Take a Chance on Branyan’s Cheap Pop

On Friday, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson announced that Russell Branyan has made the club’s Opening Day roster. Branyan’s ultimate role has yet to be determined — his own physical limitations, Juan Miranda‘s presence on the roster and Xavier Nady’s arm strength could affect his playing time — but if you’re looking for cheap pop, Branyan is your man.

Taking plenty of cuts in Safeco Field’s power-sapping park, Branyan nonetheless batted a combined .244/.336/.504 over the 2009-2010 seasons. No, the batting average isn’t pretty, but the lefty-hitting thumper’s .260 Isolated Power over that period was eighth-highest among MLB batters with at least 900 plate appearances. With Branyan moving from a pitcher’s park to Chase Field, a venue with a favorable exchange rate on power, his production may well increase in 2011.

According to StatCorner, Chase Field inflates home runs for left-handed hitters by 14 percent compared to a neutral ball park, and boosts offense by seven percent for lefties overall. As a lefty hitter who annihilates pitches that he pulls — Branyan has the fifth-highest wOBA in the majors over the past two years on balls put in play to the pull side — he’s a great fit for his new digs.

With help from Baseball-Reference’s Play Index Tool, we can get a rough idea of what Branyan’s 2009-2010 triple-slash would have looked like if he batted in a more favorable offensive environment. The Play Index Tool can adjust a hitter’s line based on league, run environment and park factors. Here are Branyan’s actual AVG/OBP/SLG lines over the past two seasons, compared to what those lines would have resembled if he had been in the National League playing for the D-Backs.

Actual (AL, Mariners): .251/.347/.520
Adjusted (NL, Diamondbacks): .266/.366/.555

Actual: (AL, Indians/Mariners): .237/.323/.487
Adjusted (NL, Diamondbacks): .262/.353/.542

When you consider that Branyan will do his slugging in a fantastic park for lefty pop in 2011 after being constrained by Safeco in recent years, his robust ZiPS projection (.258/.343/.537) seems attainable.

Granted, Branyan is far from a sure fantasy asset. He’s 35 years old, and he’s one massive cut away from the DL — Branyan was shelved by a herniated disc in his lower back each of the past two seasons, and he missed a big chunk of time in 2008 with a strained oblique.

And while Brandon Allen’s minor league options mean he’s likely Reno-bound to start the year, Branyan must contend with Miranda, a former Yankees farmhand who is out of options. Miranda’s bat doesn’t figure to be as potent (.257/.325/.432 ZiPS projection), but it’s possible that the D-Backs give the lukewarm prospect a shot early in the year. An argument can be made that, options aside, Allen (.246/.331/.442 ZiPS) should be starting during a season in which avoiding the NL West’s cellar will prove difficult.

There’s also the question of Nady’s role. He’s still having some problems uncorking throws after having his second Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2009. Nady is supposed to start in left field. But he figures to play some first on days when a lefty is on the mound (Miranda’s a left-handed hitter, too, and Branyan’s career line versus LHP is .207/.287/.446). If Nady’s elbow problem flares up, he could play first more often.

Branyan had to settle for a minor league contract over the winter due durability concerns, and his fantasy price tag is similarly low because of his balky back and questions over his playing time. However, Branyan has as much juice as any hitter, and he’s moving to a home park that suits his power game. Considering the minimal investment involved and his ability to mash, buying low on The Muscle is a smart move.

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Spitball McPhee
Spitball McPhee

picked him up in my Ottoneu draft yesterday for $3.

Spitball McPhee
Spitball McPhee

$1 actually, now that I verified.