Reid Brignac has gone from top prospect to Quad-A player, He was given the Rays starting shortstop job in 2011 and completely blew it. He was on the Rays’ roster to begin 2012 but was demoted following the Brandon Allen acquisition. What has happened? Look at this graph.
This graph depicts Brignac’s walk and extra-base hits rates (walks divided by plate appearances and extra-base hits divided by plate appearances) by professional baseball level, going from Rookie ball all the way up to the major leagues. Why am I showing you this graph? The two statistics have a .49 correlation, meaning that they’re decently related in a linear way, but we see how the two lines in the graph are all over the place. The biggest difference comes at the High-A level, where Brignac posted an 11.0% XBH% and just a 7.7% BB%. Those don’t seem so crazy until you hear the league averages in the High-A California League that season: the league XBH% was 7.4% and the league walk rate was 9.0%. Let’s put that into perspective.
Brignac’s extra-base hit percentage was 22.2% higher than the league average while his walk rate was just 4.1% higher. We’ll add one more qualifier to that: his strikeout rate was 18.0% of his plate appearances, 6% below league average. In the major leagues in 2011 (as an example), just six players had a walk rate 4% higher or less than the league average, a extra-base hit percentage 20% better or more than the average, and a strikeout rate not lower than 6% below the league average: Mike Morse, Nelson Cruz, Alfonso Soriano, Jeff Francoeur, Mark Trumbo, and Howie Kendrick. Notice that all of those guys with the exception of Kendrick have big-time power, although we’ve seen Soriano and Francoeur struggle mightily to find it consistently. At the Triple-A level in 2011, there were 8 qualifying players who fit that category we talked about above. At Double-A (3 leagues but 30 teams), 11 qualifiers met those marks. At the High-A level, where there were also 3 leagues but 30 teams, there were 9 qualifying players who fulfilled those criteria. And among Low-A level franchises, the mark ballooned to 13, including Rays prospect Derek Dietrich and Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos. What this tells us is that for hitters who aren’t as selective at the plate it has been much harder for them to hit for an exemplary amount of extra-base power. Correlation does not imply causation, but we can take something we see every day at the games to prove this point. There are some pitches that may be strikes but they are good enough pitches that if a hitters swings and connects it will likely turn into a routine out. Hitters who are solid at pitch recognition take those pitches and wait for a pitch they can take a good swing on.
Reid Brignac is a lean 6’3″, 190 and we have seen in the past that he definitely has some power. But unfortunately, we’ve also seen his walk rate crumble. In the lower minors, pitchers struggle with control and command, making it not only easier to draw walks but also there’s a higher probability when you swing that the ball ends up over the middle of the plate. Especially in the major leagues, pitchers are much more around the zone, but their mistakes are much more infrequent, meaning that if you swing at a random pitch, there’s a much higher chance of hitting a groundball or pop-up than hitting a hard line drive. The farther up Brignac has gone in the professional ranks, the more pitchers have been able to expose his lack of patience. Even down at Triple-A Durham right now in 2012, Brignac is hitting .150 with 1 walk and 1 extra-base hit in 5 games and 21 plate appearances.
Can Brignac recover to his previous levels? Only if he vastly improves his patience at the plate and waits for pitches he can drive. In 2010 when Brignac’s walk rate was a halfway-decent 6.1% of his plate appearances, he slammed 8 home runs and 22 extra-base hits in 326 PA’s. As his BB% dropped to 3.8% in 2011, he managed just 1 homer and 5 extra-base hits. If Brignac is to carve himself out a sustained MLB career even as just a utility player, he has to at least get his walk rate up a solid margin.
It’s tough. You’re in a slump and nothing goes your way. You just want to end your frustration with a line drive single and get back on a roll. You choke up on your bat. You swing at any pitch that looks close. But that’s not always the right approach. In his struggles since the beginning of 2011, Brignac has been in one long slump and his approach at the plate has completely imploded. He has to stop pressing and just relax and let his natural abilities come out. In spring training of 2012, Brignac looked relaxed and managed a .333 batting average, hitting line drive after line drive and managing a double, 2 walks, and just 3 strikeouts in 13 games and 32 plate appearances. He has to realize that even if spring training means so little and the regular season is where your career is on the line, the only to succeed as a major league hitter with his abilities is to stay patient and stay composed. If he can’t manage to do that, even a demotion to Triple-A won’t help him.