Stats & Info: Ryan Braun

Top stats to know: Nationals at Brewers

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
4:39
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Tonight's matchup (8 ET on ESPN2 and WatchESPN) features a pair of first-place teams that rank tied for second (Nationals) and fourth (Brewers) in run differential in the National League this season.

LHP Gio Gonzalez at RHP Matt Garza
Matt Garza
Garza
Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez

Gonzalez has struggled this season, posting a 4.62 ERA thus far. His ERA has jumped in consecutive seasons after his 2.89 ERA mark in 2012, when he finished third in Cy Young voting. He's looking to earn his first win since April 18.

His biggest issues have come versus lefties; they're hitting .316 with a .913 OPS against him this year after he held them to a .217/.613 line over the previous two seasons.

On the other hand, Garza is on a roll, having thrown five straight quality starts, tied for the third-longest streak of his career. With one more quality start, he'll match his total from all of last season (11).

Garza's dominance has waned in recent years -- both his strikeout rate and percentage of opponent swings whiffed on have declined for three consecutive seasons. In 2011, his strikeout rate ranked 12th among qualifiers; this season it's down to 69th.

Ian Desmond's Power
Desmond leads the Nationals with 14 HRs this season -- only Troy Tulowitzki (18) has hit more among shortstops. Desmond's 59 HRs since 2012 are four more than any other shortstop.

He also has five more RBIs than any shortstop in that span, but his production has come at a cost: His 347 strikeouts (23 percent of plate appearances) are by far the most of any player at his position.

Carlos Gomez Continues to Improve
In terms of Wins Above Replacement, no player in the National League has been more valuable than Carlos Gomez since the start of last season. Gomez has produced a 12.0 WAR in that time, half a win more than Andrew McCutchen.

Gomez has become increasingly aggressive on the first pitch, and to great effect. He’s gone from hitting .234 with a .383 slugging percentage on the first pitch (while swinging 39 percent of the time) back in 2009, to hitting .441 and slugging .763 with on a 55 percent swing rate on those pitches this year.

Ryan Braun Decline
Ryan Braun
Braun

Through his first 58 games this season, Braun is batting just .278 with a .815 OPS, both on pace to be career lows.

He simply isn't punishing pitches in the strike zone with anywhere near the authority he did in 2011 and 2012. He is slugging .595 on pitches in the zone over the last two seasons with a 5.3 home run percentage. He slugged .722 on pitches in the strike zone with a 8.4 percent home run rate in 2011 and 2012.

Shifting Perspectives
The Brewers have shifted their defense on 342 balls in play this season, fifth most in the majors. They are on pace to shift 720 balls in play, 182 more times than they did last season.

The Nationals are on the opposite side of the shifting spectrum. They have shifted on only 84 balls in play this season, the second-lowest total in baseball.

Extra, Extra: Free baseball on Sunday

April, 20, 2014
Apr 20
8:39
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This was a good day for extra-inning games in baseball, with two going 14 innings or longer and another finishing up in 12 frames. Let’s put the statistical microscope to each one.

New York Yankees 5, Tampa Bay Rays 1 (12)
Key moment: Dean Anna walks with bases loaded to force in go-ahead run in the 12th inning.

Anna entered the at-bat hitless in his last eight at-bats and is only 3 for 22 this season, but he held his swing on a 3-2 slider at the most critical point of the day.

Anna has seen 20 sliders this season. He hasn’t swung and missed at one yet.

Did You Know? The last time the Yankees beat the Rays on an extra-inning bases-loaded walk was in 2000 when Paul O’Neill drew a walk from Jim Morris, the pitcher immortalized in the movie “The Rookie.”

New York Mets 4, Atlanta Braves 3 (14)
Key moment: After an intentional walk to Eric Young Jr., Curtis Granderson benefits from a wild pitch that advanced runners to second and third, then hits a go-ahead sacrifice fly.

It was Granderson’s first walk-off RBI since the 2006 season. He’s hitless in his past 16 at bats and hitting .127 this season after an 0 for 6 on Sunday. That’s the fifth-lowest batting average in the majors and explains why Young was walked, even though David Wright (who had four hits in the game) was waiting to hit after Granderson.

Did You Know? It is the second latest the Mets have won a game by walk-off sacrifice fly. They had a 15-inning win against the San Diego Padres in 1983.

