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Will Brandon Wood Figure Things Out?

The Angels designated Brandon Wood for assignment earlier this week. He will latch on elsewhere given his former status as a top-tier prospect, but whether the 26-year old infielder can translate minor league raking into big league success remains to be seen.

Many expected the world from Wood given his gaudy minor league numbers and his ability to ably handle the shortstop position. In five Triple-A seasons — and 1,437 plate appearances — Wood has hit .283/.350/.536. Even at a fraction of that slash line he would theoretically become one of the top offensive shortstops in the majors. However, his minor league numbers can be viewed two different ways.

On one hand, a slash line like that at the highest level of minor league play merits a legitimate shot in the majors. Not a week here or a month there, spread over several seasons, but a full and uninterrupted season. On the other hand, his struggles in limited major league action — a .168/.197/.259 line in 494 plate appearances — should not have been surprising given the frequency at which he struck out.

Wood struck out in 327 of those 1,437 plate appearances, or 22.7 percent of the time. Replace some of the fungible prospects he faced with legitimate major league starters and it stood to reason that his whiff rate would increase. Fueling his putrid major league line was a 2.6 percent walk rate, substantially lower than the 8.9 percent posted in the minors, and a 30.9 percent strikeout rate that increased as expected.

Wood may be a victim of circumstance, as the Angels could not afford to potentially punt a position while contending for a playoff spot. Some prospects take time to develop in the majors and it is tough to improve without consistent playing time.

It seemed like he needed the playing time he would receive in Triple-A, where he wouldn’t fear losing his job, but at the major league level. In other words, his best bet was to be employed by a cellar-dweller who could afford to give him a long-lasting look. A few teams fit that bill — the Astros and Pirates immediately come to mind — and given their respective positions on the waiver wire they might be able to bring him aboard.

But what player will the new employer see? Do players with strikeout rates as high as Wood’s figure things out and make improvements at the major league level?

To find out, I queried my database for all non-pitchers since 1960 who tallied 300 or more plate appearances before their 27th birthday, who had a 30 percent or higher strikeout rate to that point. Just 22 players were returned. This crop of players averaged a 32.6 percent whiff rate and posted a collective .723 OPS.

However, only 12(!) of those players received PAs between the ages of 27 and 30 years old. Using 300 PAs as a minimum — before turning 27 years old — meant that players with absolutely horrid numbers would be included. These players would not be rostered moving forward, explaining the sample’s reduction. Looking strictly at the players that fit my criteria and went onto receive PAs between the ages of 27 and 30, here are the pertinent averages:

26 yrs and Under: 32.8 SO/PA, .710 OPS
27 yrs to 30 yrs: 28.3 SO/PA, .720 OPS

These players cut back on their strikeouts even though the dropoff doesn’t seem substantial. In turn they were able to improve their slash lines, but the improvement was not remarkable at all. This research suggests it is very rare for a player to whiff so much as a youngster and even receive playing time in his late-twenties, let alone transform into an average major league hitter. For every Russell Branyan there are several Dave Nicholson’s and Billy Ashley’s. Who are those guys? Exactly.

The question then becomes one of which group Wood belongs to. His very poor showing suggests he is more in line with the players who fall out of the sample by the time they turn 27, but he will certainly receive playing time past that point.

In this regard, Wood profiles similarly to another former Angels prospect: Dallas McPherson, who hit .245/.298/.458 in 399 major league plate appearances. McPherson, like Wood, hit out of his mind in Triple-A before experiencing major league struggles. He also fizzled out of the majors at 27 years old. The odds aren’t in Wood’s favor, and while it isn’t unprecedented for a youngster extremely prone to punchouts to reduce his rate and improve at the plate, teams should not be surprised if he turns into Ashley or Nicholson and not Branyan. For next to no cost, he is certainly worth a look, but expectations should be tempered.