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2 To Watch: Ryan Braun and Evan Scribner

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Each week during the season, I will profile two players that are interesting either because they are in the midst of a breakout, are performing way above their heads, are re-capturing former glory, or are widely available and useful. This week, it's Ryan Braun and Evan Scribner.

Ryan Braun struggled due to that bad thumb in 2014. Has he bounced back in 2015?
Ryan Braun struggled due to that bad thumb in 2014. Has he bounced back in 2015?
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week 4 of 2 to Watch! To read previous editions of 2 to Watch, check out this link. As usual, we'll start by checking in on last week's players to see how they've done in the past week.

Note: all stats from Fangraphs and current up to 5/5

Shawn Tolleson: 2.2 innings, 13.50 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 25% K%, 8.3% BB%, 6.86 FIP, 3.5 xFIP, 0.429 BABIP

It was not a great week for Tolleson after his implosion against Oakland on Mayday. That was his first sign of being human all year, so I'm not worried. He bounced back with a perfect inning of work for a hold on Cinco de Mayo. His xFIP and BABIP show that he was a little unlucky to allow that many runs this week. I still think he is the best reliever in the Texas bullpen and will eventually ascend to the setup role permanently, just one spot away from that coveted closer role.

Adam Lind: 1 HR, 3 R, 1 RBI, 10.5% BB%, 31.6% K%, .400 BABIP, 0.294/0.368/0.588 (AVG/OBP/SLG)

Lind is continuing to crush the ball. His BABIP this week was obviously high along with his strikeout rate, but everything else is simply a continuation of his great start to the year. He's still hitting for power, even with just one homer this week, and his walk rate is holding strong in double digits. I'm still interested in this guy for a corner infield spot and he might even end up a top 10 first baseman when we are done this year.

On to this week's players worthy of further investigation.

Ryan Braun

You may have heard of this guy before. Not all of the guys I will profile in this column will be deep league, off-the-radar types. Some of them, like Mr. Braun, will be struggling stars that fantasy owners may need to decide what to do with. Other times, it may be a star that is playing at a new level and then the question is, is it sustainable? Back to Braun, he has had a mostly bad year in 2015 after a rough 2014. Let's take a look at his stats:

HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG SB BB% K% BABIP HR/FB%
2014 19 68 81 0.266 0.324 0.453 11 7.10% 19.50% 0.304 13.80%
2015 5 10 13 0.222 0.271 0.389 1 5.20% 22.90% 0.238 16.70%

That's not the Braun we remember before the PED suspension at all. In basically all of 2014 and some of 2013, he dealt with a thumb injury that he had cryogenically treated this offseason. Braun says it's fully healthy now. I will reference that article again because it brings up an interesting note. Let's bring in a quote from the article to illustrate.

"Just trying to get back to being mechanically sound," said Braun, who is hitting .226 overall. "My (batting practice) has been really good every day — as good and as consistent as it's ever been. It's just not translating to the games. It's just a matter, hopefully, of repetition.

"You build muscle memory over time, whether it's good or bad, and I've built up some poor muscle memory. So now it's a matter of continuing to do things properly, getting my mechanics back to a proper place.

"There were just a lot of things I was doing wrong to try and compensate for where I was at physically that built up some bad habits."

So, he is indicating that he needed to tweak some things with his approach and swing to get back to his old ways. He was a healthy scratch from the lineup on both April 26th and 27th, and this article is a direct result of those days off. It seems he was using the off days to work on some things. Let's see if anything really changed.

HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG BB% K% BABIP ISO Games
Before 4/27 1 5 4 0.230 0.277 0.279 4.60% 21.50% 0.283 0.049 17
After 4/27 4 5 9 0.207 0.258 0.621 6.50% 25.80% 0.118 0.414 8

Well, it sure looks like his power came back after that break. His BABIP fell from already a very low value to a ridiculously low one, which killed his average. That ISO change is huge, though. If he could get his BABIP back up even to 0.283 and keep the power gains, he could get his average up to 0.270 or so, where he should be. So, it's only 8 games and we just can't be absolutely sure he has changed something permanently, but there might be something here and the window to buy low on Braun is probably closing fast, if it already hasn't closed.

