November 9, 2010
Stephen Russell Braun | 1B/2B/SS/3B/LF | 1971-1976 | Career Stats
Taken in the 10th round of the 1966 draft out of a New Jersey high school, Steve Braun came up with the 1971 team that was 74-86 after the Twins won back-to-back division titles in 1969 and 1970. The poor record wasn't Braun's fault, as he played all over the infield while batting .254/.350/.344 in 128 games. That may not look like great production, even from a 23-year-old rookie, but the American League as a whole hit a measly .247/.317/.364 in 1971.
Braun's entire time with the Twins actually came in a very low-scoring era, which is part of the reason why he's one of the more underrated players in team history. His raw numbers show a guy who got on base very well (.376 on-base percentage), but had almost zero power (.381 slugging percentage). However, if you adjust Braun's performance to account for the pitcher-friendly era that he played in he suddenly looks like an offensive force.
Looking at adjusted OPS+ while in Minnesota, his 116 mark ranks ahead of Jason Kubel (111) and Michael Cuddyer (109) among current Twins, plus past hitters like Corey Koskie (115), Chuck Knoblauch (114), Tom Brunansky (109), Matt Lawton (107), David Ortiz (107), Torii Hunter (104), and Roy Smalley (104). Those are some of the best hitters in team history and Braun was arguably more effective offensively with the Twins than all of them.
While with the Twins his .376 OBP was 15 percent above the AL average of .328 and his .381 slugging percentage was actually slightly above average as well. Throughout the five decades of Twins history only seven players have more plate appearances and a higher adjusted OPS+ than Braun. Interestingly, if you adjust their respective raw numbers with the Twins to today's offensive levels, Braun and Knoblauch look nearly identical:
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Braun .297 .382 .435 .817 116 Knoblauch .304 .378 .423 .801 114
Knoblauch played longer with the Twins and was a more valuable all-around player, but purely in terms of hitting Braun was a slower, left-handed version of Knoblauch. And while he wasn't nearly as strong as Knoblauch defensively, Braun's ability to play multiple positions gave him value. During six seasons with the Twins he saw significant action at second base, third base, shortstop, and left field, and also got a little time at first base and right field.
If you don't buy a comparison to Knoblauch think of Braun instead as the type of player Denny Hocking could have been if he'd hit like Lawton rather than like Lawton's sister. Braun was remarkably consistent after his solid rookie season, hitting above .280 while getting on base at least 36 percent of the time in each of the next five years. His best season came in 1975, when Braun batted .302/.389/.428 for the eighth-best OBP in the league and a 130 OPS+
Adjusting his 1975 stats to today's environment spits out something like .315/.390/.480, which is pretty close to Joe Mauer's career .327/.407/.481 mark. Braun served as the Twins' primary third baseman in 1971, 1972, and 1973, and was their main left fielder in 1974 and 1975. He was the team's regular designated hitter in 1976 and also saw time at third base and left field while batting .288/.384/.353 to once again rank among the AL leaders in on-base percentage.
In November of 1976 the upstart Seattle Mariners plucked Braun off the Twins' roster in the expansion draft, ending his time in Minnesota after six productive years. After a disappointing stint with the Mariners he was traded to the Royals in June of 1978 for Jim Colborn, who had won 18 games with a 3.62 ERA in 1977. That move signaled the end of Braun's days as an everyday player and was the beginning of his time as one of Whitey Herzog's bench bats.
Herzog was Kansas City's manager when Braun arrived at midseason, and took a liking to him when he hit .263/.380/.350 in 64 games and tied a Royals record by reaching base 11 straight times. Braun gave Herzog another productive season as a part-time player in 1979, and when Herzog moved on to the Cardinals he brought Braun in as a free agent. Braun served as a super-sub and pinch-hitter for the next five years, hitting .258/.382/.348 while rarely starting.
He was a key contributor on two pennant winners, including the 1982 champs, but retired two years before the Cardinals met up with the Twins in the 1987 World Series. Braun has stayed in baseball after retiring, serving as a minor-league hitting coach with the Cardinals, Yankees, and Red Sox. He currently sells "hitting clinics, summer camps, and baseball trips" through via SteveBraunBaseball.com, which offers to help you "train like a pro with a pro!"
Braun is perhaps the least-known player in this series and his inclusion may raise eyebrows, but he absolutely belongs. Six seasons and 2,800 plate appearances of outstanding top-of-the-order hitting, plus versatile defense, made him an impact player even if it wasn't apparent to everyone at the time. Had he played today, rather than 30 years ago, Braun's power would appear a lot more acceptable and his ability to get on base would be properly appreciated.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS On-Base Percentage .376 6th Adjusted OPS+ 116 14th Walks 356 17th Batting Average .284 18th Times On Base 1059 25th