2009 was a break though season for the power hitting veteran Russell Branyan. About thirteen years ago Branyan made his debut as top prospect with the Cleveland Indians. He was hit or miss most of the time as a youngster, pun intended and because of constant low averages, never accumulated over 400 at bats in a single Major League season. Then, in 2009, things finally paned out. Branyan got a starting job with the Mariners, got at bats against left-handed pitching and finally topped 400 at bats. The result was his first 30-plus home runs season.
After rejecting the a one-year offer from the Mariners, Branyan is looking for work. Fantasy owners are looking for a reason to believe he can repeat his 2009 numbers. Can he?
With a hitter like Branyan there are four key stats that I look at: strikeout rate, walk rate, swings on pitches outside the strike-zone and contact rate (or whiff rate).
Branyan draws a decent amount of walks for a slugger, but strikes out way too much. His strikeout rate was 34.6 percent last season and is almost 40 percent for his career. That puts him right up there with the likes of Chris Davis, Mark Reynolds and Carlos Pena. While he swings at pitches outside the strike-zone just above 26 percent of the time, that number is only just above league average.
His contact rate is another story. Branyan only made contact on 65.7 percent of his swings in 2009, about 80 percent is the league average. As a matter of fact, the rate at which he swung and missed last season was good for third worst in the Major Leagues among regulars. Only Mark Reynolds and Carlos Pena swung and missed more often. This, combined with the high strikeout rate, makes for a ton of risk in Branyan’s AVG going forward.
The other, non-statistical problem with Branyan is a combination of age and injury. This will mark Branyan’s age 34 season, not an age we tend to expect much improvement with most players. Also, injuries limited Branyan to only 431 at bats last season. A herniated disk in his back sent him to the DL on August 30th. He has also battled injuries prior to 2009.
The bottom line is that we have a low contact/high strikeout slugger coming off of a career year at the age of 33. The chances of him repeating .251 with 31 home runs are slim no matter what team he ends up with this offseason. Even if he lands in a decent ballpark with a full time job, he’ll be nothing more than a late round flier or single digit auction bid in 2010.