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Thumbs up on Braun
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Besides Milwaukee Brewers' fans who have to root for him because he's still their best player and signed into the next decade, Ryan Braun isn't going to have a lot of people in his corner this season.

It appears you can throw fantasy owners onto the pro-Braun side, however.

As far as wild cards go, there isn't a bigger one in fantasy baseball this season than Braun, but based on his average draft position (ADP), fantasy owners either think he doesn't need chemical enhancement to crush baseballs or that Braun is to cheating what Steve Jobs was to the electronics industry.

In both yahoo.com and cbssports.com fantasy baseball leagues, Braun carries an ADP of 9.0, which is extremely high for a player with as many question marks as he has.

Aside from the huge PED questions, and believe me those are massive, Braun has to prove that his pre-suspension decline was solely a result of a right thumb injury and nothing more.

Braun had the highest ground-ball rate of his career in 2013 at 51.8 percent, up from 43.6 percent in 2012. You've probably noticed that in the history of the game of baseball, zero ground balls have left the ballpark. He also had his lowest HR/FB rate in three years even though he had a career-low infield fly-ball rate.

If you extrapolate Braun's 2013 stats over 162 games, they come to 24 homers, 101 RBI, 80 runs, 11 steals and .298/.372/.498 splits, underwhelming for a player who averaged 34 homers, 107 RBI, 102 runs, 21 steals and .313/.374/.568 splits his first six seasons in the majors.

But there's strong evidence that the thumb injury was indeed the cause of those muted numbers.

Braun is believed to have developed the issue around May 13, based on his May 27 comments that he had been, "... basically swinging with one hand for two weeks."

Going into that date, Braun had a .306 average, eight homers, 26 RBI, 20 runs and a .974 OPS in 32 games and was on pace for 41 homers, 132 RBI and 102 runs in a full season.

Braun sat out from June 9 to July 9 with the injury before accepting his 65- game suspension on July 23. In his final 29 games of the season, he launched just one round-tripper.

The thumb excuse is easy to get behind, because hitting a baseball is hard enough with two hands.

What we'll never know for sure with Braun, and all PED users suspected or proven for that matter, is when he started using drugs, what numbers he actually put up clean and what his enhanced stats would have been without illegal assistance.

If we believe the allegations of Ralph Sassion, Braun's former friend who sued the outfielder for defamation last July, Braun was doping as far back as college.

Even if that's true, I'm going to assume Braun still has a good deal of baseball talent. Performance-enhancing drugs have a limit to how much they actually enhance. A player without major-league talent doesn't suddenly become a 40-homer MVP just by injecting.

Still, fantasy owners need to prepare for some decline from his peak numbers just to be safe, and taking him in the top 10 is not exercising the proper caution.

If Braun lasts until the mid-second or third round in your draft, however, the damage he did before the thumb injury last season gives you the thumbs up to take him.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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