Ryan Braun is good.
While that is hardly breaking news to hardcore, or even casual, baseball fans, what may surprise most people is just how good Braun is.
The 26-year-old Braun is already historically good. He is all-time great good. With the power stats he's posted in his first three seasons in the majors, his name easily sits next to others like Pujols, Mathews, Kiner, and DiMaggio.
Since joining the Milwaukee Brewers on May 25, 2007, Braun has hit .308 with 103 home runs, 317 RBI, and scored 296 runs in just 422 games. Those are amazing numbers, and they look even better when you remember that he spent the first six weeks of the 2007 season in Triple-A, Nashville.
His raw numbers look great, but his historical significance becomes clearer when you compare them to the names mentioned above. Only those four players and Mark Teixeira have hit more home runs than Braun in their first three full seasons.
He put up his numbers in only 1,863 plate appearances, less than anyone on the list with more home runs than him.
Braun and Prince Fielder have teamed up to form the best hitting duo in the game today. They stack up very well against duos like Mathews and Aaron, Mays and McCovey, and the best tandem in the history of the game, Ruth and Gehrig.
While Fielder is a freakishly productive slugger, Braun is a great all-around hitter. The former first-round pick out of the University of Miami can hit 35 home runs a year, but he can also spray the ball to all fields and leg out extra-base hits with the best in the game.
Of the five players with more home runs than Braun in their first three seasons, only DiMaggio (43) has more triples than Braun's 19, while DiMaggio (111) and Pujols (138) have more doubles than his 104.
Braun won the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award, edging Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki by two votes. Since then, he has won two Silver Slugger Awards and played in each of the previous two All-Star Games.
Many critics felt after Braun's stellar rookie campaign he would suffer a regression due to his lack of plate discipline. He's hardly ever seen a pitch he didn't want to swing at.
However, he has improved his walks total in each of his three seasons while swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone. Although he's struck out at least 100 times in each season, his total dropped from 129 in 2008, to 121 last year despite having 24 more at bats.
Braun's controlled aggression at the plate allowed him to collect 203 hits last year, leading the National League. He became the fourth Brewers' player to amass 200 hits, joining Cecil Cooper, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.
Brewer fans may be worried about the possible departure of Fielder via free agency, but no such worries are needed for Braun. He's signed with the team through the 2015 season, thanks to the eight-year, $45 million deal he signed in May 2008.
Even when the big money part of the contract kicks in from 2013–15, the Brewers won't owe Braun more than $12 million for any one season. Compared to some contracts that have been given out in recent years, that's like paying for a VW Bug, but driving a Ferrari off the lot.
Not only has Braun turned himself into one of the best players in the game, but he has become a budding businessman as well. He endorses several products, produces his own clothing line called Remetee (a brand of clothing associated with the MMA-themed brand Affliction), and will be opening several restaurants throughout Wisconsin over the next several months.
When trying to predict what to expect from Braun in 2010, one should keep in mind two names: DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. After a tremendous first three years of his career, DiMaggio won his first MVP award in his fourth season, producing the best statistical year of his Hall of Fame career.
Those who contend that Braun won't win an MVP award while hitting in front of Fielder, need only to look at Ruth's 1927 season. Although Gehrig won the MVP, producing his best statistical season, Ruth broke the Major League record for home runs by hitting 60. In other words, just because Fielder will put up great offensive numbers, Braun will have plenty of opportunities to put up his own great numbers.
Putting those kind of expectations on a player can be asking for trouble, but the California native isn't affected by high expectations...or much at all, really.
The confidence and belief Braun has in himself may be his greatest asset. While those not familiar with him will take his actions as cocky or arrogant, he sees it as nothing more than being comfortable in his own skin. It's his confidence that allows him to shine in pressure situations and produce such historically mind-numbing numbers.
How long can Braun continue to put up such great numbers?
The answer to that might be pegged to the length of Fielder's stay in Milwaukee. Braun's production may decline if the first baseman leaves, or the departure of his brash brother could serve as a launching pad for Braun to show his true greatness by putting up superior numbers on his own.
Milwaukee has seen its fair share of great baseball players, whether it be Aaron, Mathews, Yount, Molitor, or Fielder. If Braun has anything to say about it, not only will he be mentioned with those names, he'll be the name people bring up first.
It may be hard for baseball fans outside of Milwaukee to hear Ryan Braun compared to a legend of the game like Joe DiMaggio, but the numbers simply don't lie. An all-around game both on and off the field make the comparisons almost undeniable.
Time will be the final judge on whether the two will be seen as equals long-term in the history of the game. But after their first three seasons, Braun is every bit the player that The Yankee Clipper was.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here .