Friday, June 06, 2008

Three True Outcomes

My three favorite baseball players are Milton Bradley, Jayson Werth, and Russell Branyan. They're favorites of mine for roughly the same reasons - they have under-appreciated ups and over-frustrating downs, but I learned to love their approaches enough not to be frustrated by the downs even as they continue to keep them down. And this year, they are all having amazing years with the same caveats as always.

Both Bradley and Werth are good fielders with good power and good plate discipline who have been valuable when on the field. Bradley is the better player, but Werth isn't a slouch. Both were acquired by newly-hired Dodgers' GM Paul DePodesta in the week before the 2004 season began, and they were both key contributors in getting that team to the playoffs.* In 2005, they were slotted to be the starters alongside JD Drew with the Shawn Green trade. Werth was hit in the wrist by a pitch and missed the first two months and didn't hit very well in 395 PA after his return (.234/.338/.374, although he faced southpaws in only 20% of his PA's as opposed to 35% over the rest of his major league career.) Bradley missed two months with a finger injury as soon as Werth had returned, came back for one month, and then missed the final 38 games with a torn Patella tendon. After these setbacks and DePodesta's ousting, neither would play a regular season game as a Dodger again. Werth was out for all of 2006 and Bradley was shipped away, along with Antonio Perez, for Andre Ethier. Werth was non-tendered prior to the 2007 season and signed with the Phillies.

*It is often said that DePodesta inherited Dan Evans' team, but of the position players Dan Evans had only acquired Izturis, Encarnacion, Roberts, and Ventura, as well as giving NRI's to Hernandez and Saenz. Izturis, Encarnacion and Roberts were decent players with defense factored in, but they didn't do much offensively in 2004 (although it was Izturis' best year) and the latter two were traded at the deadline. Ventura was passable as a role player. The major contributions of Saenz and Hernandez, I am guessing, would not have come about without DePodesta purchasing their contracts. Maybe Evans really had them in his plans, but I doubt it. On the pitching side, Evans acquired the starting rotation of Weaver, Perez, Ishii, Nomo, and Lima, which combined for 842.2 IP and a 4.41ERA - and it would have been a lot worse if they didn't have an amazing defense behind them. To Evans' credit, he picked up valuable swing-man Wilson Alvarez and some decent relievers in Sanchez and Mota (he also acquired LOOGY Tom Martin who was traded at the deadline and Yhency Brazoban who was promoted at the deadline). DePodesta may have inherited Evans' team, but he pretty obviously improved it, and while DePo shouldn't get credit for Beltre's break out, Evans had nothing to do with it either. (Wanted to try out the Pozterisk.)

2006 and 2007 were more of the same for Bradley - outstanding play but only 50% playing time. San Diego, worried about his season-ending injury, chose not to offer him arbitration, and he signed with Texas for only $5.25 million. To reduce his injury risk, Texas said it would put him at DH to start the season. Werth had a great season in Philadelphia, avoiding injury for the most part (he had one month-long DL stint in July) and hitting .298/.404/.459 in 304 PA.

I didn't know much about Branyan until he was acquired by the Brewers in 2004. His back story is worth looking into if you're unfamiliar. While Branyan has never been good enough to be a star, teams have continued to be too wary of how he makes his outs (strikeouts) and his ratio of hits to at bats, and the Brewers were getting him after Cleveland gave up a second time (the first time, they at least got Ben Broussard; the second time, he was basically gratis). His glove isn't good enough to let him be a true underlooked gem, but he's been about an average major leaguer the whole decade and has been freely available time and time again. He hit .225/.307/.467 (.330 wOBA) in 805 PA for Cleveland before they dealt him at age 26, .232/.337/.481 (.350 wOBA) in 457 PA for Cincinnati before they non-tendered him, .247/.355/.506 (.360 wOBA) n 414 PA for Milwaukee before they DFA'd and released him after Toronto sent Corey Koskie packing in the wake of the Troy Glaus trade, .201/.283/.473 (.320 wOBA) in 193 PA for Tampa Bay (which was sort of overstocked on poor-fielding corner bats) before they swapped him for some half prospects from San Diego, where he hit .232/.357/.474 (.358 wOBA) in 233 PA before being released. (He had another 48 PA between St. Louis and Philly late in 2007, hitting .195/.313/.415 (.321 wOBA)). Thinking about the junk that teams like the Phillies and Twins have started at third in recent years, it legitimately angers me that Branyan never got a real shot and never had a salary over $1.25 million.

This season, each one has had great success tempered by the same old problems. Bradley leads the AL in OBP and SLG and hasn't missed more than the occasional game to injury. Werth has gotten decent playing time because of an injury to Shane Victorino and had a memorable 3 HR game to increase his national profile; in 148 PA, he's hit .260/.338/.519, putting his line since cast off by Colletti's Dodgers at .285/.382/.479 (.374 wOBA) in 451 PA. Branyan got his first extended taste of the Pacific Coast League, which is obviously a pretty good environment for him, and put up a .359/.453/.693 line in 176 PA. Milwaukee finally decided to bring him up and take RHP PA from Bill Hall, and he's hit .321/.441/.821 in 33 PA since being called up, bringing his major league line up to .230/.328/.483 (.344 wOBA) over 2183 PA.

I'm really happy for their successes, but each still must face the same issues they've dealt with all along. Bradley is killing the ball, but it could be that he'll only be able to keep doing so by staying at DH and staying away from the injury risks of playing the outfield. Werth is on the DL, and though he's begun his rehab assignment his ability to stay healthy for an extended period of time is in doubt. Branyan may finally stick with an organization that seems like it should like him, but his issue has always been when these organizations get capricious and managers see his trees and not his forest; with a dissatisfied sometime-hometown-favorite semi-star as his displaced platoon partner, he just doesn't have any job security.

Each of the three became familiar to me with their 2004 acquisition, played well with that franchise for two years, was discarded, and has played well since:

Milton Bradley:
2004-5: 908 PA, .275/.358/.446, .349 wOBA, 2.85 WPA, 1.98 WPA/LI
2006-8: 874 PA, .300/.400/.521, .395 wOBA, 5.50 WPA, 5.13 WPA/LI

Russell Branyan:
2004-5: 414 PA, .247/.355/.506, .360 wOBA, 0.51 WPA, 1.41 WPA/LI
2006-8: 507 PA, .222/.332/.491, .349 wOBA, -.16 WPA, 1.48 WPA/LI

Jayson Werth:
2004-5: 719 PA, .247/.338/.426, .334 wOBA, 0.92 WPA, 1.06 WPA/LI
2006-8: 451 PA, .285/.382/.479, .374 wOBA, 0.93 WPA, 2.14 WPA/LI

So here's to three great players whose great 2008's might finally get them the recognition and pay they've earned over the years. And here's to Kyle Russell, who, if he ends up as good as any of these three, will have been a steal.

Update: Werth was activated for today's game. - June 8


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