Wednesday, February 01, 2006


First Base Foibles

Last week the Tampa Bay Devil Rays scooped up notorious whiff artist Russ Branyan on a minor league contract, a fairly deft (for them) move. This ended any hope that I had of the Giants creatively finding a plug for their fairly substantial first base hole. As I mentioned in the previous post, the Giants' first base situation now consists of an unappetizing Mark Sweeney/Lance Neikro platoon, and getting reasonable production from this duo is a tenuous prospect at best.

As many know, the aforementioned Branyan is well-known throughout the baseball universe for his prolific Three True Outcomes ability, that being that when he comes to bat, the fielders can take a smoke because he's either going to walk, homer, or strike out. If Rob Deer and Dave Kingman met in a seedy hotel room and had a love child (OK, THAT summons up a disturbing mental picture), you'd pretty much get Branyan, a guy who was once a highly-touted Indians prospect but whose inability to make contact initially proved to be his undoing. In 1,464 career at-bats, he has a mind-boggling 597 strikeouts (against 340 hits). He's never eclipsed 315 AB's in a season, but if he were given 500, he'd easily blow past 200 K's.

All that waving and missing and that ugly .232 career batting average actually mask the fact that he's a pretty productive hitter, and when he does hit the ball, it goes a long, long way. Last season with Milwaukee, Branyan did his usual strikeout thing (80 in 202 AB's...yikes!), but also hit .257/.378/.490. Against right-handed pitching, he absolutely mashed, raking them to the tune of .280/.405/.538. For his career, Branyan is OPSing .814 vs. righties. Compare that to Pedro Feliz, our beloved third baseman, who hit an abysmal .243/.281/.404 against right-handed pitching in 2005 (and a just-as-yucky .245/.280/.424 career).

There could have been some serious upside here. Play Branyan at first base against righties, with Neikro in against lefties and Sweeney back in his more familiar role as super bench player. Occasionally, when facing a right-hander, the Giants could play Branyan at third in Feliz's stead and they could start Sweeney at first.

For a power-starved lineup this set-up would seem to make sense, but unfortunately guys like Branyan get underrated by many baseball people because of the whiffs, which is stupid and short-sighted. Come on, the guy slugged .480 last year, and he, unlike the Neikro/Feliz/Sweeney trinity that figures to contaminate the bottom of the batting order in 2006, can actually take a walk. The Giants don't need this...why? What did we get from the corners last year? J.T. Snow and his 4 homers, and a lot of punchless flailing at third from Edgardo Alfonso and Feliz. As for concerns about his defense, his glove at first certainly wouldn't make anybody forget Snow, but he's also not Dick Stuart around the bag or anything.

Obviously, Branyan wouldn't turn into the cure-all for the Giants' offensive woes, but he would have gone a long way toward making the lineup a little more formidable. And he wouldn't have cost anything, a typical zero-risk, high-reward type that Brian Sabean tends to ignore (as opposed to medium-risk, zero-reward types like Jose Vizcaino and Michael Tucker). Instead, a cheap potential solution is gone and the Giants still have a gaping flesh wound at one end of the keystone.

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