Milwaukee Brewers 3, Pittsburgh Pirates 2 (14)
Key moment: In a game that will be better remembered for a fight involving Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee continued its winning ways when Ryan Braun homered to tie the game in the ninth and Khris Davis homered to win the game in the 14th.

It marked the second time Braun hit a game-tying homer in the ninth inning or later, the first since Aug. 17, 2008, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It’s the second time in the last four seasons that a Brewers player hit a homer in the 14th inning or later. The other was by Prince Fielder in 2011.

Did You Know? This is the first time the Brewers beat the Pirates in a game lasting 14 innings or longer.

Braun gets back to hitting HR

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
9:27
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Ryan Braun's three-homer game was the second of his career.
Ryan Braun was due.

Braun entered Tuesday with only three hits in 20 at-bats all season and three home runs in his last 181 at-bats overall. He had only one hit on a pitch in the strike zone in the season’s first five games.

Braun became the first player to hit three homers in a game this season. He’s the fifth player in Brewers history to hit three home runs in a game more than once, joining Ben Oglivie (three times), Richie Sexson, Geoff Jenkins and Jeromy Burnitz (twice each).

He’s the first player to hit three in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies since Jason Giambi of the Colorado Rockies in 2011. The four players to hit three and drive in seven in a game against the Phillies in Philadelphia are Johnny Bench, Mark McGwire, Giambi and Braun

Braun is the seventh Brewers player to have a seven-RBI game, along with Sexson, Corey Hart, Jose Hernandez, Ted Kubiak, Damian Miller, and Jonathan Lucroy, who has two.

He’s the first player to hit three home runs in a game after serving a suspension for violating baseball’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

By the numbers: Ryan Braun

July, 22, 2013
7/22/13
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On Monday, Major League Baseball suspended Ryan Braun without pay for the remainder of the 2013 regular season and postseason for violating its drug policy, effective immediately.

Braun became the eighth player on a team’s 25-man roster in the past two seasons to receive a suspension related to violating the drug policy and is the highest-level performer of those suspended.

Braun was the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year and 2011 NL MVP. He’s a five-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner.

Since the start of the 2007 season (the year in which he debuted), Braun ranks sixth in home runs (211), sixth in runs batted in (681) and fifth in batting average (.312).

Braun ranks fourth in the majors and first among outfielders with 33.3 wins above replacement since the start of the 2008 season, trailing only Albert Pujols (38.0), Miguel Cabrera (34.8) and Evan Longoria (33.9).

Braun is the Brewers' all-time leader in batting average and OPS (.938), and he ranks fourth in home runs, sixth in RBIs and fifth in stolen bases (130).

Braun hit 202 home runs in his first six seasons, the sixth-most of any player in major league history. His numbers dipped slightly in 2010, a season in which he ranked 25th in OPS and 44th in isolated power (which measures extra bases per at-bat).

In each of the next two seasons, he ranked in the top three in OPS and the top six in isolated power.

The Brewers were 27-32 when Braun started this season, which equates to a 74-win pace. In the first 38 games in which he didn’t start (either to rest or because of injury), they were 14-24, which translates to a 60-win pace.

Ciriaco makes good with bad (pitches)

August, 18, 2012
8/18/12
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Pedro Ciriaco had an unusual Saturday, which fits well with the way his season has gone
Not a lot has gone right for the Boston Red Sox this season, whose highlight may be the emergence of Pedro Ciriaco as a legitimate player.

Ciriaco’s 4-for-4 day in Saturday’s win over the New York Yankees put him in elite company. It was his second four-hit game of the season against the Yankees.

Ciriaco has done something that teammates like David Ortiz and recent former Red Sox like Nomar Garciaparra never did- have multiple four-hit games in a season against the Yankees in their time in Boston.

He’s the first Red Sox player with two such games against the Yankees since Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs in 1989.

The chart on the right shows other Red Sox to do this over the last 40 years.

It’s not often that a player with less than 70 career games played can end up on the same list with Boggs, Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski, but Ciriaco has now done that.

Ciriaco is hitting .517 against the Yankees this season. The last Red Sox player to hit .500 against the Yankees in a season in which he had 30 plate appearances is another notable-- Manny Ramirez in 2006.
But what’s really intriguing about Ciriaco is the image atop this article.

