When the Giants picked up Gary Brown in last year’s player draft, I wrote the following:
I didn’t say much about the Brown draft pick when it went down, but I’m not a huge fan of Brown’s hitting approach. In his last year at Cal State Fullerton Brown hit .438/.468/.695. Yes, notice that batting average, it’s nuts. While that batting average is quite nice, he’s not going to hit .400 in pro-ball. Brown was notorious for just-not-walking — in 210 at-bats he drew only 9 walks. That kind of plate approach will raise a few eyebrows even with the anti-walks brigade.
Questioning Brown’s plate approach wasn’t an outlandish thing to worry about. It wasn’t as if I feared the speedy center fielder would never hit 30 home runs in a season — we all know he won’t — but rather if his hitting approach, a hyper aggressive swing-swing-swing approach in college, would translate to professional baseball. We actually named Brown the #3 prospect in the Giants system at the start of the year. So, it’s not like we hated the guy. Still, that approach … was a little a frightening. I don’t hate hackers, for the most part, I can take them for what they are. But, I think somewhere around the midway point in the dreaded 2008 season my brain changed. Most likely it was the result of watching too many Jose Castillo ABs (420 in total) that left such a sour taste in my mouth.
We’re still at a point in baseball — in both the majors and minors — where you can say ‘SSS’ about almost anything; and it’s true that we shouldn’t freak out too much about early season performances. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that Gary Brown has already walked seven times in 72 ABs. That’s a 8.1% walk-rate in the California League. By no means is Brown turning into Adam Dunn, but progress, albeit small and shrouded in the SSS curtain, is appealing. The league average walk-rate in the Cal League is actually 9.7% at the moment and Brown isn’t at the top of anyone’s list for drawing walks.
However, Brown’s path to the majors is between an ‘acceptable’ walk-rate and his skills of lots of contact, running the bases, and playing excellent defense in CF. Which brings me to a graph — yes, I know, a graph! — on the topic of Gary Brown and what he may, or may not do, in the major leagues.
I decided to create a graph based on several different outcomes — a sort of matrix — that calculates Browns WAR based on offense and defense. The top part of the graph is based on wOBA, which runs from .270 to .360. The league average wOBA tends to be around .330 and for this graph, I’ve set it to .332. On the left side of the graph, running up and down, is defense — or how many runs Brown would save in the field. If you want to know how well Brown needs to play defense while hitting a .310 wOBA to get to 2 wins all you have to do is find the corresponding numbers and match them up.
(The answer is +10 runs on defense and a .310 wOBA nets Brown a 2 WAR over 700 PAs)
A few more words on the graph; I’ve set replacement at two wins per 700 PAs. I’m assuming Brown will be a CF in the majors — he has constantly rated well by scouts on defense — and thus he’ll get the appropriate positional adjustment that we give all CFs. Keep in mind that all WAR totals are based on 100% playing time — or 700 PAs — and you might want to adjust them a little in your head if you’re assuming different PT levels. If you’re making different assumptions, feel free to adjust the numbers.
Brown might be the poster boy for ‘defense matters’ when it comes to evaluating players. For example: even if Brown hits a .320 wOBA in the majors — below average, think of David Eckstein — he’ll end up as a +2 win player if his defense rates at +5 runs. Brown rating at +5 runs on defense seems attainable. His scouting reports indicate that he’s got great range in the OF and despite a below average throwing arm, he’s a plus-defender at his position. If you really want to get greedy, check out the .340 wOBA column. If Brown turns out to be an above-average hitter, his floor is probably a 1.7 win player in 700 PAs. If his defense is closer to average, or above, we’re talking about anywhere from 2.5 wins to 3.7 wins.
If Brown turns out to be more Endy Chavez (career .300 wOBA) than Juan Pierre (career .323 wOBA) he’s still probably a useful 4th OF. I find it amazing that a batter with a .300 wOBA can even have a shot at a +1.4 win season. If Brown’s defense is +10 good — which we really shouldn’t bank on, yet — he ends up at 1.4 wins.
It’s hard to say how Brown’s career will turn out. Even though he’s in high-A baseball right now as a college player that should move fast, the art of prospecting seems like a crap-shoot most of the time. I think the graph does a good job of showing that Brown could be a very useful player even if he doesn’t turn out to be a league average hitter. One thing I didn’t include in the graph is baserunning which should help Brown’s overall WAR numbers. Baserunning has a small impact on WAR, but the swing (generally) seems to be around -5 runs for the very worst to +5 runs for the very best. It’s very possible that Brown will chip in a few additional runs each season just by running the basepaths.
Right now, it seems that Brown’s style of baseball is holding up in the California League (currently hitting .361/.446/.444 in 72 ABs). The walk-monger in me would still like to see a few more base on balls. If Brown’s defense plays up to his scouting reports and his high-contact approach doesn’t sink him in the majors, the Giants could have a nice player on their hands. I’m far from being a huge Brown booster, but I think I’ve come around on him more than any other prospect in the system right now.
EDIT: There was an error in my original graph with the positional adjustment. I’ve fixed it and everything should be correct now.