Let's see if we can see any changes to his approach.

Here's a swing from early April:

braun swing 1

Here's a home run from May 2 off of Jake Arrieta:

Braun swing 2

I'm not even close to a swing expert, so here's my very amateur analysis. The biggest difference I notice is in his balance. In the first .gif, his weight is forward and he is reaching to hit the outside pitch. You can see his front foot steps to the left and not directly in front of his back foot. He leans over the plate after his swing since his momentum took him that way. In the second .gif, he is much more balanced. His front foot steps right in front of his back foot, he isn't leaning one way or another, and his lower body is much more relaxed. I can't tell for sure, but his right arm seems to be a little straighter on the follow-through in the second .gif as well.

These are minor differences between two semi-randomly selected swings, but maybe there is something here. I'm putting these .gifs and the stats out here for you to decide if he has really improved. My opinion? Whether he has made a conscious change to his swing mechanics or not, I believe it is safest to bet on a 31-year-old, now healthy, former MVP performing at a high level and not as a .230 hitter with no power.

The real current Braun is not the 2011 MVP version, but he's not the terrible, injured-thumb 2014 version either. He's somewhere in-between, which is still a top 20 outfielder in my book. I think he could hit 25 bombs, score 80 runs, and get to 90 RBI hitting third in a not-all-terrible Brewers lineup. That's a starting outfielder in all leagues, so act accordingly.

Evan Scribner

The second profile today will be shorter because there's not much to say about him that his stats don't tell. Oh, and he's a reliever for the Oakland Athletics.

IP K% BB% BABIP ERA FIP xFIP
15.1 32.70% 3.60% 0.212 1.17 2.85 2.3

Those are some impressive stats. Throw in three holds and the fact that he has moved up to the 8th inning spot in the bullpen and you've got a stellar reliever. He has never had extended looks in the majors in his career. His largest MLB sample was 35.1 innings in Oakland in 2012. Everything else is in the minors or even smaller samples. He put up walk and strikeout rates similar to his 2015 numbers in the minors, but never in the majors. He's only 29 and is getting his first real chance.

His fastball averages just over 90, so it's not over-powering and he isn't showing a velocity spike this year that might be leading to this breakout. His overall swinging strike rate is on a three-year increase, going from 6.4% to 11.6% to 15.2% this year. Because K%-BB% is the best in-season predictor of future performance and because swinging strike rates correlate very well to future K%, there is no reason to believe that Scribner can't keep something like this up the rest of the year.

This year and last, his first strike % (% of the time he gets a first pitch strike) has been an unworldy 78% (60.5% is average). That is huge because getting ahead of hitters gives him control over the at-bats and limits his walks. The biggest change between this year and all his previous years is the greatly increased use of the cutter. He went from less than 5% cutters to 24%. That cutter is getting elite swinging strikes at 18.3% (average is around 8%), which is also helping his curve play up with its swinging strikes going from 12.5% to 18.3% this year. His four seam fastball is still very good at 9.3% whiffs (league average is about 6%), but now he has two other deadly pitches. With a great three-pitch arsenal like that, he has been making hitters look foolish this year.

He works three different speeds with his pitches. His fastball at around 90-92, his cutter at 84, and his curve 70-74 mph. These are well separated velocities that keep hitters off balance. Just to cram some more .gifs in this post, here's a .gif of his three pitches:

The fastball freezing Marwin Gonzalez:

evan scribner fb

The cutter (sometimes called a slider) striking out Evan Gattis in slow-mo:

evan scribner cutter

And the curve in slow-mo (fouled off by Gonzalez in the same at bat as the fastball):

evan scribner curve

With Sean Doolittle returning from the DL soon, everyone assumes Scribner will be pushed back to the 7th inning, but I'm not so sure. Despite Tyler Clippard's great history of success and shiny 2015 ERA, his peripherals are not good this year, his velocity is down, and his walks are up. I think Scribner could lock down the 8th inning spot when (if?) Doolittle returns to the closer role. Those in holds leagues need to own this guy, yesterday. Get out there and grab him. Oakland hasn't had more than a handful of hold/save opportunities, but they will come with a team that will probably win 80-85 games, so don't read too much into the low counting stats so far. Tschus!