Amok Time

The general consensus in Seattle is that you have to be careful re-signing Branyan because he's 33 with "old player's skills." The consensus is wrong.

;- )

Bill James pointed out, in the 1980's, that those with "old player's skills" TENDED TO age a little worse. He specifically applied this to Seattle's own Alvin Davis, who came up with lots of walks and power, but no speed.

Counterintuitively, those with "young players' skills" -- footspeed, and the fast-twitch reflexes to make contact on tons of pitches and so finish AB's on early counts -- age better. Dr. D has preached before that this is because an Ichiro or Rickey has batting reflexes to spare at age 37.


What the good amigos have not realized, about "old players' skills," is that if this tendency exists IT IS A VERY GENTLE ONE.

Did it kill Jim Thome that he came up with old player's skills? Did it kill Edgar? Carlos Delgado? Fred McGriff?

Well, Fred McGriff was quite a hitter, you say. So is Russ Branyan, I say.

I'll bet you a dollar that you haven't read a single "study" demonstrating that guys with walks and homers clutch their chests and vaporlock at 33. All you have is a vague feeling that the leadoff guys are the ones who last, and you've wayyyyyyyy overplayed this "old players' skills" thing. :- ) Too much soup off of a rumor-oyster.

This is one James rule that has run amok like Spock during ponn farr. He never meant for us just to figure, stay away from all .600-slugging lefties in their 30's. :- )


=== HURRY UP AND WAIT, Dept. ===

The "solution" to the "old player's skills" um, problem, is said to be this: wait and see how Russ Branyan does the rest of this season, and then decide.

Illogical "solution." You know and I know that Branyan is going to hit the whole season. You're not predicting he won't. You're predicting that he'll stop hitting some time after this season.

Then what good does it do you, to keep hemming and hawing, and letting his market value go up and up and up? Decide whether he's good now. He's not going to stop hitting in July, right?


=== Have you SEEN this guy's launch?! Dept. ===

Who was it, Grizzle who pointed out the LH vs LH numbers? Branyan is hitting, slap me silly, .304/.394/.571 against LEFTY pitchers. That is not a guy whose reflexes have begun to slow down.

You want a rule that you CAN apply with some confidence, apply this one: after a star lefty hitter starts to flail against LHP's, he'll have a season or two of effectiveness vs RHP's. Branyan hasn't even started having trouble against lefties yet, and the reason is that his bat is the quickest on the team. Him and Ichiro.


=== TTO AGING, Dept. ===

The relevant comps for Branyan would be all lefty TTO hitters of Branyan's general quality. gives Branyan's most-comparable player as being Cliff Johnson:

Johnson is one whale of a comp for Branyan, too: a very strong man, good eye, good power, who never got a fulltime gig until he was past 30. Despite playing well in part-time action.

Johnson OPS+'ed 130 and 143 at ages 35 and 36, until he hit the very age at which Dr. D fell off the table physically: age 37. Precisely at 37, the age of which I think as not young anymore, Johnson fell off and stayed off.

Johnson's one comp. Jim Thome's another. Rob Deer's another. You need a bunch of them. Branyan reminds me a lot of Ron Kittle, who did crash early. It could happen.

Branyan reminds me even more of Matt Stairs, who at Branyan's age had 6 quality seasons left. :- )


There's risk in all major-league contracts. But if you can get Branyan on a short-term deal, that's an awfully good bet, as baseball risks go. I wouldn't give him five years. But if he'll take two or three, it's just a no-brainer.


955 - OPS, road, Russell Branyan
1134 - OPS, Safeco, Russell Branyan

9/28 - eye ratio, road
18/22 - eye ratio, home

It's precious few batters you can find who don't stall out in Safeco. The Mariners are in no position to pass on a good hitter.

