The horrible luck of Ryan Braun

Luck is a part of baseball. It’s also the reason we have sabermetric statistics like Fielding Independent Pitching, Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average and Batting Average on Balls In Play. We have those to try and strip away the luck, or in BABIP’s case, to see how much luck is involved. We need these stats in order to get a better feel of a player’s true performance. Earned Run Average does by no means accomplish this. Same with batting average. (But you already know this, right?) We just can’t use old-school stats and act like they’re perfect. That’s being lazy. Sabermetrics isn’t perfect either, but it’s a lot closer to the right side than the wrong side.

Whether you like it or not, luck can contribute to a player’s great or poor performance. And that brings us to Ryan Braun.

In 2014, Ryan Braun posted career lows in hard- and medium-hit percentages while his soft-hit percentage was the highest it has been since 2011. In layman’s terms, Braun hit the ball “hard”, as categorized by Baseball Info Solutions, with less frequency than ever before. That’s why it’s not really an astonishment when you look at his numbers from that year. They were down across the board, highlighted by his .226 batting average and .299 wOBA in the second half. You can blame it on the performance-enhancing drugs (although you’d be wrong) or you can fault his faulty non-working thumb, but you can’t blame it on bad luck, not when looking at his quality of contact.

But Braun’s back, and so his is power. It’s just like I predicted. He has 10 home runs, an ISO of .241 and 123 wRC+. He’s back to the player baseball fans are accustomed to seeing, yet, despite the incredible spike in numbers, he’s been the victim of some downright horrendous luck in 2015.

Let’s investigate by looking at his quality of contact and his batting average on balls in play.

  • 14th. That’s where Braun ranks out of 175 qualified hitters in hard-hit rate with a percentage of 40%.
  • 133rd. That’s where Braun ranks out of 175 qualified hitters in BABIP with a .268 mark.

The hits just aren’t falling for Milwaukee’s right fielder. He’s crushing the ball, but very few are finding holes or gaps; he has just three extra-base hits (not including HRs). His BABIP is so low, that Johnny Giavotella is laughing at him. The fact you don’t even know who that is says everything.

What’s even more surprising is Braun’s career hard-hit rate and BABIP numbers. In parts of nine major league seasons, Braun has hit the ball hard 36.2% of the time, and owns a .334 batting average on balls in play. Bad luck is essentially kicking Braun’s ass this year.

It’s a good thing the MLB season is 162 games, and it’s a good a little thing called “regression to the mean” exists. In all likelihood, Braun’s BABIP will start rising faster than Harold Reynold’s disapproval ratings. There’s just no way Braun can continue to hit the ball as hard as he is without getting results.

Ryan Braun is hitting well right now. Just imagine how he’ll do when luck decides to stop torturing him.

 

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