Grading the Brewers: Outfielders

Ryan Braun was enjoying an MVP-type season until an injury slowed him down the final six weeks, while Gabe Kapler came out of retirement to give the Brewers a quality No. 4 outfielder. Read how these guys graded out at report card time.

The Brewers received pretty much what they expected from their outfield corps, although Corey Hart's second-half collapse and the emergence of Gabe Kapler were no doubt surprises.

As was the way that Ryan Braun took to left field after playing third base as a rookie. However, he continued to produce runs and was on course to be an MVP front-runner until the intercostal rib injury took away much of the explosion from his swing for the final six weeks, although he performed in the clutch with two of the franchise's biggest homers in the final week to help secure the wild-card berth.

Mike Cameron gave the team defense, power and lots of strikeouts, while Hart displayed an All-Star first half followed by a confounding finish.

And then there was Kapler, who couldn't have performed any better until his season ended on a throw to the plate late in the series finale against Cincinnati, which knocked him out of the season-ending showdown against Chicago and the postseason.

It's report card time, and here are the grades:

Left fielder Ryan Braun

The Southern California kid turned in another wonderful season, although he knows that he hasn't reached the ceiling yet, and that's encouraging news for the team and its fans.

Braun played in 151 games and swatted away the sophomore jinx like he does pitchers' mistakes, although he struggled early and late with most of his teammates.

Ryan Braun

He led the team with 37 homers, 106 RBIs, 338 total bases, 92 runs, 174 hits, .553 slugging percentage and .285 average (among regulars). Braun was second to Hart with 39 doubles and tied Rickie Weeks in triples with seven.

The confident Braun didn't terrorize lefties like he did in his rookie campaign, finishing at .287 while hitting righties at a .284 clip. He liked Miller Park, batting .305 there versus .266 on the road. He hit .286 before the All-Star break and .282 after.

Braun showed more patience, but not near enough as he struck out 129 times, thus proving that he can't hit every pitch. That reduced his on-base percentage from .370 to .335 and his average from .324 to .285. Hopefully that plate discipline will come for him and many of his mates.

He finished at .276 in April with three homers and 17 RBIs, but he didn't slug a long ball after the 9th. Braun got back into the power binge in May, clubbing 11 with 22 RBIs and a .322 average. His power barrage included back-to-back two-homer games as the Brewers started to dominate the Cardinals. Obviously his new contract was to his liking.

He slipped to .248 in June despite six more HRs and 18 RBIs, but he helped carry the team in July with nine dingers while knocking in 23 runs, including five in a game at San Francisco. Braun batted .289 in August despite missing a week or so worth of games because of the injury to his rib area, something that bothered his swing and performance the rest of the way, including a .208 mark in September.

However, he crunched two his three long balls and collected six of his 11 RBIs for the month with game-winning homers against the Pirates (grand slam) and then the Cubs (two-run shot) that in the regular-season finale that pushed the Brewers into the postseason.

He finished 5 for 16 in the NLDS (.313) with two RBIs.

Maybe just as impressive was his defense, where he accepted the switch from third base and exceeded nearly everybody's expectations. Braun did not commit and error and contributed nine outfield assists. He made some great running, sliding catches, but he appeared to give up on a few drives into the gap and will learn with more experience when to dive for balls and when to let them fall, even it means giving up a hit or run and avoiding even further damage.

Final grade: A-

Center fielder Mike Cameron

No player exemplified the team's all-or-nothing personality more than Cameron, who despite missing the first 25 games of the season because of a suspension belted 25 homers and knocked in 70 runs but struck out a team-high 142 times in 444 at-bats, which gave him a .243 average.

He did contribute 54 walks for a .331 OBP and 17 steals in 22 attempts. Cameron finished at .282 against left-handers and .231 versus righties and batted better on the road than at home (.258 to .224).

He started slowly with a .212 average in May and .203 showing in June, but he bounced back in July (.250) and August (.360), belting nine homers and bringing in 22 in the latter month. However, he plummeted to .176 with 34 whiffs in 91 at-bats in September.

He struck out multiple times in a game 41 times, including 13 occasions of three or more.

Cameron ended up 2 for 13 (.154) in the NLDS but scored three runs and coaxed three walks for a .353 OBP.

But the team knew what they were getting, power and quality defense that allowed Hart to remain in right and Braun to move from the infield. Cameron made numerous fantastic catches, but could/should have caught a few more in my book, but three Gold Gloves sometimes skews the perspective. He was credited with one error and three assists.

Everyone boasted about Cameron's leadership and positive clubhouse presence, but his offensive peaks and valleys are why he was playing for his sixth team.

Final grade: C-

Corey Hart

This kid from Kentucky was arguably the team's most clutch performer during much of the season, but when the switch went off, it stayed off and Hart never found the touch.

He batted .289 before the All-Star break, clubbing 15 of his 20 homers and knocking in 58 of his 91 runs as he won the Final Vote competition to make the National League roster at Yankee Stadium.

If not for his .299 showing in August, his numbers would have been much worse than his .239 after the break, which gave him a final average of .268. Hart hit .173 in September and went 3 for 13 (.231) in the playoffs with no extra-base hits or RBIs.

Hart batted .295 in April and .306 in May and walloped eight homers and knocked in 24 despite hitting .265 in June. He also batted .265 in July but rebounded in August with 20 RBIs and entered the final month at .286.

But that's when the bottom fell out, and Hart was unable to turn the tide. He struck out 21 times and walked only three times, a microcosm of his campaign: Hart finished with a 109-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which left him with a .300 OBP, second-lowest to Bill Hall.

He finished at .281 vs. lefties and .263 versus right-handers, but he too was better on the road (.282) than at Miller Park (.253). However, he led the team in doubles with 45 and in stolen bases with 23, making him the first Brewer to ever register back-to-back 20/20 seasons.

Defensively, he committed five errors for a .984 fielding percentage but made several outstanding catches—including the one against Jayson Werth in the NLDS that was ruled a triple. But he, like Braun, can get better.

Final grade: C-

Gabe Kapler

Gabe Kapler

This veteran, who managed in Boston's minor league system during 2007, came back and was the feel-good story of the season.

Kapler filled in during Cameron's absence and performed so well in that role and as a pinch-hitter that he earned more playing time. That is until he injured his shoulder against Cincinnati in the final home stand and was forced to sit out the postseason.

He finished at .301 in 229 at-bats, hitting eight homers and knocking in 38. He accumulated a .340 OBP and a .498 slugging percentage.

Among his many accomplishments, Kapler had a flair for the dramatic, including a walk-off single in an early-season win against St. Louis, a walk-off homer off the left-field foul pole to defeat the Nationals in August and his fantastic catch into the left-field stands at Los Angeles less than a week later while filling in for the injured Braun.

Kapler batted .354 vs. lefties and .272 against righties.

He also committed only one error for a .990 fielding percentage and brought an aggressive style to the ball park and a positive attitude to the dugout.

Final grade: A-

Tony Gwynn

He made the team out of camp with Cameron unavailable and went 4 for 7 with an RBI as the Brewers took two of three from the Cubs at Wrigley to open the season. However, things went downhill from there.

Kapler's big start took playing time away and Gwynn was hitting .200 when Cameron was reinstated. Gwynn was sent to Nashville, where he didn't exactly light it up and remained until rosters expanded Sept. 1. He went 1 for 7 mostly as a pinch hitter down the stretch.

His defensive skills warrant consideration, but the Brewers are reluctant to give him a full-time job because of his lack of pop.

Final grade: D


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