Dr D


Sandy - Raleigh's picture

Great arguments, Doc.
The strongest is Cliff Johnson - the ONLY guy who was actually used in roughly the same manner as Branyan. Then again, Johnson was a righty, who killed lefty pitching, (.905 OPS), and was pedestrian against righties (.745), which is why he NEVER got 500 PAs in a season despite playing 15 years.
Honestly, I've never bought much into the old-man, young-man profiles. I appreciate what King James showed - and understood it was a modest difference. For me, I put EVERYONE into the same category - human - and accept that all humans age - but some adjust better than others, and I don't believe anyone, (including myself), can predict with any degree of accuracy which will age quickly or slowly. So, I therefore am cautious about ANY player entering mid-30s land.
(Morgan Ensberg also shows up on Branyan's comp list - and look what has happened to him by age 32). Craig Wilson is actually the #1 comp for him for overall career stats.
My issue with projecting Branyan ahead is that because of how he has been used in his career, we simply do not have a reasonable data pool to judge him against ANY full-time starting player. The 2009 season is it. It's the only real data we've got showing him as a full-timer. Yes, it's a great line at the moment. But, if you're LOOKING for reasons to distrust it, you can find them. His surreal BABIP results - (.380 against righties, .417 against lefties). His career numbers .308 and .313.
Heck, I was one of the long voices saying that playing full time MIGHT have the very impact of making him better from both sides of the plate. But, he's a career .830 hitter when playing primarily in leveraged situations. He's a 1030 hitter at the moment. Based on his history AND on his BABIP, there are STRONG indications that the 1030 is transient.
Additionally, he's playing in a unique situation that will NEVER come again. He's getting his ***first*** ever shot at a full-time gig. After he plays a full year as a starter, that can never be the case again. The mental environment for the future cannot be the same as 2009 - ever again.
Part of the discussion on what to expect needs to be -- what level do we "expect" him to hit at for the next 3 years? If the concensus is that he'll be hitting .830 for three years -- yes I would say that's not an unreal expectation. If the assertion is that he's going to put up a trio of 1000 OPS seasons behind this one. Then I will vehemently take exception to the projection.
In all honesty, I have a soft spot for players like Branyan, Delluci, Gabe Gross, who are screwed by "common wisdom" early in their careers, and don't get a chance to play full time until late in their careers. But, it is BECAUSE I have a soft spot that I know I have to temper my enthusiasms.
My position is this ...
I believe Branyan is having a career year - and while he's posting a 1000 OPS, his trade value is as high as it will ever get. While I expect he'll remain an .830 OPS producer for another couple of seasons, (maybe 3), players DO get hurt more often as they age, (and Branyan's health isn't completely spotless). Basically, he's just about the perfect sell-high candidate I could imagine.
I can appreciate the concept that the risk is not that great through age 36. In point of fact, during the steroid era, age 36 was in fact, my cut-off point for continued production expectations. I may be overly afraid of age issues today, because the last 20 years of data are at best questionable - at worst, just plain wrong. (Three years ago I wouldn't have blinked at signing someone from age 34-36 -- today, I believe it's a much riskier proposition.)
But, the primary reason why I'd like to see if Branyan can be flipped is because he's blocking the bulk of the near-ready talent on the farm today. My greatest fear with extending Branyan is that you block guys like Carp, Clement, (maybe Ackley) based on a 33-year-old .830 OPS 1b with meh defensive skills who just happens to be having a 1030 season.
I'm certainly not going to wail and gnash my teeth if Branyan is extended for 3 years. It's a FAR cry from the extension of Johjima in the risk-reward department.
Most of my disconnect with many of the suggestions and scenarios going around the web at the moment, (and certainly not just yours), is that my belief is that given the situation, Seattle would be much better served in concentrating on building a foundation for SUSTAINED success -- rather than focusing on immediate success.
It's a knife edge, balancing future concerns with immediate concerns. Hindsight indicates the club wasn't NEARLY as close to competing as they believed they were when they made the Bedard trade. And while I dearly love Bedard, and hope the club can extend him, the trade seriously undermined the FUTURE of the club. So, instead of 1 step forward, the franchise took two steps back.
If the club wants to become competent at developing talent, (rather than purchasing it), then you HAVE to allow talent to come up and succeed or fail. Because Seattle has decent sized pockets, there is a temptation to constantly plug holes with FAs -- which ends up (IMO) contributing to the ineptness of player development.
I don't think Z is going to allow that. And certainly the club will be wise to sign some FAs at some times. Honestly, if Branyan were a middle infield import of the same age, I'd be jumping at the chance to extend him, because the farm is so barren there.


Sandy...I don't buy into the need to trade Branyan while his market value is's true he's now being seen in a better light than he ever will again...but here's a fact...teams never trade big time specs for first basemen unless they think that first baseman is a franchise player they can sign to a long term extension. No one is ever going to think that about a 33 year old journeyman slugger who may have found his stroke playing full time. The Mariners won't get ANYTHING as valuable as 3 years of .830 OPS at first in a trade. They won't even come close. And I think the projection of .830 is pessimistic. I'd have him pegged at .270/.360/.500 from here on out.
Sign him to a two year deal worth 10 mil per year and a healthy club option and buyout...a guy who has never seen more than a few mil at any one time will sign without thinking twice.


