January 23rd, 2012
It’s been a rather unpleasant offseason for Milwaukee Brewers left-fielder and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun, but if recent indications prove true, it may take a turn for the better.
Last month, news broke over Braun’s positive drug test for a banned substance that earned him a mandatory 50-game suspension to start his 2012 campaign. He has since appealed to the league in order to prove his innocence, but many were skeptical, if not doubtful, over whether or not his case had a legitimate shot of being overturned.
Brewers beat-writer Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cited earlier today that former ESPN personality Dan Patrick, host of the Dan Patrick radio show, has unearthed from “somebody in the process” that Braun may in fact be an innocent man and that he may indeed be relieved of his suspension.
According to Haudricourt himself:
Patrick said he was told Sunday, again, by “somebody involved in the process” that the MLB test might be at fault and that Braun could be found innocent. The arbitration panel, with independent arbitrator Shyam Das expected to cast the decisive vote, has 25 days to render a verdict but it could come as soon as later this week.
Braun, who officially accepted his National League Most Valuable Player award on Saturday night in front of the Baseball Writers Association of America in New York City, has denied the allegations against him, told USA Today that the charges filed against him were “BS”.
Last season, Braun, along with first-baseman Prince Fielder, shouldered the offensive load for the Brewers to the tune of 33 home runs, 111 RBI and a league-best .994 OPS. He also fell just decimal points behind former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes for the NL batting title.
If found innocent, it will not only clear Braun’s name from the infamous list of players who have failed MLB’s drug-testing policy, but it will give the retooled Brewers an obvious offensive boost toward repeating as NL Central champions in 2012.
Braun’s official appeal took place last Thursday, according to the New York Daily News, but there is no definitive timetable for when an announcement regarding the matter will take place.
In any other off-season, you’d be labeled insane if you believed any player on the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster beyond Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder would have a legitimate shot at taking home the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Then again, this past offseason has been anything but ordinary.
After one of the most forgetful winters in recent memory (Fielder leaving through free-agency and Braun inheriting a 50-game suspension under MLB‘s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program to start his 2012 campaign) the offensive hierarchy in the Brewers’ lineup has been all but obliterated. This, in turn, will give a number of players an opportunity to make a statement to the franchise and fanbase by leading the team and shoulder the proverbial load to start next season.
But if there’s one player who seems poised to separate himself from the pack, assume the “leader” role of the clubhouse and push for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award with Braun and Fielder likely out of the picture, you need not look farther than Corey Hart.
At 29 years old (he’ll turn 30 in late March), Hart is widely considered to be one of the better outfield talents in the game today, and he is still very much in the prime of his career as far as production would lead you to believe. Granted, he’s no Albert Pujols by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s something to be said about what Hart has accomplished up to this point in his career.
In four true seasons as a starter (excluding an injury-plagued 2009 campaign), he’s averaged a .283 BA, 25 home runs, 84 RBI, and a .508 slugging percentage per season. Keeping in mind the fact that he’s missed (on average)12 percent of each season do to injury, that’s pretty impressive.
Last season, Hart batted .285 with 26 home runs despite missing all of April due to injury. His 18.92 AB/HR (at-bat per home run) ratio was comparable to Braun’s 17.06 AB/HR, believe it or not, and his .510 slugging percentage ranked fourth among all NL right fielders last season.
Yet his impressive offensive production isn’t where Hart’s game ends, like many of the MVP-caliber players that have come and gone through the years. He also has the ability to be crafty on the base-paths and play solid, if not above-average defense.
In 2008, the year Hart was selected to the All-Star team, he notched 23 stolen bases on his way to a 6.2 SPD (speed score) according to fangraphs, topping 2008 AL MVP Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s 5.6 SPD. If not for injury, it’s presumable that Hart would have maintained his success into the seasons following.
Defensively, Hart carries a career .988 fielding percentage and 2.10 range factor. Last season, he committed just two errors on his way to a .992 fielding percentage that ranked fifth among all MLB right-fielders, noticeably better than the likes of Jeff Francoeur and Torii Hunter – two of the most reputable outfield defenders in history.
Seldom do you find a player who excels at every phase of the game quite like Hart (five-tool players aren’t exactly a dime a dozen), and I think that speaks volumes to what he could accomplish in an injury-free season for the Brewers, who even without Braun or Fielder, still have a very capable lineup.
With a healthy start to spring training and the absence of two preeminent sluggers, 2012 may very well turn out to be a breakout, MVP-worthy season for Milwaukee’s 29-year-old right fielder.