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Guest column: Will Ryan Braun be best Jewish slugger of all-time?

Posted on: November 6th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

Editor’s note: The awards for MVP will be announced on Nov. 15. Ryan Braun won the honor last year, followed by speculation about performance enhancing drug usage (which we will not rehash here now).

One would have to assume that Braun played the 2012 season — another outstanding effort — totally clean. So what are the chances he could win a second consecutive trophy? Brad Spivack offers this assessment, which is adapted from his recent posting to the Jewish Sports Collectors yahoo group.

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Baseball season over; it is time to revisit the 2012 pre-season Ryan Braun theme.

Entering 2012 (Braun’s sixth MLB season), he was facing myriad adverse factors and the upcoming season would divulge quite a lot about how Jewish sports fans might eventually view his career. Why is 2012, Year Six important? Because Braun’s first five seasons’ stats in the majors bear a striking resemblance to those of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. And for the last 65 years Greenberg has been considered the greatest Jewish slugger of all-time — by a landslide. Braun is the first real contender for the title. As Braun is hitting his prime (age 28), if his next five seasons duplicate his first five, he is clearly on a Hall of Fame course. This despite the fact that like many college graduates, his MLB career didn’t begin until age 23 (Greenberg began at 22). Further, and of more conversational importance: is Braun on his way to becoming the greatest Jewish slugger of all time? 2012 could have eliminated him from contention. It did not.

2012 was looking like Braun’s gut check year. A lot was going against him that could bode for a career-worst year offensively. There was no telling how being wrongfully accused, having to plead to overturn his case, and a pending 50-game suspension for a PED conviction would affect him. He was vilified several times between the 2011 World Series and opening day 2012; one individual from MLB’s baseball’s front office even publicly took part. How much would these things matter to Braun? His constitutional makeup and emotional maturity would be tested. He had personal hurdles to face and more.

Back in Milwaukee, a significant roster change might have negatively affected him too. In 2012, he stood likely to lose a ton of protection and power in the cleanup spot behind him as Milwaukee replaced Prince Fielder with Aramis Ramirez. Batting ahead of Fielder, it could easily be argued, Braun had enjoyed as cushy a spot as any #3 hitter in baseball from 2006-2011. How much of Braun’s scintillating 40 doubles/35 HRs/.313 average over his first five years were self-generated and how much of that was a benefit of hitting directly ahead of Fielder? 2012 would surely answer that.

With mental and emotional challenges ahead as well as a lineup downgrade, the question became how much of this would keep Braun down? It made sense to prepare for the softest of Braun’s six statistical seasons. And that if no drop-off occurred, it would beg for a serious category by category comparison to Greenberg, over each player’s first six seasons. 2012 was to show us the real Ryan Braun.

Here are the important Greenberg-Braun comparisons for their first six seasons: They were remarkably similar in doubles, triples, home runs, batting average, and total bases (they even hit into a near identical number  of double plays). It’s a virtual tie when taking those important categories together. The main advantage Greenberg held over Braun is a sizeable RBI lead (837 to 643). Note that Greenberg batted cleanup while Braun batted third. Not only did Greenberg hit cleanup, he got to drive in a couple of Cooperstown HOFers (Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane), an Indiana state HOFer who hit .337 (Pete Fox), and Gee Walker (.335), who hit .300+ in five of his first seven seasons. Greenberg enjoyed table setters extraordinaire to drive in.

Braun has batted third behind Corey Hart, Nyger Morgan, Norichita Aoki, and Rickie Weeks. There is not even a comparison between the caliber of player Greenberg hit behind and what Braun was given.

In addition, Greenberg played following  the ‘dead ball’ era. A baseball historian I know who lives in Quebec likened Greenberg’s slugging era to the numbers put up in the 1990’s when rampant steroids use (McGwire, Bonds, Caminiti, Palmeiro, Sheffield, Canseco, Vauighn, Justice) inflated offensive numbers.

In other categories, Greenberg showed far superior plate discipline over Braun (equal number of walks-per-strikeouts vs Braun’s one BB per two Ks). Lastly, Braun smoked Greenberg on the basepaths. To summarize, they were very similar in batting average and power. Braun held a decided advantage in speed and contact. Greenberg had far better plate patience. Taken as a whole, to me they weigh very evenly against each other.

After six seasons these two standout sluggers are running neck and neck. Greenberg’s career BA was .313. After six seasons, Braun’s BA is .313. Barring injury, Braun will surpass Greenberg in every major offensive category including At bats, hits, doubles, home runs, and  RBIs. If 2012 didn’t break him, or even force him to miss a beat, by career end I believe Braun is poised to replace Greenberg as “The Greatest Jewish Slugger'” of all-time.

 

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