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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sophomore Slump?!?!

Ryan Braun - 3B - Milwaukee Brewers (2007 Rookie of the Year)

There is one, and perhaps only one, reason to predict that Braun might take a step backwards in his second season. That reason goes by the name of Jeff Francoeur. In 2005 Francoeur was called up to the major leagues midseason and immediately started pounding National League pitchers. In his first 200 at-bats he slugged a dozen homers, drove in 39 runs, and racked up a 957 OPS. Like Braun, Francoeur was treated during the offseason as though he was one of the league's premier hitters. In 2006, however, he hit only .260 and managed only a 742 OPS, despite 29 HR and 103 RBI, because opposing pitcher exploited his refusal to draw a walk. He struck out 132 times and had a Pedro Feliz-like .293 OBP in '06.

Braun also likes to hack. He drew only 29 walks and struck out 112 times in 113 games this past season. However, unlike Francoeur, who puts the ball in play on the first two pitches nearly half the time, Braun has shown a lot more ability to work the count. He had 23 extra-base hits with two strikes in '07 (more than Manny Ramirez). Also, unlike Francoeur, he continued to hit even after the league had become familiar with his free-swinging ways. While Francoeur suffered a dramatic decline his third and fourth months in the league (695 & 601 OPS, respectively), Braun kept his OPS above 900 in August and September, driving in and scoring more runs in September than in any month previous to it.

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