It's the start of the real new year and an end to the darkest week in all of sports. Thank God I can stop watching NBA basketball...pitchers and catchers are here!
Ok, enough glee. Time to ponder the latest Rob Neyer column. (If you've been in a cave like tracker, you might not know that RN is now over at something called SBNation). Rob is looking at players of the coming decade by position. Today it's left field. Personally I think Braun is a slam dunk top three because 1. the position is pretty soft right now 2. Braun has a fantastic bat 3. left field is not hard, it's just not
Neyer thinks otherwise, discounting his bat completely (at least in terms of off-setting his defense):
Now I agree that Braun's negatives diminish his value. That's why they are negatives. But do they do so at such a drastic rate that he is unplayable in the field? Is he destined to get worse and worse as time goes on as Rob claims?
I think the clear answer to the second question is no. The reason your average player peaks defensively in their 20's is because they have been playing the position their entire lives and their natural athleticism is at a peak, boosting that experience. Braun has been in left for three years, giving him roughly an 18 year disadvantage to the "average defensive peak." He showed signs of improvement from 2009 to 2010, if you put much stock in fg's fielding metric. I don't think he will ever be a league average fielder, and I would love for him to slot into 1B (if only because good left fielders are cheaper) but claiming he is definitely, without a doubt, no chance otherwise going to get worse and worse seems kind of dumb.
To the first point...really? Braun has been able to register 4+ WAR seasons in each of his three in left field. His "most valuable" season, 2009 WAR 4.9, was also his worst defensively. Yes his defense hurts him significantly, but so much so that he is nearly unplayable? Sorry, but give me a break.
I would personally put Braun behind the two he ends up with, but I certainly wouldn't remove him from the discussion altogether.