Sunday, June 22, 2008

Can "The Muscle" keep it up? History says no.

This is from's Eric Karabell, who is their fantasy baseball writer. The article does talk a lot about fantasy team impact, but I think it's still worth posting because it's a whole article about my man, Russell "The Muscle." It's an ESPN Insider article, so I posted the whole text (thanks to Geoff). Don't skip the little tidbits at the end, there's lots of Brewers info down there, too. (Bolding mine.) There's also one on the possible slide of Carlos Marmol - Brewers fans pray and rejoice!
Friday, June 20, 2008
Reality on homer-happy Branyan, Thames

So there's that Russell Branyan guy hitting yet another home run
Thursday, and I'm thinking, so what, been there, done that. I mean,
isn't that what everyone's thinking? This is typical, vintage Branyan.
Branyan has always had power, and whenever he goes to a new place, he
shows it off for a bit, then starts striking out a lot and slips back
into relative obscurity. That's his thing, in a way.
Of course, couldn't it be possible that Branyan is this season's Jack Cust?

I decided I'd do some research for this one, seeing if Branyan
actually does hit a bunch of homers every time he joins a new team,
then trails off so we can ignore him again. Even if it wasn't true, I
asked five random people in the office what they thought of Branyan,
and to a man -- there aren't, um, a whole lotta women in our office,
much to Matthew Berry's chagrin -- they all assumed, like I, that
Branyan was on another one of his hot streaks and soon he'd cool down,
Bill Hall would be happy and life would go back to normal.

The research does bear this out a bit, but then I thought, so what? It
gives us strong background on this all-or-nothing slugger, but didn't
Cust finally stick with Oakland last season? Cust had been around,
too, failing for a number of organizations before smacking 26 home
runs for Billy Beane's crew in 2007. Obviously, fantasy owners had
reason to question his great start, and maybe a lot of you either
didn't bother with Cust, or turned him into someone else before what
you thought would be the inevitable fall.

Branyan enters Friday with 20 games played for Milwaukee, and 10 home
runs. He's homered in three straight games, and four of five. He's
walking, striking out, knocking in runs, and while we do have a strong
sample size of Branyan's past, he's never really done it quite like
this, which makes me wonder …

• In 2000, Branyan came up with the Indians for the third straight
year, and got to stay. He homered twice on May 31 that season, the day
of his call-up, then didn't start until six games later, and he
homered again. In all, Branyan swatted six long balls in his first
five starts with the Tribe, then cooled down. He was mainly a regular
player that year once he came up, and he hit 16 homers in 67 games,
which is quite the pace. He also hit .238.

• In 2002, he was traded across Ohio to the Reds for Ben Broussard.
Branyan didn't homer in his final 20 games with the Indians, but in
his second and fourth games with Cincy, he did. Another fast start! He
cooled down faster this time, but remained a regular much of the time
for the Reds, and hit for power. On Aug. 4 at San Diego, he hit three
home runs, two off Bobby Jones (the right-hander who was a longtime
Met, not the tall, erratic lefty) and one off Mike Holtz. He ended up
with 16 homers in 84 games for the Reds, 24 for the season.

• In 2004, he joined the Brewers, and homered in his first start for
them, a solo shot off Greg Maddux. He hit six home runs in his first
11 starts, including a two-homer, five-RBI game against the Cubs (Matt
Clement, Mike Remlinger). Then, shockingly, he cooled down, finishing
with 11 homers in 51 games.
• In 2006, then with Tampa Bay, he was the starting right fielder much
of April, but hit only three home runs that month. In May he hit six.
By August, with 12 homers and a .201 batting average, he was dealt to
the Padres. In his second game, he hit two home runs, off Brandon Webb
and everyone's pal Jorge Julio. Fast start! Slow after that. He ended
up with six homers and nine RBIs in 27 games, and doubled and tripled
in 13 at-bats against the Cardinals in the playoffs.
• In 2007, Branyan played for three teams. He didn't do much for the
Padres as a part-time third baseman, then he got released. The Indians
signed him, and two days later sold him to the Phillies. Branyan hit a
huge, game-winning home run in his first at-bat, a two-run, pinch-hit
shot off Jon Rauch, and five games later he made his first start, and
hit a three-run homer! That was his only start. A week later he was
gone, victim of a numbers game really, and the Cardinals picked him
up. And again Branyan homered in his first start! He didn't hit
another for St. Louis.
So, to make a long story short, Branyan does indeed have a track
record of starting fast with new teams, but he's never started this
fast, with double-digit homers in a few weeks. This is new, uncharted
territory for the man. The Brewers seemed to plan for this, signing
Branyan back in February to a minor league deal, and then when they
just couldn't take Hall's struggles against right-handed pitching any
longer, brought him up on May 25. So far, so great!

