Branyan Arrives

When Jack Zduriencik took over as GM of the Seattle Mariners, one of his first decisions was that he was going to sign Russell Branyan to play first base, and that he was going to give him an opportunity to prove that he could be an everyday player. Heading into his age 33 season, Zduriencik was convinced that Branyan could produce in a regular role, and was going to let Branyan prove him wrong.

So far, he looks like a genius. Branyan entered the day hitting .306/.395/.590, and he just hit a Trevor Cahill fastball about 750 feet for his 11th home run of the season. Given a chance to hit against left-handed pitching for the first time, he’s responded by showing a fairly normal platoon split – .312/.407/.634 vs RHPs and .294/.373/.529 against LHPs.

Watching him play on a daily basis, and looking at his career performances, I have to wonder just what kind of career Branyan missed out on for no real reason. Starting in 2000, when he got some real playing time for the first time in his career as a 24-year-old, Branyan has never posted a wOBA below .326. His career wOBA is .350, and his wRAA of 43.0 in 2,487 PA paints the picture of a guy who was worth about 10 runs more than a league average hitter over each full season’s worth of playing time.

He’s not a bad defender. He’s not a slow, plodding runner. He’s a pretty good hitter with ridiculous power. But, here he is, at age 33, getting his fist real shot as a major league regular. The Mariners are the ninth major league team he’s played for, yet none of the first eight saw fit to give him more than a couple hundred trips to the plate per season.

Branyan isn’t this good, but there’s a decent argument to be made that he could have been the early decade’s version of Carlos Pena had someone been willing to give him a chance. I’m glad that he’s finally gotten one and is running with it, but unfortunately, his career legacy will probably be a giant “what if?”




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


48 Responses to “Branyan Arrives”

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  1. Rob says:

    What you are missing is injuries. He has gotten hurt a lot.

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  2. Decatur says:

    Is there any website that lists the Disabled List and day-to-day status for MLB players’ careers (sort of a Cot’s MD)?

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  3. tarheelcoach says:

    He’s a .235 career hitter. Quick – name one 1B who is a consistent starter with that BA? There are none in the big leagues. If a 1B has that average, they lose their job. They may last a few months, maybe even one year, but over 2200 at bats? They lose their job! Branyan is hitting .305 right now. Once his average regresses to his career line, he will be a below average player who deserves his spot on the bench.
    His career average .824 OPS is similar to backup 1B Fernando Tatis, Greg Dobbs, Ty Wigginton, and Rich Aurilia had last year. None of those guys are playing everyday this year, and neither should Branyan.

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    • BIP says:

      That’s quite the epic fail there, sir.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Cherry pick data much? Comparing Branyan’s career OPS to a handful of backups data for last year doesn’t make any sense. Do you understand the concept of sample size. Last year Branyan had a .925 OPS and a .383 wOBA.

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    • McExpos says:

      Last year Jack Cust hit .231 over 600 plate appearances. Dave Kingman had a career .236 batting average over 16 season in the major leagues. Yadda yadda yadda.

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    • Benne says:

      There aren’t enough facepalm pics in the Internet that could adequately describe this post.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Ryan Howard batted .250 last year and he almost won the MVP.

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    • Goose says:

      How do people like this even end up on Fangraphs?

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      • Decatur says:

        Fantasy, I’d imagine – and they stay because there’s no wrath of Mod.

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      • joser says:

        Yeah. I really think there should be an exam — define FIP, what’s an adequate sample size for OPS to be considered reliable, etc — and if you don’t score near 100%, you can’t post a comment. It would be multiple choice, so it could be scored automatically, but with enough questions that it couldn’t be easily brute-forced. Just to keep the random chaff out.

        (And yeah, I probably wouldn’t make the grade the first time around either. At least, not without a bunch of remedial research. That’s the point.)

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      • armandobenitez says:

        even though he’s a UNC fan that isn’t an excuse to jump all over the guy – get off your high horse and ask him what he’s getting at instead of thinking you’re God’s gift to baseball because you can quote Bill James.

