Eric Karabell has a good post today on ESPN about this specific topic and he interviewed Braun about his lack of steals. Braun even had a little message for fantasy players:http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/eric-karabell/post?id=1646
Outlook for Ryan Braun, Brewers bats
Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is having another fine season, hitting better than .300 and on roughly a 30-homer, 100-RBI pace, but there’s been one statistic notably missing and it’s why he hasn’t been one of the very best fantasy options so far: Where exactly are the stolen bases? Fantasy owners want to know, and so do I, so in the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse after Saturday’s 4-3 Brewers win over the Philadelphia Phillies I asked the player chosen in the top three of virtually all of ESPN’s live drafts what the deal with the steals is.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” said Braun, who enters Monday with three stolen bases in eight attempts, after stealing 30 of 37 in 2012 and 33 of 39 the year prior. “First and foremost a lot of stolen bases is about luck. I betcha I’ve had 8 to 10 bases stolen when guys have either fouled the ball off or put it in play. That’s something you can’t control as a base runner. I’ve never tried to force stolen bases. I try to pick and choose my spots, pitchers that are slower to the plate or situations where we think they’re throwing an off-speed pitch. It’s been a weird year base running-wise. Hopefully over the course of the rest of the season I’m able to pick up the pace a little bit, for fantasy owners.”
Yeah, Braun certainly smiled when he threw that last part of the sentence in about “fantasy owners,” in part because fans in stadiums do pose this question, and let’s be clear, he knew why I was asking him, too. Braun enters the week just outside the top 50 on the Player Rater, which in itself might view him as a bust through two months, if one can call someone on pace for .301-27-103-9 a bust. I cannot. Then again, if we knew a few months ago Braun wouldn’t steal double-digit bases, he wouldn’t have been a candidate for first overall pick, or even the first round at all. For example, Brewers teammate Aramis Ramirez finished a strong 2012 hitting .300 with 27 home runs, 105 RBI and yes, precisely nine steals, and was 23rd on that year's final Player Rater, which is still great, but not top-10-worthy. What matters now is what Braun does the final four months.
While the power, batting average and years of reliability are all factors, Braun needs to steal bases to return proper elite value, and it sounds like he’s not concerned about the slow start in that department. After all, while he’s been dealing with an injury of late, it’s to his right thumb, not his legs, and he stole a base Friday night. Braun had a few hits in Philly this weekend, but didn’t drive in any runs, and if you looked at him closely, it sure looked like he was a different hitter. On Saturday, he seemed unusually aggressive at the plate, but didn’t hit a ball hard in four at-bats. His season walk rate is up, which is a positive, though he’s drawn a free pass in only one of the past 10 games. He’s striking out more, hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls as well, plus he’s making quite a bit less contact than the past few seasons. If he wasn’t Ryan Braun, well, people would be panicking, especially with the thumb problem, certainly one that could linger. I asked the honest Braun if the injury had changed anything in his swing and if his goals had adjusted.
“Yeah, I’ve changed everything,” Braun said with confidence. “But hopefully it gets better soon. We all deal with certain things through the course of the season and whenever you have an injury, you try to compensate in some ways. I’ve tried to hold the bat different, change the bat path a little. Hopefully I’ll get back to the point where it’s like my regular swing. I try not to ever set statistical goals, I feel like when you do that you get yourself in trouble. I take a lot of pride in my preparation and putting myself in the best possible position to succeed. And beyond that I try not to really focus on results. I know that as long as I’m healthy I have a good chance to be successful.”
OK, but back to the three steals, Ryan, um, exactly how many can we expect this season? Because inquiring minds want/need to know. “Well, 30 would be nice, 40 would be even better,” Braun offered. I think we’d all agree with that statement. Personally, I’d still buy low here and expect a top-10 player.
Of course, two other Brewers do rank among the top 10 on ESPN’s Player Rater. Center fielder Carlos Gomez did not play in the game I attended Saturday, but shortstop Jean Segura did, getting credit for an RBI triple when Phillies right field statue Delmon Young allowed a fly ball to bounce off his glove. Segura did hit the ball far and hard, though, so give him credit. He’s hitting .350, tops in the NL, with eight home runs and 15 stolen bases. To me the power seems likely to regress, but the speed is legit. Like most people, Braun seems impressed with Segura so far.
“Instinctively he’s a very good base runner, a really, really good player,” Braun said of the player who generally precedes him in the top-heavy lineup. “I’m not surprised he’s been that good, I’m surprised with the consistency. It’s pretty amazing. You don’t see many young players come up and be that consistent in all facets of the game. He has a really short, compact swing, his bat path is so short.”
Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s hottest hitter in a very hot Philly weekend was catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a top-15 option at his position on draft day and one of my notable catching sleepers. Of course, Lucroy entered this weekend hitting a mere .229 with three home runs and making little case for fantasy owners to look his way. On Friday night, Lucroy smacked two home runs among five hits overall, then he homered again Saturday and delivered a three-run triple Sunday, just missing a grand slam. Now he’s hitting .259 and it’s a perfect time to stream him this week while he’s thriving, or expect he’s back to top-10 catcher status. Lucroy had eight RBIs this weekend! Remember he hit an impressive .320 and slugged 12 home runs in only 96 games a year ago. I asked Lucroy what went wrong the first two months.
“It’s a matter of having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard somewhere,” he said. “I’ve had some good swings on pretty decent pitches this week. My swing has been feeling better than it has the first two months. I felt really good before I went to the World Baseball Classic [in early March.] I didn’t play a lot over there, so I came back and it was really weird, my timing was kind of messed up. I’ve been trying to find my swing since then. Last week or so I really felt a lot better, made some adjustments.”
Lucroy was definitely fantasy relevant a season ago, finishing ninth among catchers on the Player Rater, but he was right at the top entering June. Lucroy hit .388 in May, then a fluke accident with a suitcase resulted in a broken hand and a DL stint. Lucroy came back and hit .299 after the All-Star break and slugged .513 for the season. It wasn’t out of the question to dream about a .300 batting average with 20 home runs, which is why I liked him as a top-10 catcher even for shallow formats. Last year, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina were the only two catchers to hit 20 home runs and bat .300.
I also asked Lucroy about the long-held notion of catchers tiring in the second half of seasons, because if that’s generally the case -- and obviously there are exceptions, like Posey last year -- then fantasy owners should be realistic in expectations the final months. Lucroy denied that he tired last year, though.
“I think so, I think they possibly can tire,” said Lucroy, whose career batting average in the first half is .286, in the second half .263. “It’s hard to catch all year. Few guys can do it. Yadi [Molina] is one of those guys that can catch every day. It’s tough, though, for those guys to do it. My ultimate goal is to be one of those guys that can catch and perform every day at a high level, something to shoot for. I’m not a big goal guy, but I believe I am a .300-plus hitter. If I go out and do my job, the numbers will be there in the end.”