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January 14, 2013

Painting the Black

The Second Half of Ryan Braun's HOF Career

by R.J. Anderson

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Ryan Braun is a future Hall of Famer. That was the consensus I arrived at after polling a few BP staffers last week. It’s a sensible position. Braun is one of the best players in the game by any measure. His power-speed combination might be the truest in the league. Since 2010, Braun ranks seventh in homers and 15th in steals. No player with more steals than Braun is within 30 home runs, and only Matt Kemp is within 10 tallies in both categories.

The Milwaukee outfielder isn’t merely a two-dimensional player, either. His True Average over the past three seasons ranks fourth among batters with 1,000 or more plate appearances (Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Joey Votto sit ahead). Even Braun’s defense, maligned during his early days as a third baseman, is passable nowadays, according to those who watch him the most, like Jack Moore of Disciples of Uecker. Moore broke down Braun like this: decent range, iffy routes, and a strong arm, albeit with a slow and deliberate crow hop and accuracy issues.

So Braun is a great hitter and an okay defender. Big deal. Those descriptions apply to a few others throughout the league. What makes Braun special is his current pace. Braun is just the 16th player to reach 200 home runs and 100 stolen bases before his age-29 season (he has 202 home runs and 126 steals). The other 15 players are a combination of who’s who in baseball lore and players known for unfortunate burnouts after promising starts:

Players with 200-plus Home Runs and 100-plus Steals through Age 28

Player

HR  Thru 28

SB Thru 28

HR  After 28

SB After 28

Alex Rodriguez

381

205

266

113

Andruw Jones

301

129

133

23

Barry Bonds

222

280

540

234

Dale Murphy

200

112

198

49

Darryl Strawberry

252

191

83

30

Frank Robinson

291

148

295

56

Jose Canseco

235

128

227

72

Ken Griffey Jr.

350

143

280

41

Mickey Mantle

320

112

216

41

Orlando Cepeda

243

101

136

41

Reggie Jackson

218

126

345

102

Ruben Sierra

201

121

105

21

Sammy Sosa

207

199

402

35

Vladimir Guerrero

234

123

215

58

Willie Mays

250

179

410

159

Jackson, Mays, Mantle, and Robinson are Hall of Famers and Bonds, Griffey, Guerrero, and Sosa might be one day. All but five managed to hit 200 additional home runs from their age-28 seasons until the end of their career. Murphy faded quickly; Cepeda’s knees tormented him throughout his career, limiting him to four seasons as an everyday player after his age-28 season; Strawberry dealt with substance abuse demons; Jones fell out of shape; Sierra got in too good of shape (the added bulk supposedly limited his production). There’s no guarantee Braun avoids those fates—though he has avoided the disabled list to date—but you would probably lean toward him hitting at least 200 more home runs if you had to lean one way or the other.

Let’s take this one step further and see what Braun’s company tells us about his home run and stolen base production* as he ages. For an endpoint, let’s select age-37. That happens to be the last possible year of Braun’s contract, so it works as more than a way to curb the survivor bias and sample size issues wont to plague this kind of exercise.

*Some will wonder what kind of impact Bonds’ outlier stats have on the projections. The difference with and without Bonds is about three home runs. Huge on a micro level, less so on a macro basis like this.

Here’s how the results below work: Each player had change in his home run and stolen base per plate appearance noted for each individual season. The average of those changes were then applied to Braun through three playing time filters: 1) straight 650 plate appearances throughout; 2) a gentle 5 percent decline in playing time each season; and 3) a harsh 10 percent reduction in playing time each season. For perspective, Braun’s PECOTA projection through his age-37, and the players with at least that many home runs and stolen bases are included:

 

Braun’s Projected Career Numbers Through His Age-37 Season

Path

HR

SB

Members

Straight

519

305

Bonds, Mays, Rodriguez, Sheffield, Sosa

Gentle

466

276

Bonds, Mays, Rodriguez, Sheffield, Sosa

Harsh

423

253

Joe Carter, Andre Dawson, Jones, Larry Walker

PECOTA

434

310

Bonds, Dawson, Mays, Rodriguez

 

In words: Braun is on his way to joining elite or near-elite company (save Carter’s inclusion). The kind of company he could keep in Cooperstown one day. Alas, writing about Braun’s Hall of Fame credentials means mentioning his overturned suspension for a failed performance-enhancing drug test. It’s possible that, by the time Braun is eligible (2026 if he retires after his age-37 season), the voters will no longer hold performance-enhancing drugs against players, or the overturned suspension against Braun. Unfortunately, an ossified take on these cases is too easy to envision.

The interesting difference between PECOTA and the aging curve method is the disagreement in stolen bases. You’ll notice how many of the 200/100 club members stopped running after this point in their careers. Braun is projected and expected to continue running, in part because his manager is Ron Roenicke, whom Brewers fans have nicknamed “Runnin’ Ron.” Ron, as it turns out, doesn’t run with everyone. Of the 20 players with the most plate appearances for the Brewers over the past two seasons, just three have set new career highs under Roenicke.