In his brief stint this season, Ciriaco has established a reputation as being able to hit pitches thrown just about anywhere. He had three hits against pitches that were out of the strike zone, and almost in the right-handed batters box.

Only one other player has had three hits in a game on pitches of that nature this season- Ryan Braun.

The other fascinating thing about the image above is the heat map on the right hand side. Ciriaco has 36 hits this season, and nearly half (17) have come on pitches that were out of the strike-zone.

Ciriaco’s style has been successful but for two areas within the strike zone- the two that are among the most favorable for a major league hitter.

The blue shading represents areas in which Ciriaco is a combined 3-for-22 (.136 batting average). The average major league hitter hits .319 against those pitches.

The good news for Ciriaco—everywhere else he’s been pitched, he’s hitting a robust .398.

Jim Cowsert/US PresswireRyan Dempster (right) has switched leagues, but will face a former rival in his Rangers' debut.

Ryan Dempster will make his debut for the Texas Rangers on Thursday as they wrap up their four-game series with the Los Angeles Angels. Dempster switches leagues with the second-best ERA (2.25), trailing only the San Francisco Giants' Ryan Vogelsong.

Unfortunately for Dempster, the trade means he’s back in the same division as Albert Pujols, who is 18-for-55 with seven home runs in his career against Dempster. It's also the most home runs Dempster has allowed to any batter, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Pujols has had no trouble with Rangers pitching during this series, going 7-for-15 with four home runs and eight RBIs. Pujols has been crushing fastballs since the All-Star Break -- he has as many home runs off fastballs in the last three weeks (7) as he had in the entire first half of the season.

Pujols entered play on May 15 hitting below .200 (.197). Since then, he’s hit .332 with 21 HR and 59 RBI. In fact, Pujols' numbers are better through Aug. 1 with the Angels (.284, 22 HR, 71 RBI) than they were at this point last season with the St. Louis Cardinals (.280, 24 HR, 65 RBI).

Pujols' former teammate Matt Holliday has not been a welcome sight at his former home ballpark, Coors Field. In nine games at Coors Field since joining the Cardinals, Holliday is 13-for-30 with six home runs and 15 RBI. He’s been even better the last two games, going 5-for-9 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.

All three of Holliday's hits on Wednesday came on pitches outside the strike zone. He’s batting .279 on pitches outside the strike zone this season, and his .939 OPS on such pitches ranks third behind Melky Cabrera (.965) and Ryan Braun (.958).

Over in the National League, the Cincinnati Reds are a major-league best 16-3 since the All-Star Break, and have opened up a three-game lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central.

The Reds have allowed 383 runs this season, the second-lowest total this season behind the Washington Nationals. One key has been the continued development of Johnny Cueto.

Cueto posted a 2.31 ERA in 156 innings in 2011. If he had not fallen six innings short of qualifying for the ERA title, Cueto would have finished second in the majors to Clayton Kershaw’s 2.28. Among qualified pitchers, Cueto has the lowest ERA since the start of last season.

Cueto’s home ballpark has ranked in the top six in number of home runs hit each of the past two seasons. Despite that, he has allowed only 13 HR since the start of last season, and none in his last 11 starts. The only other qualified starter to allow fewer than 20 in that span is Roy Halladay with 19.

In nine starts at Great American Ballpark this season, Cueto has allowed just two home runs in 223 at-bats, and only 3.3 percent of his flyballs allowed have left the ballpark. Every other Reds starter this season has allowed home runs on at least 10 percent of his flyballs.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMelky Cabrera homers in the fourth inning of the 83rd All-Star Game in Kansas City to help the NL win its third straight over the AL.
Tuesday's Midsummer Classic was a big All-Star showcase for the city of Kansas City but the spotlight was stolen in a Giant way.

In the biggest shutout win for the National League ever, Melky Cabrera became the first Giants player to be named All-Star Game MVP since Bobby Bonds in 1973. Bonds also did so in a game played in Kansas City. Teammate Pablo Sandoval delivered the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star Game history to blow the game open in the first inning and Matt Cain was the first Giants pitcher to win an All-Star Game since Vida Blue in 1981.

But Cabrera stole the show in what was the second biggest shutout in All-Star history (the AL won 12-0 in 1946). He is the sixth player with 2+ hits and 2+ RBI in an All-Star game, all as a CF.

