A Historical Look at Reid Brignac’s Plate Discipline

[Ed: Brignac has since been placed on the bereavement list due to a death in his family. Thoughts with him and his, meanwhile Felipe Lopez will report to the Rays. Welcome back, Flip.)

There are a few topics without a given player’s career that won’t go away. With James Shields it’s his home run rate and batting average on balls in play, with B.J. Upton it’s his strikeout rate, and with Reid Brignac it’s going to be his plate discipline. If Brignac improves, then we’ll keep tabs on just how much progress he has made. If he remains static, then the conversation turns to whether he can succeed with that skill set.

Brignac played against the Yankees on Monday then did not play again until Thursday. In six plate appearances since returning, Brignac has ended three at-bats in full counts, ended one in a 2-0 count, was granted an intentional walk, and ended another on a 1-2 count. In five at-bats, he wound up ahead at the end in four of them. It’s an unusual set of circumstances for Brignac, as he before Thursday he only had 11 plate appearances ending in a full count and 24 ending with him ahead.

I’d rather not read too much into it, as just about anything can happen over six plate appearances, but hopefully in a month or two we can look back at this as a sign of progress. In the meanwhile, I wanted to know just how similar players have seen their unintentional walk-to-strikeout rate fare heading forward in their careers.

By similar players, I mean 24-year-old middle infielders with 300-plus plate appearances during the given season. I limited the query from 1990-onwards, with at least 50 percent of their playing time coming up the middle—just like Brignac’s 2010. From there, I took the players who had a uBB/SO rate similar to Brignac’s in 2010 (within .10 points of .22) and found out whether their rates increased, decreased, or remained static heading forward.

I removed Ian Desmond because his season occurred in 2010 and there is nothing to be learned from his plate appearances so far. That left me with 21 players. Not all of them had the same pedigree as Brignac, or the same defensive chops, or the same power, so the only common threads are position, age, and uBB/SO—I chose uBB instead of BB to eliminate the eighth-slot hitters who see their walk rates benefit from intentional passes. The results are below, sorted by plate appearances after the age 24 season:

The average net (weighed by plate appearances) suggests these players gained .07 on their uBB/SO rate after the initial season. This isn’t a perfect measure or anything, as some of these players reached the majors earlier than age 24, but those seasons are not included. I had some concerns that weighing by plate appearance would lead to survivor bias—wherein the success stories like Michael Young and Miguel Tejada pushed the average upward—however, the raw average for net gain is actually higher without playing time considerations.

There is some bad news here, as I’ve often compared Brignac’s struggles at the plate to young Carl Crawford’s problems. Over Crawford’s final three seasons with the Rays, he posted a .46 uBB/SO rate and only two players managed to top that going forward—with Luis Rivas doing it in under a full season’s worth of plate appearances. It appears my comparison is a bit overzealous when using this measure, since expecting Brignac to jump towards the top of the list is a bit much.

In terms of similar players, Alex Gonzalez and Miguel Tejada compare the most favorable to Brignac’s age 24 uBB/SO rate and ISO. Gonzalez also has the sterling defensive reputation, although he has turned into something of a journeyman in recent seasons. Tejada has the power and the nickname, “Mr. Swings at Everything” (courtesy of Billy Beane in Moneyball), to roll with Brignac. Apparently, you can’t walk off the island, away from Venezuela, or out of Louisiana. Of course, if Brignac has either of their career arcs, I think the Rays have to walk away satisfied.

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