Intuitively, it would make sense for Braun to run less as he ages. That’s because sluggers are more likely to be on second or back in the dugout following their hits. But also because they gain bulk, and there’s no sense in risking injury. There’s no telling if or how Roenicke’s philosophy would change were Braun to pull a hamstring on a stolen base attempt. Hopefully, it won’t come to that, lest baseball be robbed of one of its best and rarest talents.

Special thanks to Ben Lindbergh for biographical research assistance and Dan Turkenkopf for mathematical and theoretical guidance. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Ryan Braun

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Ashitaka1110
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Failed drug test.

Jan 14, 2013 08:35 AM
rating: -11
 
Lespaul1

Very articulate

Jan 14, 2013 09:54 AM
rating: 4
 
smocon

Is it z snarky comment? Yes, but it is true.

As I note below, I think the cloud of suspicion with Braun wont weigh very heavily, but he did fail a drug test, and he did get off on a technicality. Some voters may not like that.

Jan 14, 2013 14:11 PM
rating: 4
 
PeterBNYC

Since when is acquittal on the basis of a lack of credible evidence a "technicality?" The Braun case exposed a serious range of flaws in the MLB drug testing system. In the end, those flaws meant that the evidence presented against him could not form the grounds for a suspension. Please, folks, get this right.

Jan 14, 2013 14:51 PM
rating: 2
 
amazin_mess

Wasn't it acquittal on the fact that the sample was mishandled? I understood the story to be that his sample was positive for elevated testosterone and it was supposed to be mailed to the lab for confirmation. But the tester sealed it and kept it in his refridgerator. As far as I understood the story, Braun got lucky that the testing agent was an idiot.

Jan 14, 2013 15:27 PM
rating: 1
 
Pat Folz

Yes and no; those rules aren't arbitrary, they're there to try to prevent corrupting factors from affecting the test. The rules were violated, so corrupting factors couldn't be ruled out (legally, if that makes sense), so the test was thrown out.

As for whether the regfrigerator storage could actually affect it... Will Carroll wrote something about how the Braun team was able to prove that doing so could produce the elevated levels found that were reportedly found, but as far as I know now other journalist picked up on that, and he's, ahem, been wrong before.

Jan 14, 2013 17:39 PM
rating: -1
 
apollo

I wouldnt say the agent was idiot but the Arbitrator is very very lenient.I would want to know more about him. Other samples were refrigerated over the weekend and funny they didnt grow PEDs.

I find it fascinating that already BP is banging the drum for Braun, and will run interference for his failed drug test, trying to whitewash it down the Memory Hole. There sure seems to be an agenda here. It is almost like there is an Internet Flash Mob ready to storm Cooperstown and demand that the Board of Trustees/BBWAA hand over the keys.

Has BP ever written its Apologia for PED use? I don't read every day but somehow they have come to the conclusion that cheating does not matter maybe they have a good case and I need to be educated.

Jan 14, 2013 17:42 PM
rating: -3
 
amazin_mess

The stain on Braun's reputation won't go away. Sure, he will have a HOF career, but he's going to have to wait to be inducted. I mean Mike Piazza never failed a test...

Jan 14, 2013 18:13 PM
rating: 0
 
apollo

the specimen wasn;t really "mishandled". It would have been sitting in an equivalent refrigerator at fedex or the lab had it not been after hours. The courier's fridge was not a real fridge in the Arbitrator's opinion since it was not a certified fridge. This is common sense in America in 2013 and a microcosm of our national problems. I expect politicians to think like this but it is fascinating to see other people pretend not to see what is obvious.

Jan 14, 2013 17:48 PM
rating: -3
 
BarryR

Two things are worth noting here. First, the real story is that we know about the test result. Manny Ramirez went through all of spring training and the start of the season while appealing his suspension and no one heard about it. Melky Cabrera was the MVP of the All-Star Game while appealing his suspension and no one heard about it. Someone in MLBs testing program leaked Braun's test result to the press before the appeals process. No one seems interested in finding out who did it or why. We have no idea how many players have had positive tests and had them overturned through the appeals/arbitration process. Those are the rules as agreed to contractually.
Second, have you ever had a traffic ticket overturned in court because of a "technicality", like the cop not showing up? I know I have and my insurance company didn't make me prove I didn't actually go through the Stop sign, as I was charged with having done. When Ryan Braun and his attorney went to the arbitrator, the first thing they did was try and get the evidence thrown out, based on mishandling and the contractual violation which occurred. The arbitrator agreed and the case was over. Neither you nor I know whether Braun and his attorney had a line of attack on the evidence itself which would have won. Yet there seems to be an assumption of guilt here, even though there is nothing in his body type or his career arc which indicates the use of PEDs. A little fairness would be nice.

Jan 15, 2013 12:46 PM
rating: 5
 
jmhanlonjr

I hope Orlando Cepeda doesn't read this. He'd be surprised to learn his HOF membership has been revoked.