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      • John L. says:

        You summed it up perfectly, ‘mando. This site is for everybody, not just the people who can recite the formula for Base Runs by heart.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Of course this site is for everybody… but not evaluating hitters by batting average anymore is *basic* stuff… I mean, you can read that readily on ESPN.com, for crying out loud. Sure, all people can post, but if you’re going to be that uninformed, prepare to be ridiculed.

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      • John L. says:

        Then tell him that. You’re not special because you “know better”.

        It’s funny that some of the people who lament sabermetrics’ lack of wider appeal are the same people who do more than anyone to hurt the cause. Believe me, I know from personal experience how fun it can be to be a dick over the internet without fear of retribution, but if your aim truly is to create a more inclusive society, stop trying to exclude people who only want to share your love of the game.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        It’s one thing to ask why his batting average isn’t a legitimate reason he wasn’t getting the playing time. It’s quite another thing to derisively use it as conclusive evidence that he didn’t deserve said playing time. The first will get an explanation, the second will get ridiculed. I’m sorry if I’m not as benevolent as you’d like me to be, but I have no tolerance for idiocy, especially on a site where I should be able to expect somewhat rational discourse about the value of a player.

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      • John L. says:

        And I have no tolerance for people who try to make others feel bad because I used to be one of them and I hated myself for it. Please don’t think you’re doing anybody any favors by alienating potential followers with your haughtiness.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Well, I’m sorry I won’t be joining you around the campfire singing Kumbaya. His argument was stupid, and it was treated as such. I’m not losing any sleep over it.

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      • John L. says:

        Fair enough, but just know that ganging up on a guy for making an unpopular post detracts far more from the rational discourse that you so covet than the post itself.

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      • armandobenitez says:

        I think the difference between this forum and others is that when i read comments after articles here, I’m actually interested in what people have to say. People add to the conversation instead of taking away from it…even the arguments don’t make me mad haha

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    • LantermanC says:

      Except for the last sentence, this post isn’t THAT bad. A low average and a high strikeout rate is what gets fans mad and yelling for a guy to be benched or a manager to be canned. Maybe it’s not the correct way of looking at how to value a player, but it probably is the reason (besides injury) as to why he wasn’t given more playing time.
      Adam Dunn is a similar type player, but he hit 40 HRs, and that attracts fans.
      Stupid reasoning, but a probably correct assement as to why he hasn’t been given a fair shot in the bigs.

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  4. Eric/OR says:

    A career .824 OPS and .350 wOBA are certainly valuable numbers. Platoon splits and batting average aside, they are good enough numbers to have justified more ABs each season, particularly vs.RH, than the ~200 he’s averaged over his career. Dave’s comments are instructive here.

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  5. Eric/OR says:

    Post-Script: In-Season ZIPS likes him at a .368 wOBA the rest of the way, higher than such filthy-rich luminaries as D.Lee and C.Delgado.

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  6. CFIC says:

    I always wondered why this guy didn’t get more playing time… also, I thought he was playing 3B?

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  7. tom s. says:

    You hit the nail on the head, dave. Well done.

    The existence of branyan and others like him should cut down on the length and money of contracts for good but not great 1B/DH types. The delgado and lee comment above illustrates this well.

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    • RexS says:

      Ehh, Delgado was a great 1B in his prime. and he has been durable. And his option was a take-it-or leave-it deal, so there was little reason to leave it, particularly since the Mets were far from having a Jake Fox type in their system.

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  8. ROC says:

    I’m and M’s fan an from what i have gathered on this guy, hes not bad just has had his mental game screwed with. When the M’s tell him “hey you are the 1B this year, no matter if you suck” That gives him a whole new mentality at the plate, He’s calm cool and collective. And you can see it in his stats. I really do hope they keep him till he retires maybe at DH or something even though !B is kind of deep there. I hope this b/c you know he will love the M’s for giving him his “big break” guys that can play and have a good attitude are people you need to fill your clubhouse with.

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  9. Evan says:

    What if?

    Not unlike Matt Stairs – those both would have been great careers if they’d been given regular jobs in their 20s.

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  10. logan says:

    Many Brewers fans miss 3TO.