The others are are notable bunch: Stan Musial (1949), Joe DiMaggio (1949), Mickey Mantle (1955), Ken Griffey Jr (1992) and Ichiro Suzuki (2007).

Cabrera also became the 10th Latin-born All-Star Game MVP and the first since Miguel Tejada in 2005. The first Latin-born All-Star Game MVP was also a Giant, Juan Marichal.

OTHER SHINING STARS

Ryan Braun became the fifth player with a double and triple in the same All-Star Game joining are Hall-of-Famers Earl Averill (1934), Willie Mays (1960), Mike Schmidt (1979) and George Brett (1983). It was a nice rebound for the reigning NL MVP who was 0-4 vs Justin Verlander in regular-season play and had struck out against Verlander in the fifth inning of the 2010 All-Star Game.

The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed that this was the third time that reigning MVPs went head to head in a batter-pitcher matchup in an All-Star Game and Braun's double was the first hit in such a matchup.

Chipper Jones
In his final All-Star appearance, Jones became the first 40-year-old to get a hit in an All-Star Game since Cal Ripken Jr. in 2001.

The two older NL players with a hit in an All-Star Game were Stan Musial (1962 at 41 years and 231 days old) and Pete Rose (1981 at 40 and 117).

Derek Jeter
Now has 11 career hits in the All-Star Game, the most of any Yankee. Mickey Mantle had 10.

Rafael Furcal
The only other St. Louis Cardinals player to triple in an All-Star Game was Hall-of-Famer Enos Slaughter.

Bryce Harper
By pinch-hitting in the fifth inning, the 19-year old became the second youngest to play in an All-Star game (Dwight Gooden was the only one younger).

Mike Trout
The Angel delivered a single in the sixth inning, becoming the third-youngest player with an All-Star hit at 20 years and 339 days. Those younger: Al Kaline (20-205 in 1955) and Claudell Washington (20-318, 1975). He also swiped a bag against R.A. Dickey, who hadn't allowed an stolen base all season.

NL Pitchers
Eleven National League pitchers led by Matt Cain combined to allow six hits with seven strikeouts. Thirty NL pitchers have combined to allow just two runs over their last three All-Star Games.

Finally, the Elias Sports Bureau tells us Ron Washington has the dubious distinction of joining Bobby Cox as the only managers to lose the World Series, then lose next season's All-Star Game, then lose that season's World Series, then next season's All-Star Game, all in that order. Cox lost the 1991 and 1992 World Series and the 1992 and 1993 All-Star Games.

Beltran, CarGo strong NL picks in derby

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
12:51
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Here is a breakdown of the National League players in the Home Run Derby (ESPN, 8 ET) field as well as players not in the field who merit consideration based on analysis from information provided by ESPN Home Run Tracker. Click here to check out our American League breakdown.

Of the 64 home runs hit at Kauffman Stadium this season, 24 have gone to left field (37.5 percent). The average home run distance there is 413.0 feet, second only to Coors Field in Colorado (414.2 feet). The participants likely to have the most success Monday night will have power to left field and have a high average home run distance.

Carlos Beltran
Beltran
Carlos Beltran
The only switch-hitter in the field, Beltran has hit 15 of his 20 home runs from the left side of the plate. It might serve Beltran better to hit right-handed, as the three homers he hit to left field came as a right-handed batter. Only five of his home runs would not have been out of Kauffman Stadium and only six went fewer than 400 feet.

Carlos Gonzalez
Gonzalez averages 412.4 feet per home run, the best in the National League (min. 15 home runs). Despite hitting just two homers to left field, Gonzalez has hit 11 that would have been out of Kauffman Stadium.

Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen replaces Giancarlo Stanton, who had four home runs of more than 450 feet, the most in the majors. McCutchen has 18 homers, but he doesn’t have a single 450-foot home run and averages only 398.9 feet per homer.

Matt Kemp
Kemp
Matt Kemp
Kemp is in because he’s the captain. He did hit 12 home runs in April but just four of them would have been home runs at Kauffman. None of those 12 went to left field and Kemp barely averages 400 feet per home run (400.2).

