It’s now been nearly a month since I suggested that something wasn’t right with Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun . The notion that Braun might not be mentally dialed in due to the hitting conditions at Miller Park and the team’s woeful pitching was not well received in some quarters .

Still, 24 games later, Braun continues to flop around, notching a .698 OPS over that stretch. The saving grace is that the team has gone 14-10 during this period, thanks in large part to improved pitching. Nonetheless, I am still wondering where Ryan Braun has gone, the Braun who was Rookie of the Year in 2007 and posted .900+ OPSs on his way to consecutive All Star Game appearances.

Brewers fans seem reluctant to admit it, but Braun is having a limp season. Sure, he will probably play in his third straight All Star Game later this month (and might even be a starter), but most of that buzz was built on a quick start (1.058 OPS in his first 30 games). Since May 9 — a span of 48 games — his OPS is .681.

So what’s up with this guy? After putting together three outstanding seasons and jumping off great in 2010, has he suddenly lost it? I find that doubtful. Some suggest he is just becoming who he really is. Analyst Nicholas Zettel of the blog Bernie’s Crew offers this:

I am hearing more and more rumbling about Ryan Braun, given the recent news of his new restaurant opening and his current hitting woes (.264/.299/.409 in June). What people are missing, due to their previous perception of Braun as a consistent power and average hitter due to his previous surface stats and splits, is the trends of Braun’s K%, BB%, and HR% over the course of his career .

Throughout his short career, Braun already features distinct batting trends towards more contact, which basically means that he is putting the ball in play more over time, which means fewer home runs, fewer strike outs, and more walks to boot.

Here is Braun’s batting luck, or his approach to putting the ball in play:

BIP%     BABIP           BB%       K%          HR%
2007                       0.63      0.361           0.056     0.228     0.069
2008                      0.677     0.305           0.063     0.195     0.056
2009                      0.685     0.353           0.081     0.171     0.045
2010                      0.744     0.320           0.079     0.146     0.032

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: people became so wound up with Braun’s extreme counting stats to start his career, and the surface consistency of his splits and batting stats, that they forgot to analyze him as a hitter. Even moreso, I think people decided to revel more in the feeling that Braun was an elite hitter, and focused simply on him being one of the best young hitters, rather than focusing on how he actually approaches hitting.

In a word, fans sometimes are so concerned with Braun being the next Manny Ramirez that they don’t understand that it’s perfectly acceptable for him to become the next Danny Tartabull. And if you don’t believe me, look at Danny Tartabull’s value prior to age 30 — then tell me with a straight face that you’d be disappointed if that was Braun’s value as a hitter with the Brewers over the course of a decade.

So I took the Pepsi Challenge and checked out Tarabull’s stats . If that’s the direction Braun is headed, I can live with that. I only hope this is just a correction for Bruan, not something with its roots in his displeasure with the park he will call home for the next 5.5 seasons or the state of the team’s pitching staff. Because if he is psyched about his home yard or the way management is building the team, that is not likely to end well for the club or its fans.

 

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