As the playoffs and award season gets underway, we want to take a gander at some players who had outstanding seasons in 2009 but whose teams ended up just shy of making the postseason and who will (most likely) not pick up any fancy trophies. Quite a consolation prize: a round of golf and a write-up on a low circulation sports blog.
Next up, Russell Branyan, as written by our pal J from 3:10 to Joba
You are Russell Branyan. In the Year of our Lord, 1998, you made your debut for the Cleveland Indians. Since that fateful September 26th, you have epitomized the term "journeyman" by playing for 8 different teams (some more than once!) to date. In 2001 and 2002, you saw your power numbers increase to new productive levels (16 and 24 dingers respectively), making people believe in your prospect hype that you were the next coming of Mark McGwire. But then the merry-go-round of new uniforms started and things just weren't quite the same. Playing for the Padres and suffering from the occasional injury in 2003, 2005, and 2008 will do that to you, I hear.
However, this year, you vowed things would be different. This year, you promised to force yourself into a team's everyday lineup to show that you were more than just a utility player. You wanted to show the doubters that you could hit quite well, perhaps even better than before, thank you. And that's just what you did by posting a respectable .251 average, a career high 31 homers, and a superb 128 OPS+, all while racking up the most plate appearances, 551, in your entire career. In putting up these numbers, you played a big role in the resurgence of the Mariners back to relevance and made new GM / enemy to spell-checker the world over, Jack Zduriencik look wise beyond his years.
Now the only question is, "What took you so long, dude?" You see, it would appear that Branyan and another hero of this wonderful golfing series, Ben Zobrist, suffer from the same problem, what can best be called "the inexplicable" or "organizational stupidity." To the nerd cave!
If we toss out Branyan's 1998 and 1999 numbers due to lack of plate appearances, you will see that he has wOBA'd above .320 every year to the tune of a .349 career mark in that department. In that same time period, he has posted an OPS+ below 100 exactly once. Say what?
Obviously these numbers aren't Pujols-ian in stature, but it's certainly light years ahead of say, the useless Tony Womack. So it would appear that, like Zobrist, the guy has always been a pretty good hitter, and he definitely showed flashes of power production before being relegated to bench obscurity. In other words, there's really no reason (aside from injury) that Branyan shouldn't have been getting consistent playing time at the major league level, especially against the right-handed pitchers that the fella has killed over his career. But alas, he wasn't given that chance, and a potentially strong asset was left wallowing on the pine until the GM with the complicated surname decided to actually attempt to improve his team and take a flyer on the former big name prospect.
Once given that opportunity for the Mariners, Branyan responded with respectable walk rates, a lower strikeout rate than in the earlier years of his career and started making more contact. With a career HR/FB rate of 21.9%, it's no wonder that more ABs and more contact soon led to balls leaving the park and often doing so in an alarmingly mighty fashion.
So hats off to you Mr. Branyan for your unheralded season, and to you Mr. Zduriencik for reintroducing the man they call "Russell the Muscle" to the baseball world.