Popular sentiment at the beginning of the baseball season was that Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun would surely see a drop-off in productivity from his Most Valuable Player numbers of a year ago. His detractors insisted that even though Braun was cleared of charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs, he was let off due to a technicality when his sample was mishandled and would undergo increased scrutiny. At least, that's the logic employed by fans of other teams who lustily boo him at Brewers road games.
Even the most diehard Brewers fans thought the charismatic slugger would suffer from increased pressure to prove himself and, perhaps more importantly, from the absence of Prince Fielder from the lineup. Conventional baseball wisdom held that opposing teams would no longer have to pitch to the only threatening bat in the Milwaukee lineup, and Braun would draw more walks than pitches that he could drive into the Miller Park seats.
So much for popular sentiment and conventional wisdom. At this point last year, Braun had drawn 37 walks compared to 26 so far this year. He was hitting .310 a year ago compared to .314 today and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage, an indication of batting average plus power, is up to 1.003 from .952. His 19 homers are tied for tops in the National League and he's even striking out less, with 48 punch-outs today vs. 53 last year.
Meanwhile, Fielder has put together an impressive .315 average while experiencing his typical early season home run drought, with only ten in Detroit. If Fielder's absence from Milwaukee's lineup means opposing pitchers are pitching around Braun, you have to wonder how the Brewers would be doing if he was still with Milwaukee.