There's a lot of crummy pitching out there in this modern baseball world of ours. You might have noticed that.
Well, even if you haven't, the hitters have surely noticed it. And they're eternally grateful for all that crummy pitching, too, because it's infusing a lot of dollars into their favorite checking accounts. Their numbers wouldn't be the same without it.
Let's give you an example:
In 2009, according to Bill James Online, the Cubs' Aaron Miles -- a fellow who hit a robust .185 for the season -- actually had a higher batting average against pitchers with an ERA over 5.25 than Ichiro Suzuki or Derek Jeter.
This is a true fact. Take a look:
On the other hand, when those three men faced pitchers with an ERA of 3.50 or lower, the numbers looked slightly different:
So you've now learned something about what separates the best hitters on earth from the .185 hitters on earth:
The best hitters (feel free to sing along) hit good pitching. And your .185 hitters? Ehhhh, not so much.
Fortunately for those .185 hitters and their pals, there were 100 pitchers -- yes, 100 -- who had ERAs over 5.25 last season (among guys who worked at least 25 innings). But we don't care whom those pitchers hate to see heading for home plate.
What we cared about, for the purposes of this piece, was uncovering a hitter whom pitchers like Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum hate to see stepping into that box -- aside from the obvious choices (Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, yada yada yada).
And the answer is …
Ryan Braun, ladies and gentlemen.The Proof
How did we conduct this study? We started by working with ESPN Stats & Information whiz Mark Simon to look at how all active hitters have fared in their careers against the following illustrious group of pitchers:
Santana, Halladay, Lincecum, Roy Oswalt, Josh Beckett, Mariano Rivera, Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, John Smoltz, Chris Carpenter, Randy Johnson, Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman.
We tried to pick a cross-section of pitchers who had track records as dominators, who gave us a sample size that included hitters in both leagues and whose ranks included the three most successful closers of the past decade.
Then we took the hitters with the best stats against that list, broke down the numbers further and ran the final candidates by a panel of scouts. In the end, two men separated themselves -- Derrek Lee and Braun.
Lee would have been a fine choice. The Cubs' sweet-swinging first baseman hit .317 last year against pitchers with ERAs of 3.50 or better. He has a .400 lifetime average against Webb, a .600 average against Halladay and a .500 average against Beckett, Rivera and Wagner. And he's been doing it for a long, long time.
-- A scout
But the more we looked, the more overwhelmed we got by the greatness of Ryan Braun.
The Brewers' left fielder just turned 26. He's been in the big leagues since May 2007. But his numbers against great pitchers are amazing. Such as:
.538 (with a .692 slugging pct.) versus Santana
.500 (with a 1.286 slugging pct.) versus Oswalt
.462 (with a .923 slugging pct.) versus Lincecum
Want more? Braun has hit .364 against Smoltz, .667 against Beckett, .400 against Brad Lidge and .455 against Tim Hudson. He has slugged .750 against Johnson, .917 against Cole Hamels, .583 against Matt Cain and 1.250 against Jeff Francis.
Against pitchers with an ERA of 3.50 or better, he hit .292 (with an .830 OPS) last year. He was even better against that group (.302, with a .937 OPS) the year before.
"What makes him great is, he makes adjustments," said one scout. "He really sees the breaking ball, and he really sees the changeup. And there aren't a lot of young hitters like that. You can come back with a quality changeup away, right after you just threw him a good heater at 94-95 [mph], and he'll hit it hard to right field. That's where he's very Pujols-like. There are not a lot of guys who can do that."The Conclusion
If we asked your average baseball fan which hitter the best pitchers in the game would most hate to face, we wonder how many names they'd rip through before they got to Ryan Braun. Heck, we wonder how many would even make Braun the first Brewer they'd pick (as opposed to, say, Prince Fielder).
But ask anyone who has to prepare a game plan against that lineup. They know.
"When I scout, I like to watch how the real premium pitchers pitch a guy -- your real closers or your No. 1 starters," said the same scout quoted above. "And they pitch Ryan Braun like it's a huge out in a World Series game. He's a guy who any pitcher with any sense knows he has to fear."