    My best guess about his lack of playing time would be injuries and aversion to strikeouts and low batting average. Branyan has always been a guy with a high 3TO%.

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  11. fanOFdefenseAGAIN says:

    Question: does w/OBA take into account the relative value of a strikeout vs. an out that is put in play?

    Obviously it counts it in the sense that OBP is partially a function of K rate (by way of batting average).

    Still, I remember that Moneyball acknowledged that a strikeout out is less valuable than an out that is put in play (because it can advance a runner). Is this necessarily true? How large is the effect?

    Since Branyan is such a high volume K guy, this could marginally diminish his value.

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    • davidmac84 says:

      I think a big reason is that Branyan did get a pretty decent shot in 2001 and 2002 and basically played at a replacement level player both years.
      2001(age25) 361 plate appearances and 2002(age26) 435 plate appearance(.1WAR). And he really wasnt any better offensively at age 27 with the Reds with diminished playing time.
      But last year seemed to be a break out year for Branyan when he was strong both at AAA and with limited time with the Brewers.
      The fact that Branyan didnt get alot of plate appearance seems warranted by the numbers he put up in his mid 20s. The more remarkable aspect of his career is he seemed to have such a dramatic shift in his performance after the age of 30.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      fanOFdefenseAGAIN,

      To the best of my understanding wOBA treats all outs the same. Here is a description of it:

      http://www.insidethebook.com/woba.shtml

      I think the value of an in play out is about -0.3 runs and the value of a strikeout is -0.316 runs. So if Branyan trades, say, 75 in play outs for Ks over the course of a full season that is just 75*-0.016 = -1.2 runs. So maybe you can knock off a point or two of wOBA for the high Ks.

      But K at-bats have much higher pitch counts than in play out at-bats. I don’t think anyone has tried to tie a value to those added pitches (getting to bullpens sooner, allowing team-mates to observe more pitcehs), but I would not be surprised if those additional pitches began to make up the one run of value lost.

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  12. DanDuke says:

    One thing that sticks out about Branyan is his Contact% – in 2008 and 2009, it’s about 10% higher than it’s been any other year of his career. While he’s still at the very bottom of the league in this regard, he’s significantly above the Chris Davis/Mark Reynolds/Carlos Pena trio.

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  13. aweb says:

    I’ll repost what I put in a comment last week in the Jake Fox article – Branyan didn’t get a shot early on because his strikeout rates were unbelievably high (way past anything Dunn managed, and way past what Mark Reynolds managed last year in setting the new K record), and it’s hard for teams to ignore those entirely. Thome currently leads all active players in K’s, with 2231. Give Branyan the same 7500 ABs, and he’d be around 2900 K’s, at his career pace. Give him Reggie Jackson’s ABs, and he’s around 3800 K’s. It’s not a defense of the teams really, since K’s aren’t really so bad, but it is understandable that such things scared them a little.

    From last week:
    I’m happy Branyan is finally getting to play fulltime. He’s been “blocked” by many mediocre veterans, more touted prospects, moved around the field defensively, relegated to the bench, and been a consistent power threat (~35 hr pace at full playing time). Not great, but at least consistent. His low averages and record shattering strikeout pace from his early Cleveland days (229 Ks in his first 550 ABs) scared teams off, I assume. He won’t finish the year with an OPS above 1.000, but is a fairly large upgrade over Sexson’s below replacement level contributions of the past few years.

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  14. Slurve says:

    God I love TTO players so much.

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  15. H says:

    Give Ryan Howard the same 7,500 AB’s as Thome and he’d have just shy of 2,500 K’s. Not quite Branyan’s pace, but > 10% more than Thome. Yet the difference in perception of, and opportunities given to, Branyan and Howard are vastly different.

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  16. vj says:

    FYI, there was an article recently in one of the seattle papers’ websites that Branyan has started to exercise his eyes in recent years and that this is helping him to see the ball better. He attributes his improved performance to these exercises.

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  17. B K Miller says:

    What are the eye exercies Russell Branyan has been doing? I think I would like to do these to improve my tennis game.

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  18. Shana Beddow says:

    Generally I do not make comments on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so. Really nice post!

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