Jan 14, 2013 10:32 AM
rating: 1
 
Shaun P.
(676)

I found it interesting that the entire list of 200HR, 100SB by age 28 was a who's who of "guys who were regulars in the majors at 20 or 21 (or younger)", with one exception (Vlad). Braun's first year was his age-23 season, but that was a partial season; his first "full" season was his age-24 season. I wonder if his late start, relative to almost everyone else on this list, is why PECOTA's HR projection leans more towards Harsh than the other possibilities.

I also wonder how different his projection would look if you changed his age when doing the PECOTAs; for example, make his actual age-23 season his age-21 season, etc. Did anyone think Braun could play in the majors in 2005? 2006?

Jan 14, 2013 10:42 AM
rating: 1
 
ttt

Braun's late start is similar to Bonds' late start because they both went to college. Bonds basically came up a season earlier and was about 8 months younger when he was drafted. Also, neither have been suspended for PED use.

Jan 15, 2013 10:50 AM
rating: -1
 
smocon

Injury will be the only thing that keeps him out. Even with the recent Hall vote excluding PED users, any bias voters have toward him due to his positive PED test will not be enough to keep him out (sans injury).

Jan 14, 2013 11:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Michael Dennis

Yeah right. That positive test sunk him. We can't even get guys who were never suspicious elected because they were team mates of roiders or whatever. Guys like Jon Heyman can't vote for Piazza because he's waiting for his book to come out, probably hoping he admits to using or says something he can use against him to justify not voting for him. Braun ain't getting in.

Jan 14, 2013 20:33 PM
rating: 0
 
majnun

That's a big prediction for 15 years from now

Jan 14, 2013 21:07 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

Braun will get in. Hell, Bonds probably will eventually, as he should.

Jan 15, 2013 08:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Thenewcat1

"An ossified take?" Braun was found guilty of a positive test when it was an offence to do so and he and everyone else knew it. It is not comparable to roiders doing something legal (whatever your ethical/moral take) both legally and by baseball rules. It would take a very generous view to believe the overturning of his suspension was anything other than a technicality. So in my view, any asterisk against his name whenever the times comes is well deserved, whether that should cost him his place if he is otherwise qualified is another argument

Jan 15, 2013 08:32 AM
rating: -3
 
BarryR

He was not "found guilty" of anything. He was alleged to have tested positive, but the end result of the process was that there was no provable guilt.

Jan 15, 2013 17:58 PM
rating: 3
 
Thenewcat1

He was found guilty. It was subsequently overturned on a technicality. This isn't a court of law, the probability that he cheated is overwhelming

Jan 15, 2013 23:33 PM
rating: -3
 
BarryR

I say the probability is underwhelming - no change in body type or performance traceable to any point in time.
As for his being "guilty" - to continue the legal parallel, there was sufficient evidence to charge him with the "crime", based on the drug test evidence. The arbitrator is part of the process, no player is suspended until the process is finished. The evidence was thrown out, therefore he was guilty of nothing. What Braun was was the only player to ever have been announced to have failed a test prior to the completion of the process. If I was Ryan Braun, I would have been very inclined to sue MLB for slander, since the unprecedented release of drug test results, in violation of the contract between MLB and the MLBPA, caused grievous harm to his reputation. He chose not to, in an attempt to put this behind him. Maybe he was right - I don't know the answer.

Jan 16, 2013 15:37 PM
rating: 2
 
Thenewcat1

Your analysis of the legal position may be accurate, but I am afraid your analysis of the probabilities (a different thing entirely, this is not a legal point) are still wrong. PEDs were found in his sample. He got off because of potential issues with the chain of ownership. Therefore, one of the following is true a) someone accidentally or deliberately tampered with the sample or b) Ryan Braun took PEDs.

That might be sufficient to get you off legally based on teh standard of proof required, but which sounds more likely?

Jan 17, 2013 11:11 AM
rating: 0
 
BarryR

I believe PEDs help good major league hitters become better ones and help excellent major league hitters become scary. I didn't need tests to make me suspicious of Bonds and Sosa -- hell, neither of them failed a test. There are markers which lead us to juicers - changed body type, sudden performance spikes out of line with a normal career arc. Ryan Braun does not have those markers. He has had a remarkably consistent career. This leads us to two choices:
1) Braun has systemically used PEDs since he first arrived in professional baseball, and still is. He managed to avoid getting caught until 2011, and when he got away with it, went right back to using, since his 2012 season was one of his best.
2) Something went wrong with the system. Maybe a false positive, maybe tampering with his sample - who knows? Someone in the system cared enough about screwing Braun to reveal the results of a confidential test, maybe that person did more.

My opinion is that 2 is more likely than 1, based on the lack of non-testing evidence of cheating. Your mileage may vary.

Jan 17, 2013 14:34 PM
rating: 1
 
anderson721

The list of guys with more steals after 28 is miiiighty short indeed.

Jan 15, 2013 16:46 PM
rating: 0
 
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