Not so long ago, Reid Brignac looked like Tampa Bay's sure-fire shortstop of the future. As a lefty hitter capable of driving the ball and covering serious ground in the field, Brignac ranked near the top of the prospect lists in the Rays' ridiculously deep farm system. He held his own upon getting meaningful big league playing time in 2010 (a 92 OPS+ in 326 plate appearances), shifting between second base and short. Once Tampa traded Jason Bartlett to San Diego after the season, the shortstop job was Brignac's to lose.
And he did. Brignac bombed in 2011, batting .193/.227/.221 in 264 PA. While he didn't have the worst adjusted OPS among horrid hitters who somehow got 200+ plate appearances (thanks, Drew Butera!), Brignac nonetheless was one of the five lousiest over the last decade:
Worst OPS+ among hitters with 200+ PA, 2002-2011
|6||Wily Mo Pena||35||206||2008||WSN|
Brignac fell behind the likes of Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson on the depth chart, and even found himself back at Triple-A Durham for a brief time in July and August. That's where Brignac could open 2012, too, after the Rays signed free agent Jeff Keppinger. Long-term, he's going to have to contend with former number one pick Tim Beckham and especially Hak-Ju Lee, the big trade chip in the Matt Garza deal with the Cubs.
If Brignac is to avoid joining the Brandon Woods, Wily Mo Penas, Andy LaRoches and Jeff Mathiss of the world in the failed prospect graveyard, he'll have to stop going after so many junk pitches. Brignac has chased 39 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone during his MLB career, way above the 28 percent average since 2008. In particular, Brignac's hacking off the outside corner is what has him on the outside looking in for 2012.
Pitchers rarely throw inside stuff to Brignac, preferring to hit the outside corner...
Fifty-seven percent of the pitches that Brignac has seen have been thrown on the outer third of the plate, above the 53 percent average for lefty batters. And there's good reason for opponents to go outside against Brignac: he just can't resist extending his strike zone. Check out Brignac's swing rate by pitch location, compared to the average for lefty hitters:
Brignac has the fifth-highest chase rate on outer-third pitches in the majors since 2008 (minimum 500 plate appearances). Only Corey Patterson, Laynce Nix, Greg Dobbs and A.J. Pierzynski have tried to poke more out-of-zone offerings thrown off the outer third of the plate.
At this point, Brignac has three options. He can start swinging a boat oar instead of a bat, he can stop bring so chase-happy on outer-third pitches, or he can sink. Pitchers know his weakness. Now, it's up to him to adjust.