly Ball Rate (HR/FB) is well above league average (and may still be rising):

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NOTABLE SPLITS

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  • Handedness
    • Avg vs RHP: 0.258
    • Avg vs LHP: 0.246
  • Home, Sweet, Home
    • Home: 0.276
    • Away: 0.233
  • 2018
    • 1st Half: 0.235 AVG / 10 HR / 31 RBI
    • 2nd Half: 0.281 AVG / 10 HR / 28 RBI
  • Location
    • Pull: 0.297 / 11 HR / 28 RBI
    • Center: 0.321 / 6 HR / 24 RBI
    • Oppo: 0.361 / 3 HR / 10 RBI
  • Leverage
    • Low: 0.255 AVG / 10 HR / 20 RBI
    • Med: 0.257 AVG / 9 HR / 27 RBI
    • High: 0.244 AVG / 1 HR / 17 RBI
  • Situational
    • Bases Empty: 0.244 AVG / 6 HR / 6 RBI
    • Men On Base: 0.269 AVG / 14 HR / 58 RBI
    • Men In Scoring: 0.280 AVG / 7 HR / 44 RBI
  • Batting Order
    • 3rd: 182 PA – 0.217AVG / 6 HR / 23 RBI
    • 4th: 89 PA – 0.228 AVG / 6 HR / 15 RBI
    • 5th: 126 PA – 0.293 AVG / 6 HR / 16 RBI
  • Braun only hit against the SHIFT 27 of his 300 ABs (or about 10% of the time)

DEFENSE

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Most Brewers Fans know about Braun’s prowess in the batter’s box but he also is an underrated fielder. Amongst active left fielders, he ranks sixth in range factor / 9 Inn – two spots ahead of someone else you might recognize:

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And Braun only shows minimal signs of decline in the field:

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“BRAUN’S PATCH”

Those Brewers Fans lucky enough to go to Miller Park probably have noticed the discolored patch of grass in left field. It appears that way since Braun has killed it by always starting from the same place! It is represented by the dot on the left.

On the right, we see where he positions himself allows him to cover a lot of ground in LF.


SPEED FUN FACT

Braun (the red line) is just a wee bit faster than Kyle Schwarber (the blue line)… BREW MATHs does not know how that is helpful but you will probably not forget it:

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INTERPRETATIONs / CONCLUSIONs

  • By any metric we use, Braun’s production has been declining at the plate since 2011-12. That said, his BABIP has plummeted in the last two years.
    • While this likely predicts a regression back up to his baseline (i.e. the mean), some of it is also rooted in the race against time.
    • How much of it will ‘correct’ remains to be seen…
  • Despite the gradual decrease in his plate production, Braun continues to hit the ball very hard and ranks near the league lead in Statcast Ranks
    • His barrel% and hard hit% are both on the rise
    • He still crushes anything near the zone
  • Braun’s power numbers have declined the least rapidly; he is able to maintain ‘middle of the lineup’ value due to this
  • Braun’s Burdens:
    • Pressing at the plate (swinging at every type of pitch in an escalating manner)
      • His OBP has suffered but he has been able to maintain his SLG%
    • Off-speed pitches (especially since 2014)
      • Not only his he swinging at them more… This is the one pitch-type he is also missing more
  • Remember that everything is relative!
    • Braun is still performing at an ‘above MLB average’ at the plate despite his well documented regression
    • Paradoxically, he is hitting the ball harder now then he did during his MVP season… ?!
      • This reinforces that Braun’s issues lie within his plate discipline (swing%) and patience. Perhaps a new hitting coach will help Braun rediscover patience at the plate.
  • Braun’s defense in left field helps to justify his spot in the lineup
    • Over his career, he has consistently been a top 10 defender and ranks sixth amongst active players in range factor / 9 Inn.
    • Despite always starting in the same (dead) spot of grass, Braun covers his corner of the field rather well…
  • BREW MATHs would bet that Braun improves upon last year (barring setbacks). His BABIP fell at a much more rapid rate than the rest of his stats. This implies that a correction is likely in 2019. Especially in light of how hard he is still hitting the ball. Anyone who regularly watches The Crew saw it with their own eyes last year… Braun did not have the best of luck (i.e. a lot of line drives right at defenders)
    • If we do not see the rebound in his numbers, it could mark the beginning of the end for the soon to be 36-year-old
    • Every time Braun has had his back against the wall, he has responded with his inner MVP. The fact that The Brewers are contenders in the twilight of his prime is likely a highly motivating force.
  • Regardless of what next year holds, never forget…
    • Braun is faster than Schwarber!

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