Brignac Flailing in Tampa

In the second inning of the Rays’ Thursday afternoon’s game against the Indians, Reid Brignac stepped to the plate at Progressive Field to face Justin Masterson with the bases loaded. Brignac took an inside sinker from Masterson for ball one. On the next pitch, Masterson left a sinker over the fat part of the plate, and Brignac sliced it down the left field line. Tampa’s shortstop froze for a moment, and then darted out of the box, eventually pulling into second base with an opposite-field double that scored two.

He stood there for a moment,” said Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats, “as if number one, he couldn’t believe it would be fair, and number two, that he was actually looking at a potential extra base hit!”

Brignac looked into the Rays’ dugout and pointed toward his eyes, as if indicating that he momentarily lost track of the ball. But you’d have to forgive him if he just didn’t believe his eyes — it was Brignac’s first extra-base hits in 104 at-bats dating back to last year, the longest stretch of punchless hitting in team history.

The lefty batter was once considered an elite offensive prospect, with Baseball America saying before the 2007 season that “He should be good for 25-plus homers on an annual basis.” But Brignac gradually became known as a rangy shortstop who’d hit enough to be a decent starter, if not a star. His performance with the Rays from 2008 to 2010 — a .254/.300/.389 line and a .297 wOBA while in his early twenties — seemed to confirm that sentiment. Brignac’s plate discipline left much to be desired, but there was hope that he’d develop better habits in 2011 as he took over Jason Bartlett‘s spot as the starting shortstop.

Suffice it to say, that hasn’t happened. Through 91 plate appearances, Brignac has a .186/.222/.198 triple-slash and a .195 wOBA. That’s worst in the majors among hitters with at least 90 PA. That second inning AB against Masterson, in which Brignac got ahead in the count and then recognized a pitch he could pummel, has been all too rare a sight in 2011.

Brignac has chased 40.5 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone this year. While that’s slightly less than his O-Swing last year, it’s still far above the 28.6 percent MLB average this season. His first-pitch strike rate — the percentage that he has either gotten behind 0-and-1 or put the ball in play on the first pitch — is 67, compared to the 58.9 percent big-league average.

It’s not surprising, then, that Brignac’s sporting a 3.3 percent walk rate. Plus, swinging at junk pitches and just generally being on the defensive in pitcher’s counts at the plate has led to weakly hit grounders and fly balls flicked to the opposite field (credit Texas Leaguers for the spray chart):

The 25-year-old’s ghastly start to the 2011 season needs to be put in context. We’re talking about fewer than 100 trips to the plate. And, while his plate discipline has been abysmal, it’s not likely that he’s going to keep sporting a sub-.240 BABIP. Neither Elliot Johnson, who has gotten starts at short against lefties, nor Sean Rodriguez, who has mostly taken on left-handers at second base on days when Ben Zobrist shifts to right field and Matt Joyce sits, have Brignac’s defensive skills. Hak-Ju Lee may well be the shortstop of the future, but that future is a few years away considering that he has slightly more than 100 PA above Low-A ball. While they certainly have the young talent to do it, it’s uncertain if the Rays would consider adding a pending free agent with an eight-figure salary like Jose Reyes (and that’s assuming he’s available in the first place).

Still, if Brignac (who has a .290 rest-of-season ZiPS wOBA) continues to flail, the Rays could increasingly turn to Johnson (.306) or Rodriguez (.320). Tampa Bay isn’t known as an organization that overreacts to small sample sizes or quickly pulls the plug on young talent, so I’d guess that Brignac will continue to gets starts most days unless they make a big splash by snagging a certain switch-hitting shortstop from Queens. But if Brignac wants to avoid one day becoming part of a study like this, he better start working the count and get re-acquainted with rounding first base.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

24 Responses to “Brignac Flailing in Tampa”

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  1. Detroit Michael says:

    As a Mets fan I would have a raging hard-on if the Mets traded Jose Reyes to the Rays for a boatload of strong prospects in order to accelerate their rebuilding process.

