Trading Reid Brignac would be the wrong move for the Rays

Devon mentioned yesterday how the Rays would like to trade Reid Brignac. The Rays have always been a greatly-run ballclub but I have to disagree with them on this one.

There’s no denying that Brignac had a horrific season in 2011- and that might be too nice of a term. His .193/.227/.221 line in 92 games was worse than anyone could have imagined. He hit just 4 doubles and 1 homer, and he stole just 3 bases. It sure seems like Brignac is a bust as a major league hitter. But the regular statistics don’t tell the whole story with Brignac- not by any stretch. I’ve written a lot about Brignac in the past, and I believe that there’s still hope for Brignac. Here’s why.

Brignac hit the ball hard all season. According to Baseball-Reference, Brignac posted a 20.5% line drive percentage (LD%) compared to the major league average of 18%. Fangraphs gave him an ever better LD%, 22.5%. Brignac hit considerably more line drives than the average your average big league hitters. And when he hit line drives, he got his hits- he had a .718 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) on line drives, slightly higher than the MLB BAbip of .713 on line drives in 2011. But when Brignac didn’t hit line drives, he could not buy a hit. Baseball had a .237 BAbip on grounballs in 2011 and a .137 BAbip on flyballs. Reid Brignac had a .180 BAbip on groundballs and just a .078 BAbip on flyballs. Variability on a player’s BAbip on groundballs is pure luck if that player is an average runner. I would consider Brignac a slightly above-average runner. So how in the world did he manage a BAbip on groundballs .057 less than the league average? Simply because of awful luck. BAbip on flyballs doesn’t include home runs (they aren’t counted as balls in play) but it still has a lot to do with a player’s power. We know that Brignac has power (in the three seasons in the minors in which he played at least 100 games, he hit at least 15 homers and 29 doubles every time), but he sure didn’t show it in 2011. Nevertheless, the .080 BAbip on flyballs is pretty extreme. Watching Brignac in 2011, you saw him hit way too many hard flyballs that landed in fielders’ gloves and it’s hard to recall him ever hitting a bloop single. It’s not that his power was nonexistent. His lack of power had a lot to do with misfortune as well. Overall, Brignac’s BAbip was .254 compared to the league average of .295 despite his outstanding LD%.

But what if most of Brignac’s bad luck wasn’t a coincidence? Maybe most of Brignac’s groundballs were weakly hit, and most of his flyballs were routine! I don’t agree with that. A player with Brignac’s speed should never be posting a BAbip on groundballs of under .220, let alone .180, and no one can hit that many pop-ups. But what about Brignac’s lack of extra-base hits? I stated above that Brignac’s lack of extra-base hits on flyballs had a lot to do with his poor luck. However, what about on line drives? Of his 28 line drive hits, just 3 were extra-base hits, all doubles. That X/H% (percentage of hits for extra-bases) is 10.7%. The MLB X/H% on line drives in 2011 was 27.8%. That 17.1% difference can’t be attributed to chance. So what happened?

It’s simple- Brignac got frustrated. In his two months as a big league starting shortstop, Brignac hit just .173 thanks to a ridiculously bad .231 BAbip. He started pressing. He was desperate just to get the ball in play and he stopped caring about hitting for power. When you’re listening to a baseball game, the announcer always talks about some player who’s in a slump and then when he gets a bloop single how it might get him going. Brignac was swinging away hoping to get the spark that would get him back to the player he has the potential to be. He got some hits, but he was never able to string some hits together and he only hit .207 (with a .238 OBP and a .248 SLG) in the second half. I think that with a fresh start, Brignac will be able to play like his normal self. He has the ability to hit at least 15 home runs in the major leagues and steal 15 bases as well. If Brignac can just relax he could be a .265/.330/.420 hitter in the big leagues with 25 doubles, 15 homers, and 15 steals, and I don’t think that’s unrealistic at all. Brignac is also a slightly above-average defensive shortstop, so there’s no denying that overall he’s a better player than Sean Rodriguez. (Not to mention that top prospects Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee are both at least a year from the big leagues.) All Brignac needs is a fresh start, and he’ll be fine. And that new beginning doesn’t need to happen in another organization. Just give Brignac one final opportunity, one final season to prove himself, and his tools will come out. Reid Brignac is exponentially better than he was in 2011, and in 2012 he will prove himself to be a good big league shortstop. It would be a shame if that didn’t happen in St. Petersburg.

Tags: Reid Brignac Tampa Bay Rays