Other NL players who are not in the field but warrant consideration:

Ryan Braun
Braun leads the NL in home runs by a wide margin with 24, but averages just 405.6 feet per homer. Fewer than half of them would have left Kauffman (11), and only five were hit to left field.

Matt Holliday
Holliday
Matt Holliday
Holliday has only 14 home runs, but he’s averaged 410.4 feet per long ball. Half of his homers went to left field and eight would have been out of Kauffman.

Wilin Rosario
Rosario would have been an interesting choice had he made the All-Star team. He averages 412.8 feet per home run and only four have traveled fewer than 400 feet. He has one 450-foot blast and 10 of his 14 homers would have been out of Kauffman.

Kemp's impact will be missed by Dodgers

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
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AP Photo/Chris Carlson Matt Kemp was just the third player to bat .400 with 10+ HR and 25+ RBI in April, joining Larry Walker in 1997 and Tony Perez in 1970.
The Los Angeles Dodgers placed Matt Kemp on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring after Monday night's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Kemp's absence will certainly be felt offensively.

Kemp saw his MLB-leading active streak of 399 games played come to an end Monday, and while his production decreased this month, his early-season performance was impressive. His 12 home runs by April 30th were the fifth-most in MLB history, and according to Elias, was just the third player since 1920 (when RBI became official) to hit .400 with 10+ HR and 25+ RBI in April (excluding any March games).

Without Kemp, the Dodgers also lose one of the best high-ball hitters in baseball. Kemp is 11-for-21 (.524) against high pitches in 2012, tied with Ryan Sweeney for the best batting average on such pitches in baseball entering Tuesday.

For all of these reasons and more, Kemp has been one of the most valuable position players in baseball over the last two seasons. Using the Baseball Reference metric “Wins Above Replacement,” Kemp is second in the National League and fourth in Major League Baseball in WAR since the start of the 2011 season. Only Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist and Ryan Braun have a higher WAR than Kemp in that span.

Kemp, however, did see his production trail off drastically in May. During this month, Kemp was batting just .212 in 11 games and had not gone deep. The difference has primarily come against the fastball. During April, Kemp batted .465 against the heater with nine home runs. In May, that average dipped to .250. His strikeout percentage against the fastball also jumped significantly, increasing from 11.3 percent in April to 28.6 percent in May.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

Ryan Braun
Braun
1. GOING, GOING BRAUN: Ryan Braun was a one-man wrecking crew for the Milwaukee Brewers in San Diego. Braun hit three home runs in a game for the first time in his career and even added a RBI-triple in the ninth inning. Braun became the first player with a 3-HR game at Pecto Park, which opened in 2004. He also became the sixth player in the Live-Ball Era with three HR and a triple in a game, and the first since Fred Lynn in 1975. Braun’s 15 total bases set a Brewers franchise record (previous record was 14 by Richie Sexson). He also tied a career high with six RBI.

2. KEMP TOUCH THIS: Matt Kemp hit his major-league leading 12th HR of the season in the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies. Kemp's 12 HR by April 30 are the fifth-most in MLB history. Kemp finished April with a .417 BA, 12 HR and 25 RBI. He's just the third player since 1920 (when RBI became official) to hit .400 with 10+ HR and 25+ RBI in the month April (excludes any March games) joining Larry Walker in 1997 and Tony Perez in 1970.

3. KNICKS TIE RECORD: The New York Knicks tied a NBA record by losing their 12th consecutive postseason game, falling to the Miami Heat in Game 2. New York’s last win in the playoffs came more than 11 years ago on April 29, 2001.

4. MAVERICKS IN A HOLE: The Oklahoma City Thunder took a 2-0 lead in their series against the defending NBA champs with a three-point win over the Dallas Mavericks. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that it’s the fourth time in NBA history that a defending champion has lost its first two playoff games and the previous three all went on to lose the series. Keep in mind that two NBA defending champions missed the postseason entirely the following season -- the 1970 Celtics and 1999 Bulls.

5. YU GOT IT: The Texas Rangers improved to 5-0 this season with Yu Darvish on the mound with a 4-1 over the Toronto Blue Jays. Darvish gave up one earned run in seven innings and struck out nine batters to earn his fourth win. Darvish became the sixth rookie starting pitcher to go 4-0 or better in April since rules for rookie status were implemented in 1957.