So this is where I have to say the wise thing, right? I must discuss
how Branyan can't possibly keep this up, and how you should sign him,
enjoy the occasional dinger and swiftly move him to some dunderhead in
your league who thinks he'll hit 30. Am I not compelled to do this?
Why, at age 32, would Branyan all of a sudden be able to keep a hot
streak going? Aren't opposing scouts watching? They must be aware that
Branyan is a major strikeout guy. Bust him up and in or throw sliders
off the plate and he's putty. Yes, he can hit majestic home runs as
well. In fact, in the history of Miller Park, it's not Prince Fielder
or Ryan Braun or Corey Hart who has hit three of the four longest home
runs in stadium history, it's you know who. The stadium opened in
2001, by the way, or else I would have mentioned Gorman Thomas, Robin
Yount and Hank Aaron.

However, Branyan is not Cust, because he doesn't have the same kind of
plate discipline to take walks, but he is a classic "three true
outcomes" type player in that Branyan doesn't put the ball in play
very much and he does walk, fan and homer quite a bit. He's really
never been a full-time regular all season, and with Hall still around,
and his batting average a lock to drop at least 75 points from its
current mark, Branyan might not get that chance this season, either.
Or maybe the Brewers are 10 games behind the Cubs on July 31, and
Branyan gets moved to a contender or sold again.

Whatever the case, and no matter how good a story this appears, what
Cust did last year is different. He's far more patient, and showed
that ability all through the minors. And when he cooled down after a
hot start, the A's didn't pull the plug on him. Branyan isn't a bad
short-term pickup, and look, there he is on ESPN's most-added list
already. He should be. There's a chance this continues. History,
however, tells us otherwise, that the strikeouts or his defense are
just too much for a real team to take.

I've stated my case on one-dimensional power hitters plenty in the
past. I liked Cust a lot in a head-to-head league that used OPS, and
not batting average. I think Branyan will be a poor man's Cust.
However, in standard leagues with all the trappings -- shallow, 10
teams, plenty of free agents who are well-rounded and with more
upside, the typical five offensive stats -- eventually the batting
average will do more harm than the home runs will do good. I generally
don't own players like Cust or Branyan in standard leagues.

The same goes for Marcus Thames. Good for him for hitting home runs in
five consecutive games recently, and six of seven. Thames always had
power. He's not foolin' anyone, we know what he's capable of. I just
found it amazing that while Thames was hitting those home runs, his
batting average actually went down. He didn't hit any singles! All his
hits were home runs. Ten days ago, he was hitting .253. Seven home
runs and nine starts later, he's hitting .250. Hard to do, folks. Not
to go all Jayson Stark on you, but I can't believe this is a common
thing. Thames is a career .242 hitter, with a .505 slugging
percentage. He'll hit home runs, and that's it. Jim Leyland remembers
Dave Kingman, as do I. That's Thames.

I'll admit, I was hoping that after all my research on Branyan and
Thames, I'd make the determination their success was not fleeting, and
they could keep this up. I just can't. I am rooting for them, though,
and let's make it clear: Home runs and RBIs do count in fantasy
baseball, and these guys do have value in the deeper leagues. Heck,
they might have value to you, if you need power and lead the league in
batting average, in shallow leagues.

So let's turn our attention to happy thoughts on my mind this fine
Friday, as I'll be just a few feet away from Adam Eaton and Ervin
Santana later on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, watching these
teams' respective leaders in quality starts. Strange but true.

Happy thoughts time … wouldn't it be nice if …

… Evan Longoria ended up with shortstop eligibility? It sure would!
Longoria started at short on Thursday, while Jason Bartlett got the
night off against the Cubs.

… Carlos Zambrano missed only one start. To be honest, I gave up a
year ago on predicting doom for this abused right-hander. I wouldn't
panic, I do really think he avoids a DL stint.

… his previous appearance was not the start of wild times for dominant
Carlos Marmol. Hopefully, the two walks and two batters he hit are not
a sign of pending doom for arguably the top relief pitcher in the
game. He doesn't have the saves, but the numbers are crazy, at least
before Thursday. And he does have a history of command issues. I think
the Cubs would be in more trouble sans Marmol, rather than Big Z.

… Justin Upton goes off now that he had his first decent game of June.
The rookie has struggled. Yeah, yeah, he's 20, but imagine how that
destroys the psyche when you're 3-for-36 for the month! On Thursday,
he homered, doubled and walked.

… Travis Hafner comes back and takes walks, hits for power, is his old self?

… Salomon Torres really does remain the Milwaukee closer, no matter
how good Eric Gagne looks? Or maybe this section should read, it would
be nice if Brewers manager Ned Yost sticks by his word.

… Jamie Moyer pitched five more years?

… my ol' pal Dave Bush could keep this going? I was in my car
listening to a shocked Bob Uecker describe one of the most annoying,
hittable pitchers in the game take a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
Dave Bush? You must be kidding. I feel compelled to point out his WHIP
is 1.27. Sure, his ERA is high, he allows homers, doesn't strike
people out and that was only his third win in 13 starts. But his WHIP
is 1.27. We've been through this many times before, but how can he not
be emerging, again? Think positive thoughts, he's emerging! And by the
way, the Blue Jays could be next to have their front office blown up.
Not only couldn't they hit Bush, but the war with Adam Dunn, being in
last place, it's ridiculous.

Adam Dunn got dealt to the Blue Jays.

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