    While I realize that trading prospects for a star they won’t be able to retain after the season is not the Rays’ modus operandi, Friedman and Co. like to think outside the box and, given their current robust farm system and many high drafts picks in the upcoming deep draft, I wonder if the Rays would take a gamble on this season and seriously upgrade a weak position in exchange for three or four strong youngins (of course the Rays would also get two Type A picks when they offered Reyes arbitration which he certainly wouldn’t accept and these two draft picks would mitigate the loss of the prospects).

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    • Telo says:

      It would blow my mind (in a bad way) if the Rays did anything remotely close to trading for Reyes. They have had so much success doing exactly not that.

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    • Jross says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays offered a deal to the Mets. But I don’t think they would offer their top prospects. Maybe they would deal Nieman in three way type of deal or throw in some of their AAA lifers.

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    • Louis says:

      This would never happen. In a million years.

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      That’s not the real “Detroit Michael” posting. It’s a troll who is using my handle.

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      • Izzy says:

        This seems like it is becoming a real problem. I swear their are like fifteen different CircleChange11s. Is there anything the admins can do about this?

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      • Detroit Michael says:

        I remember another thread where “Random Guy” said someone else was using his handle too.

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  2. Telo says:

    “He should be good for 25-plus homers on an annual basis.”

    Wow.. that’s a bold profile for a SS, even if he did have a monster 06 in high A.

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  3. JR says:

    Brignac actually thought he hit a foul pop-up,as he looked skyward both when he hit the ball and when he was sheepishly explaining things to the 2nd base ump. I’ll leave the explanation of the difference between a hook and a slice to someone else,but it may have even been a shank!

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      It was funny, as he was walking in the dugout after he scored one of the Rays yelled out, “Hey Reid, open your eyes next time!” I thought that was pretty funny.

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    • Paul says:

      I was watching and it was an inside pitch that you almost never see squirted off to the left side, and thought it was well foul off the bat. Looked like a routine 30 rows back foul ball. Masterson really spins the ball, so that combined with the weird slicing action (seems like a pretty clear indication that he’s absolutely lost at the plate) produced a really weird outcome.

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  4. Bob says:

    In baseball, a shank is technically impossible. In any case, a hook is a shot that has side spin that turns the ball towards the hitter’s side. So, for a lefty, it’s a ball that goes from left to right and for a righty it’s right to left. For a slice, it’s the exact opposite.

    For a lefty to hook the ball down the left field line, this means that he hit the ball towards the left field stands to start, then hooked the ball to the right of the foul line. If Brignac actually accomplished this, then that was an amazing swing.

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    • JR says:

      Yeah,that was sort of my idea of a joke about the shank–believe me,I’m all too familiar with those! And looks like DG corrected the hook to a slice. I believe my work is done here…

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  5. Detroit Michael says:

    Telo,

    I agree it is extremely unlikely. That’s why I said it would be thinking outside the box – i.e., unconventional for them.

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  6. Detroit Michael says:

    Remember what Beane, DePo, etc. said Moneyball was really about?

    Exploiting inefficiences.

    If no one is grabbing Reyes and he’s on the market, perhaps Friedman & Co. will exploit this inefficiency.

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  7. BiggestRaysFaninJacksonville says:

    He has been the biggest dissapointment outside of Manny for this season

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  8. Rli says:

    Jesus, I’m sorry guys because this is a great article and I love fangraphs, and I know this is a dead horse that I’m beating, but it’s TAMPA BAY. The team matters, get its name right. Soon I’m going to start rooting for the York Yankees, Golden Warriors and the Green Packers.

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  9. Paul says:

    I’m not trying to make excuses for him, but I’ve been really disappointed with how Maddon has played him this year. From day 1 he played Elliot Johnson a lot, and not only against lefthanders. As early as the second week he was pinch hitting for Reid in the 5th or 6th inning. I understand that he’s a young hitter who needs to be protected to an extent, but I think the Rays are mishandling him. Kudos to them for the deliberate pace of his development, but then they get him to the big leagues and he’s supposed to make adjustments while not getting consistent at-bats or hitting lefthanders? He showed plenty of tools last year especially down the stretch, and including big situations. Good grief, he’s a 2nd round pick, play the guy so you know what you really have.

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