Historical look at ESPN 500 Top 10 players

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
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Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Albert Pujols was voted by a panel of ESPN MLB writers, analysts and contributors as the best player in Major League Baseball heading into the 2012 season.
Wondering why those who are in the top 10 were picked in those spots? Here are some numbers to know about each of the top 10 players in the ESPN 500.

Albert Pujols –- Pujols is in very elite company. He’s one of six players to hit 400 career home runs and bat at least .325. The other five: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. Pujols’ 445 home runs through his first 11 seasons are the most all-time through a player’s initial 11 years in the majors.

Roy Halladay
Roy Halladay -- Halladay has 170 wins and a 2.97 ERA, averaging almost 210 innings per year over the last 10 seasons. The last pitcher to average 17 wins and 200 innings a season, over a 10-season span, and do so with a sub-3.00 ERA was Greg Maddux from 1995 to 2004.

Miguel Cabrera -- Cabrera has led the American League in at least two significant offensive categories in three of the last four seasons. Cabrera’s .977 OPS over the last six seasons trails only Albert Pujols in that span.

Justin Verlander -– Verlander won both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards in 2011, the first pitcher to win both since Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992, and the first starter to do so since Roger Clemens in 1986. Over the last three seasons, Verlander leads the majors in wins (61) and strikeouts (738) and is third in opponents BA (.221).

Felix Hernandez -- Hernandez and Roy Halladay are the only two pitchers to average 240 innings per season over the last three seasons, and his ERA, when adjusted for ballpark, ranks second to Halladay in that span as well.

Ryan Braun
Ryan Braun –- Braun has led all major league outfielders in batting average (.318), RBI (328), runs (323) and doubles (122) over the last three seasons. The 2007 NL Rookie the Year and 2011 NL MVP has hit 161 HR in his first five seasons, the 10th-most by a player in his first five seasons.

Clayton Kershaw –- Kershaw is second to Roy Halladay among National League starters in both wins and ERA, but leads in strikeouts and opponent batting average over the last two seasons.

Troy Tulowitzki -- Over the last three seasons, Tulowitzki has 89 home runs, 34 more than any other player whose primary position is shortstop. His OPS+ of 134 also tops all shortstops in that span. Tulowitzki also ranks third among shortstops over the last three seasons in Defensive Runs Saved.

Tim Lincecum –- Since making his debut in May of 2007, Lincecum has struck out at least 10 batters in a game 31 times, the most in the majors over that span. His 977 strikeouts over the last four years is tops among all pitchers.

Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano -- Cano has led major-league second baseman in both slugging percentage and OPS in each of the last two seasons. This season, he will likely break the Yankees record for career home runs as a second baseman, a mark currently held by Tony Lazzeri (147- eight more than Cano) that has stood for more than half a century.

Nationals lock up hot corner-stone

February, 26, 2012
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Earlier today, the Washington Nationals and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman agreed to a six-year, $100 million contract extension. The contract reportedly includes an option for a seventh year that would keep Zimmerman in Washington through 2020, if exercised. There are several angles for potential analysis, centering around both the historical place of the contract as well as Zimmerman’s own performance.
Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman

Angle No. 1: The Contract

Zimmerman’s agreement with the Nationals immediately became the second-largest contract issued in franchise history, falling short only of the free-agent commitment the team made to outfielder Jayson Werth last offseason. When one considers the two years and $26 million that is remaining on his current contract, the Nationals owe Zimmerman $126 million through 2019. With the agreement, Zimmerman becomes one of just six players to be locked up through at least 2019, joining Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp.

The average annual value of the contract works out to $16.7 million, the second-most of any third baseman, behind only Alex Rodriguez, inching past the $16 million average of Adrian Beltre’s recent deal with the Texas Rangers. It is also the third-most lucrative extension signed by a player from the 2005 MLB draft class, behind only Tulowitzki and Braun.

All told, the Nationals have now committed $126 million to Zimmerman starting in 2012. That is the 10th-most money owed to any player in baseball by any team starting this upcoming season.

Angle No. 2: The Performance

Six full seasons into his MLB career, Zimmerman has produced several elite seasons, while also having several seasons marred by injury. There is little question that when he is healthy, he is capable of producing borderline MVP-caliber seasons.

