As the Milwaukee Brewers breeze into the playoffs, Ryan Braun is competing with the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp for the NL MVP Award. The 28-year-old slugger is batting better than .330, getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and is flirting with a .600 slugging percentage. He swiped his 30th base last night, too, giving him a good chance of joining Kemp in the 30/30 club.
Braun's best offensive season yet has been fueled by better plate patience. In fact, Braun's walk rate has increased every year of his career, from 5.9 percent as a rookie to his current 10.3 percent mark. That's not simply the result of intentional walks, either: Braun is chasing fewer pitches, particularly high-velocity ones.
His chase rate against "hard" pitches -- fastballs, sinkers, cutters and splitters -- has dropped from about 34 percent in 2008 (the first year for which we have data) to 32 percent in 2009, 30 percent in 2010 and 24 percent in 2011. For comparison, the big league average for non-pitchers is slightly above 26 percent.
In past years, Braun offered at lots of hard pitches in on the hands and above the letters. That's not the case this season:
With a better eye against higher-velocity offerings, Braun has improved his performance against hard pitches from an already-impressive .323/.388/.553 line from '08 to '10 to .364/.446/.663 in 2011 (.285/.358/.449 average for non-pitchers).
As if he weren't already terrifying at the plate, Braun has now learned the power of patience. Good luck getting him out.