The San Francisco Giants' eternal search for a masher to pair with slugger Pablo Sandoval would end if they landed Russell Branyan, who is one of the best free agent first basemen on the market.
In 2009, he topped 500 plate appearances for the first time in his career, taking full advantage of the extended look with a .251/.347/.520 triple-slash.
The 34 year old showcased Thor-like strength with 31 home runs, and displayed incredible plate presence with 4.11 pitches per plate appearance.
His 13.9 at-bats for every home run was seventh best in MLB, and his .269 isolated power (SLG-AVG) was good for 13th in baseball.
Branyan had a 65.7 percent contact rate, which was the third lowest in baseball among first basemen with a minimum of 250 plate appearances, behind only Carlos Pena and Chris Davis.
His low contact rates together with a large amount of pitches seen led to a 34.6 percent strikeout rate, but his 11.9 percent walk rate ranked 15th out of 43 first basemen.
He missed the last month of the 2009 season with a herniated disk, but if the Giants were to sign him and he sustains another injury, they would be in capable hands with Travis Ishikawa.
Defensively, Russell fielded third base for the eight seasons previous to ’09 and then switched over to first. He played admirably in his 1034.1 innings there, with a +3.0 range rating, -1.5 error rating, and +1.8 UZR.
It makes sense that Branyan had good range at first after switching infield corners, and his 10 errors are impressive, considering his relative inexperience at that position. I could see him maintaining and even improving upon those defensive numbers in the 2010 season.
In 210 at bats with runners on, he hit .262 with a .361 on base percentage and a .495 slugging percentage. Hitting third for the Giants in front of Pablo Sandoval would lead to him seeing more fastballs, and he crushed those to the tune of 1.30 runs above average per 100 pitches in 2009.
He is also capable against left-handed pitchers, plugging in a .805 OPS in 158 at bats last season.
The gritty first baseman would be a perfect short term power fix without hindering the long term development of Ishikawa that much.
Signing Branyan would etch the following things in stone:
A) Pablo Sandoval is the everyday third baseman.
Sandoval manned the hot corner with golden glovework, and has one of the best infield arms in baseball. However, he really needs to improve his range.
Playing the Panda at third last year paid some serious dividends, as the Giants lead the league in park-adjusted defensive effeciency (def_eff), according to baseballprospectus.com.
B) Juan Uribe plays more shortstop.
Uribe isn’t as ideal at shortstop as he is at third or second, but he’ll provide more with the bat than Edgar Renteria will.
Renteria: 250/307/328, -0.1 UZR/150
Uribe: 289/329/495, -5.5 UZR/150
Uribe’s .330 BABIP was 40 points above his career average, which will lead some people to believe that his 2009 season was fluke, but I wouldn’t be so sure. He appeared to have added some serious bat speed, and his potency against fastballs would back up that assumption.
From fangraphs.com , here are his weighted values per 100 pitches for fastballs and sliders:
Year: wFB/C, wSL/C
2006: -0.24, -0.14
2007: -0.35, -1.00
2008: -0.76, -0.70
2009: +0.80, +0.88
Uribe is only a couple years removed from being a capable shortstop, so it’s possible that he would hold his own there in 2010.
C) Mark DeRosa plays mostly in the outfield.
2008 OF UZR/150= +11.5
2009 OF UZR/150= +31.2
The lineup could then look something like this:
1) Velez/Torres, CF
2) Sanchez, 2B
3) Branyan, 1B
4) Sandoval, 3B
5) DeRosa, LF
6) Schierholtz, RF
7) Uribe, SS
8) Posey, C
If signing Branyan falls out the window, then sticking with Travis Ishikawa at first base is a possibility.
In 2009, the Giants played a plethora of guys at first, with Ishikawa accumulating the most at-bats with 326. The 26 year old hit .261 with a .329 on base percentage, 10 doubles, two triples, and nine home runs.
He had a high strikeout rate at 27.3 percent, but he played great defense, with a +8.9 range rating, +1.2 error rating, and a +19.1 UZR/150 (Ishikawa led the league in UZR/150 by eight points).
Of the 38 first basemen with over 300 at-bats, Ishikawa ranked 32nd with a wOBA of .313 and 33rd with a .387 slugging percentage. He hit .278 against lefties, with a 72 OPS+ in 32 at-bats and hit .259 against righties, with an 88 OPS+ in 290 at-bats.
Ishikawa was given sporadic playing time in ‘09 and he crushed the ball in the minors in ’08.
469 PA, .299 BA, .377 OBP, .578 SLG
He had a lot of problems with sliders and curveballs, but if he can show some improvement with pitch recognition, then good seasons will follow.
Ishikawa is no Russell Branyan yet, and a Branyan signing would mean that fans would once again get to see some splash hits being hit yonder over the right field wall in AT&T Park.
Jumping on Branyan now gives the Giants an ability to compete in 2010 and retain future flexibility and maneuverability.