Since the start of the 2006 season -- Zimmerman’s first full year in the majors -- he ranks 11th among all position players in Wins Above Replacement, ahead of such notable large-contract recipients as Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Reyes. He ranks third among third basemen in WAR, behind Rodriguez and David Wright. Much of that value is derived from his defense – according to Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved, Zimmerman ranks third among all position players since 2007 with 73 runs saved and has finished in the top three among third basemen in the category in four of the last five seasons.

He has also produced some of the greatest seasons in Nationals/Expos franchise history. His 2009 and 2010 seasons rank second and fifth, respectively, in franchise history, with his 2009 mark of 7.3 WAR ranking behind only Vladimir Guerrero's 2002 season (7.6) and tied with Tim Raines in 1985 and Gary Carter in 1984.

But while Zimmerman has displayed the ability to be an impact player at times, he’s struggled to do so consistently. 2011 was the second season in the last four that was noticeably impacted by injuries, as Zimmerman played in only 101 games. The injury issues may have had an impact on his performance; between 2009-10, he produced an average line of .299 BA, .893 OPS, 29 home runs and 96 RBI. In 2011, his OPS dropped nearly 100 points to .798, while he hit just 12 home runs. Specifically, Zimmerman has experienced a decline in his power output since 2009, with a corresponding increase in the rate at which he’s hitting balls on the ground.

Presumably, Zimmerman has provided the Nationals with everything they expected when they made him the fourth overall pick in the 2005 MLB draft, as he ranks first in the entire draft class in Wins Above Replacement to this point, ahead of the likes of Tulowitzki, Braun and Justin Upton. But the value of the extension will be based on Zimmerman’s ability to stay on the field and reverse the downward trend in his power output.

It also raises the question of what the Nationals plan to do with third basemen Anthony Rendon, the sixth overall pick from the 2011 draft, to whom Washington gave the ninth-highest major league contract in draft history. But that is an issue for another day. For now, the Nationals locked up the franchise’s best player through 2019 and did so at a total cost of less than they paid Jayson Werth last offseason.
Ryan Braun
Braun
After going from 1983 to 2007 without a single postseason appearance, the Milwaukee Brewers once again played into October in 2011 for the second time in four seasons. It was that team success that helped to propel Ryan Braun to his first National League MVP award.

Braun becomes just the third Brewers player to capture the MVP, joining Robin Yount in 1989 and 1982 and Rollie Fingers in 1981. It comes in a season where he became the first player in franchise history to post a .330 batting average along with 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Further adding to the accolades, he became the first Brewers player since Tommy Harper in 1970 to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season.

While the final points total revealed just how close Braun and his primary competition for the award, Matt Kemp, were in 2011, Braun dominated the first-place votes, receiving 20 out of 32.

Kemp received 10, with Braun's teammate Prince Fielder and Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks each picking up a single first-place vote.

The tale of Braun's MVP cannot be fully told without discussing what ultimately cost Kemp the recognition -- team success. A look at both traditional and advanced statistics suggest that, in terms of performance, Kemp contributed the superior 2011 season.

For the traditionalists, Kemp exceeded Braun in on-base percentage, home runs, RBI and stolen bases. For those who prefer advanced metrics, Kemp led the National League in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) while Braun ranked third, and Kemp ranked third in Win Probability Added (WPA) with Braun fourth.

The difference, of course, was that the Brewers and Braun won the NL Central while Kemp and the Dodgers languished out of contention for much of the year before a late-season surge pushed them above .500.

Ultimately, a Kemp win would have been historically unprecedented, entirely because of the lack of success the Los Angeles Dodgers had this season. Much as Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista saw support erode when their teams missed the postseason, Kemp likely suffered from much the same fate.

Had the voters selected him, the Dodgers' win percentage this season would have been the worst of all-time for a team that had both the Cy Young and MVP in the same season.

Only one team in MLB history has had the MVP and Cy Young awards won by different players in the same season and not made the postseason -- the 1962 Dodgers with Maury Wills and Don Drysdale. Those are steep odds that Kemp was facing and, ultimately, that lack of team success cost him the 2011 MVP.
The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals try to take control of the NLCS Friday in St. Louis with the series tied at two apiece. Four previous times the Cardinals have been tied 2-2 in the NLCS (1985, 1987, 2004, 2006). All four times they won the series and advanced to the World Series. The Brewers have only been in one previous best-of-seven series that was tied at two games, the 1982 World Series, which they lost in seven games to the Cardinals despite winning Game 5.

