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Voters go to bat for Braun

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McClatchy-Tribune
November 13, 2007
— Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who keeps an open mind on nearly every topic, has read and heard the “suggestions” that Ryan Braun should be moved from third base to the outfield.

At this point, Melvin is ignoring that unsolicited advice.


“Right now, he’s our third baseman,” Melvin said. “The only way you’d consider moving Ryan is if we had another legitimate, bona fide third baseman.”


Braun had his ups and downs defensively, but his stunning offensive prowess was sufficient to win the 2007 National League rookie of the year award when voting was announced Monday by the Baseball Writers Association of America.


In the closest vote since the current format was instituted in 1980, Braun edged Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, 128 points to 126.


Braun collected 17 of 32 first-place votes cast by two writers in each of the 16 NL cities, 14 for second and one for third. Tulowitzki garnered 15 first-place votes and 17 seconds. Philadelphia pitcher Kyle Kendrick collected the other second-place vote.


Five points are awarded for a first-place vote, three for a second-place vote and one for third. Before 1980, writers voted for only one player.


Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia won the AL rookie of the year award in a landslide over Tampa Bay’s Delmon Young.


Braun is only the second Brewer to win a rookie of the year award from the writers association, and the first in the NL. Shortstop Pat Listach won the AL award in 1992, six years before the Brewers switched leagues.


As cool and collected a rookie as you’ll see, Braun admitted to having trouble sleeping Sunday night, wondering how the vote would turn out.


“I finally got up around 6 a.m. and went for a jog, trying to work off some nervous energy,” Braun said in a conference call with baseball writers.


Braun got the word at 10:30 a.m. at his condo in Santa Monica, Calif. His girlfriend, Andreena, was there, but Braun was told the official announcement wouldn’t come for another half-hour. He called his parents, Joe and Diane, in nearby Granada Hills, then sat on the thrilling news until it was announced.


“I’ve probably already got 50 to 100 phone calls and text messages,” Braun said a couple of hours later. “It’s very exciting.”


As for the closeness of the vote, Braun said, “It’s just incredible. It speaks to what Troy Tulowitzki did, also.


“I knew Troy had a phenomenal year and helped get his team to the post-season. I knew that would factor in (the vote). I figured it would be close. I had no idea if I would win.”


Braun, who turns 24 Saturday, had a historic year in terms of power hitting. His .634 slugging percentage was the highest in major-league history for a rookie, tops in the NL and second among big-leaguers to New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (.645).


But there were concerns that Tulowitzki might overtake Braun if defense was a significant factor in the voting. Tulowitzki led all NL shortstops with a .987 fielding percentage. Braun, a converted shortstop still learning the nuances of third-base play, committed 26 errors in 112 games in the field and finished with an .895 fielding percentage, lowest in the majors at the position in 14 years.


Braun’s defensive tribulations have prompted some to suggest he should be moved to right field, with Corey Hart sliding over to center and former infielder Bill Hall moving from center to third. There is some merit to that line of thinking, but Melvin said that three-way shift was not in the team’s plans this winter.


“To ask Billy to change positions for a third straight year is not something I want to do,” Melvin said. “I think he got a lot better (in center) in the second half. We think Ryan will improve at third, too.”


Melvin noted that there were cries to move Rickie Weeks off second base when he kicked more balls than David Beckham in the early weeks of the 2006 season. But through hard work and dedication, Weeks made dramatic improvement before the end of that year and looked more comfortable at the position last season (13 errors in 118 games).


Braun also has that drive to get better, which is why the Brewers aren’t prepared to give up on him as a third baseman at this early juncture.


“It’s my preference to stay (at third base),” Braun said.


“Everybody has things they need to work on. Defense is at the forefront for me, and is my focus right now. At times, I played well at third. But overall, I didn’t play as well as I’d like to.


“I have the athleticism and work ethic to be a good third baseman. Once I get my footwork down, it will help my throwing as well as my fielding. It’s not an easy transition (from shortstop). But I know I’m going to be a good third baseman.”


There certainly were no questions about Braun’s offense in 2007. Tulowitzki led all NL rookies in hits (177), doubles (33), runs (104), total bases (292) and runs batted in (99) but had the advantage of playing the entire season with Colorado, playing in 155 games.


Braun was not called up from the minors until May 25 and played in only 113 games. Despite that disadvantage, he led all NL rookies with 34 home runs, 66 extra-base hits and his extraordinary slugging percentage, a whopping 155 points higher than Tulowitzki’s (.479).


Though Tulowitzki played in 42 more games, Braun was just behind him with 97 RBI, 286 total bases and 91 runs scored, and the pair tied for first with 48 multi-hit games. With a .324 average, Braun batted 33 points higher than Tulowitzki.


Houston’s Hunter Pence finished third in the voting with 15 third-place votes, followed by Arizona’s Chris Young with 10 thirds.



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