I understand the oft-mentioned plan to be high-sellers this season in the hopes of acquiring many young pieces for the future. But, this strategy, if taken to the extreme of 'sell 'em all for young prospects' may damage the M's in the one area where they can least afford it -- emotional connection with their fans.
I _can_ agree with trading most of these players, and it does seem necessary to make an effort to upgrade the club. But I would suggest that trading Branyan would be a mistake -- for a couple of reasons.
Reason 1: Value. He _is_ a relatively low-mileage, well-kept, detailed and service-records-provided 'muscle-car' that has that 'showroom new' shine. This ride has been covered and garaged for years and only taken out for the blue-moon ride, followed by prompt lubrication, vacuuming and a polish before re-storage.
When you find one of these, especially with the extra-option package and the high-rise intake manifold and tuned cam, you don't buy it and turn it over to another to make a quick buck. You drive it everywhere. And you revel in the blessing of acquiring such an amazing value at such a reasonable price -- knowing that it's lack of hard-use portends a long future of reliable and powerful service in your care. Russell Branyon is like this kind of car.
Reason 2: Pride of ownership. When you find the above, especially in a model that fits your fancy, you develop an emotional attachment beyond it's perceived value as a transportation device. This is all about satisfaction.
Most of us remember owning a car that was, to us, a mere conveyance. A way to get from point A to B. It may have even had one of those "Please steal this car!" bumper stickers on the back. We didn't love it. We didn't car. Heck -- if it was stolen, we might have used the insurance money to purchase something else that was infinitely more satisfying. Russell is not like this kind of car.
Most of us also remember the first car that really 'turned our crank.' When it became ours we almost 'killed the fatted' calf in celebration. We rubbed it weekly with paste wax. We spritzed it regularly with pleasing scent. We shampooed it's carpet 4x a year. Why? Because it got us from point A to B? No -- any car could do that. But because we thought it was cool. We cared about it. It meant something to us. We would sit in the driveway with the stereo playing, just enjoying the fact that it was ours. It was a source of pride. Branyon is like that kind of car.
Seattle went shopping for a first baseman. In a crowded lot full of travel-worn sedans with bald tires and cracked vinyl -- we found a pristine low-mileage pony car with an amazingly low price tag -- and brought it home. Upon further inspection we giddily found that the options list included power windows, power brakes and power steering, as well as every high-horsepower upgrade imaginable -- and that the paint was original. That what we thought was too good to be true really is true. RB is like this car.
High-value. Great pride-of-ownership. I am loathe to give up this vehicle to anyone, even if they give 2 newer vehicles of unknown promise in return.
*vroom* *vroom* *squeeeeeeeeeeeel* {leaves in a cloud of vaporized rubber}

Taro's picture

I'm pretty much in complete agreement with Sandy.
I've been wanting to sign Branyan for years, but he aint THIS good. Hes blocking Carp, Clement, and Shelton and hes only going to get worse as he ages.
Sell High.

SANR Matt's picture

a) Shelton, in his biggest fantasy, wishes he coudl hit .830 consistently at the big league level
b) Clement is not blocked by Branyan...he's blocked by his own bad health and Griffey
c) Carp is blocked by Branyan if Clement is DH'ing, but are we going to be counting on Clement to hit when so far he's proven he cannot?
And sell high for WHAT? What mystery prize do you think we'll get for a 33 y/o first baseman who's not a particularly good fielder and who is having a career year? Keep in mind...Bavasi is no longer a big league GM.

Taro's picture

Meh. I'd trade Branyan, and unload Griffey to get some auditions in here.
Carp plays 1st, and Clement looks like hes a DH-only. Giving Shelton some playing time doesn't hurt either. He could pull a Branyan for all we know and he'll actually be under club control.
If you really wanted Brayan, I could see playing him at 3rd base in the future but not at 1b/DH.
Brayan isn't a 900-950 OPS bat, hes an 800-850 OPS bat thats getting lucky. Guys like Burrell and Abreu only made $6-7mil last offseason. You could trade him, audition some guys, and then re-sign him again this offseason if you really wanted.

Taro's picture

I'm starting to have a change of heart after reading JAC's report on Mike Carp's defense.
If Carp is so bad defensively that JAC doesn't even think he can stick at 1B than a 2-3 year Branyan extension starts making a lot more sense.
Clement and Carp can fight it out for the DH spot.

OBF's picture

Whether I agree with you are not it doesn't matter, that was poetry!
I want to keep RB even more now! I wonder how he would do at third base.
This site really needs a rec or CPoint button! You would be getting one here from me!

Sandy - Raleigh's picture

I wouldn't have a problem with signing Branyan for 2 years. My position is based on the premise that it is unlikely that Branyan is going to settle for a 2-year deal, (3rd year buyout), if he continues having a career year.
The 1B/DH issue remains valid -- but I'd happily surrender a little flexibility in that regard to put a short-term producer firmly in place.
Should the club EXPLORE extending Branyan? Absolutely. I just believe they should also explore trading him. As to which route is better for the club -- that is ultimately determined by how good (or bad) the offers for him are, and how good (or bad) his contract demands might be.

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