On the Mound
This is a rematch of the starting pitchers for Game 1 of this series – Zack Greinke and Jaime Garcia.

Greinke is making his third career postseason start. In the Game 1 start of this series, he went six innings while allowing six earned runs, but still earned the win. In fact, Greinke probably wishes this start was at home since he’s 12-0 in Miller Park this season (regular and postseason combined).

Greinke is 5-3 with a 4.41 ERA in eight career starts against the Cardinals (including postseason).

Garcia is also making his third career postseason start. He enters 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA, which includes allowing six earned runs in four innings in Game 1 against Milwaukee.

Garcia - who’s 3-3 with a 3.64 ERA in eight career starts against the Brewers - has struggled after a promising start to the season. Garcia began the year 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his first 10 starts, but since then, he’s only 8-9 with a 4.62 ERA.

Players to Watch
Albert Pujols is 8-for-15 (.533) with six RBI in this series and David Freese is 8-for-16 (.500) with six runs batted in. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the first pair of teammates in major-league history to each bat at least .500 with six or more RBIs through their team's first four games of a postseason series.

Ryan Braun
Braun
Can the Cardinals slow down Ryan Braun? He has nine RBI this postseason. Only Cecil Cooper had more in a single postseason for the Brewers, with 10 in 1982. Braun also has reached base safely in the first inning in each of his last eight postseason games. That's the longest streak in MLB history, surpassing the mark he shared with Gary Sheffield for the 1997 Marlins. With 21 hits in his first 50 postseason at-bats, he is the first player since Mike Stanley (1995-1999) to accomplish that feat. Six other players did it prior to Stanley.

Stat of the Game
This is the third best-of-seven postseason series of Tony La Russa's managerial career that was tied 2-2 through four games. According to Elias, his team won each of the previous two such series in seven games: the 2004 NLCS against the Houston Astros and the 2006 NLCS vs. the New York Mets.
The Milwaukee Brewers evened the National League Championship Series at two games apiece, beating the Cardinals 4-2 on Thursday in St. Louis for their first postseason road win since Game 1 of the 1982 World Series, which was a 10-0 victory at the old Busch Stadium.

The Brew Crew snapped an eight-game postseason road losing streak, which was tied for the second longest all time. Only the Senators/Twins franchise, which lost 12 road games in a row during postseason play from 1925 to 1987, had a longer streak.

Randy Wolf pitched seven solid innings for his first career postseason win, allowing two runs on six hits. The win was a long time coming for Wolf, who entered the game with 342 career regular-season starts, the most among active pitchers with no postseason victories.

Wolf had struggled in his previous postseason start, a seven-run, three-inning loss in Game 4 of the NL Divsion Series.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the sixth pitcher in the divisional era (since 1969) to allow that many runs in that few innings pitched and then win his next postseason start.

Wolf also helped out at the plate, hitting a double in the third inning, which was the first extra-base hit ever by a Brewers pitcher in the postseason.

Ryan Braun once again got the Brewers' offense started early, with a first-inning single. Braun now has reached base safely in the first inning in a major league-record eight straight postseason games.

Ryan Braun
Braun
Braun, who finished 2-for-5 with an RBI, is rapidly climbing the Brewers' career postseason ranks. His 11 RBIs are two shy of Cecil Cooper for the most all time, while his 21 hits are one shy of the franchise record shared by Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.

The Cardinals aren’t happy to be tied with the Brewers, but there is some reason for optimism: This is the fifth time the team has been tied 2-2 in an NLCS (1985, 1987, 2004, 2006). In each of the previous four instances, the Cardinals won the series and advanced to the Fall Classic.

This is the second time the Cardinals and Brewers have met in the postseason, and the series is shaping up to be very similar to their previous meeting.

In the 1982 World Series, the Brewers won Game 1 and Game 4, while the Cardinals took Game 2 and Game 3. The Brewers will hope for a different ending this time, as the Cardinals took Games 6 and 7 to win the title in seven games.

The two teams play one more game in St. Louis, with a critical Game 5 scheduled for Friday night. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, in a best-of-seven series tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner has won 36 of 52 series, including 10 of 13 in the LCS.

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