One Up, One Down: Brinson & Jones

I’m of the belief that there is a group of similarly talented players who owners should keep churning to find the latest true breakout. Lewis Brinson (64% FanTrax ownership) and Jacoby Jones (24% owned) are two such players. While Brinson was part of the draft endgame with a 275 NFBC ADP, Jones was waiver wire fodder in almost every league with an ADP of 660. If given the option, I’d gladly own Jones right now.

What’s wrong with Lewis Brinson?

Brinson has been a highly touted prospect for several seasons with Baseball Prospectus having him on their Top-101 back in the 2013 but he jumped onto all major lists starting in 2016.

Here are his prospect grades over the years.

Lewis Brinson’s Prospect Grades
Season Source Hit Power Run Field Arm
2013 MLB 50 50 70 60 60
2014 MLB 45 60 60 60 55
2015 MLB 50 60 60 60 55
2016 MLB 55 60 60 55 60
2016 BA 50 60 60 60 60
2017 FanGraphs 50 60 60 55 60
2017 MLB 50 60 60 60 55
2018 BA 55 60 60 55 60
2018 FanGraphs 50 65 55 55 60
2018 MLB 50 55 60 60 55

Overall, no grade varies much with only one below average hit grade. Those grades are the only items which point to his hit tool being above average.
Most prospect experts placed him as an above-average regular. He hasn’t been close to average this season with .143/.213/.268 slash line.

First,  I’ll start the discussion with his plate discipline. With the Rangers and Brewers in 2016, his minor league walk rate was under 5%. Last season with the Brewers, it was around 10% looking at both his major and minor league numbers. And now this season with the Marlins, its dropped down to 6%.

The main reason for the drop is that he’s hacking-and-missing at everything. He had contact issues last season with a 63% Contact% which has dropped to 61% this season (league average is 75%). Adding to his woes is his 50% Swing% which is 5% points higher than league average. His 0.15 K/BB is the 13th worst among the 178 qualified hitters. There’s nothing positive to say about his plate discipline.

Looking over his Power grades, he should be hitting some home runs and a 25% HR/FB MLB rate. The problem is that he’s not making enough contact and when he does, he puts too many balls on the ground.

His minor league groundball rates looked reasonable between 40% and 50%. Since being in the majors, it’s 60% and this season he has the 5th highest rate among qualified hitters. He’s channeling his inner Eric Hosmer.

Finally, he refuses to take pitches the opposite way with a 15% opposite field percentage. Even though he’s right-handed and has the speed to beat the shift with a bunt, defenses don’t seem to care. he’s hit into the shift 20% of the time this season.

Owners may think they can still hope on his power but the StatCast numbers don’t look good. Of the 306 players with at least 25 balls in play, here are his rankings in several categories.

Category: Rank
Max EV: 35th
Barrels: 169th
LD/FB EV: 201st
Average EV: 265th

These rankings almost perfectly fit his results. Most of the time, he doesn’t make solid contact but the few times he does, it’s loud.

Brinson’s swing and approach are a mess. If it was just one small possible adjustment, I’d like him more. Instead, he needs a complete overhaul. He’s pretty much unstartable in all formats.

And what is JaCoby Jones doing right?

Jones never made a top-100 prospect list but did make some Top-20 lists for the Pirates and Tigers. Here are his few available historic grades:

JaCoby Jones’s Prospect Grades
Season Source Hit Power Run Field Arm
2013 MLB 50 50 60 50 50
2014 MLB 40 50 65 50 55
2015 MLB 45 50 60 40 55
2016 MLB 45 50 60 40 55
2017 FanGraphs 40 55 55 50 55

So, he has a below average bat with OK pop, and above average speed. His minor league plate approach was worse than Brinson’s with a similar walk rate and a higher strikeout rate. He continued his swing-happy approach into the majors. Instead of settling on his bad approach, or doubling down like Brinson is doing, he seems to be improving it.

While his 7 BB% isn’t out of the norm, his 24 K% would be a low mark taking every minor league level into account. The improvement hasn’t come from swinging at pitches out of the strike zone but making more contact (63% to 73%). The improvements have him hitting a reasonable .275/.345/.471 slash line. While his .333 BABIP may seem high, it’s in line with his minor league numbers.

Besides a new plate approach, he’s lifting the ball more. Last season he posted a 51% GB%. It’s now down to 40%.

Additionally, here’s his batted ball ranks.

Category: Rank
Max EV: 66th
Barrels: 86th
LD/FB EV: 112th
Average EV: 13th

While he doesn’t have the raw power compared to Brinson, he’s been able to barrel up more pitches and make consistently better contact this season.

The projection systems aren’t buying the changes yet with a K% over 30% limiting his upside. If an owner believes the early season changes, they point to a potential 20-20 player. He can get on base enough to reach his stolen base potential and have enough power for some home runs. Owners need to buy while he’s still available.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Vic Romano
Vic Romano

What about Jones vs. Mazara? Where would you come down on that one?