Brandon Guyer: A Ray Ponders his Power

Brandon Guyer homered in his first big league bat. That was in 2011, a year in which he went deep 16 times, in 429 at bats, between Triple-A and Tampa Bay. The following spring, Baseball America wrote that, “Guyer offers and impressive combination of speed and power,” and is “ready to become a big league regular.”

Then he got hurt. In late May, Guyer underwent shoulder surgery and was lost for the balance of the 2012 season. He returned to Durham in 2013, where he batted over .300, but with just seven home runs. A year ago, he left the yard a mere three times, in 259 at bats, in part-time duty with the Rays.

The 29-year-old University of Virginia product appears to be getting his stroke back. The resurgence isn’t dramatic – he finished this year with eight home runs in 332 at bats – but Guyer is looking more and more like his old self. Half of his homers traveled over 400 feet, and all went at least 360 feet. Seven came off lefties, against whom he had an .847 OPS.

Guyer’s glimpses of power came primarily as an often-platooned outfielder and as a lead-off hitter. He slashed .266/.361/.416 overall, and whether he projects as a regular going forward is hard to say. Some of that may depend on his ability to clear fences, which presents a bit of a quandary. Guyer likes to hit home runs – everyone does – but he’s determined that it’s not in his best interest to adopt that mindset.

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Guyer on not trying to hit for power: “Throughout my career, I’ve kind of gone through spurts where I wanted to be a home run hitter – I wanted to hit for a lot of power – but I realize that’s not totally my game. My game – especially being a lead-off hitter – is to get on base any way possible. The home runs will come. Every now and then I struggle with that. At the end of the day, my game is to hit line drives.

“When I have a home run mindset, I very rarely hit home runs. I just get long and hit a lot of fly balls, and that’s not me. The more fly balls you hit, the more home runs you hit, but I can’t look at it that way. If I get under a line drive that I hit hard, it might go out. That’s what my approach needs to be.”

On developing as a hitter: “Hitting coaches haven’t tried to mold me too much. Throughout my years in the minors, they pretty much let me go out there and figure it out. Up here, it’s more that they work on my swing. I get long when I’m trying to use my body – I try to muscle up too much – rather than just using my hands. If I let my hands do the work, everything comes easy from there. When I get into those funks, they’ll remind me: ‘Stay short, don’t think power; you’re a strong guy, so the power will come.

“Maybe they’ll notice that I’m hitting a lot of ground balls because I’m cutting off my swing – that’s a big one. They’ll tell me I’m cutting it off and need to get through the ball. I have a naturally short swing, but I need to make sure I stay short and through it, and not short and cutting it off.”

On his shoulder injury: “I had left shoulder surgery in 2012, and for a couple of years I didn’t really get great extension. That probably affected my power for awhile. I had seven anchors put in my shoulder – my labrum was torn – and that’s the arm I use for extension and getting through the ball. Even though I have a short swing where I don’t get extended all that much, it was still an issue. But I feel better now; I feel strong.

“It’s definitely taken awhile. I still do rehab a lot – prehab – where I’m building it up. Is it 100 percent? Yeah, it feels great, it’s also not the same as a shoulder that’s never had surgery.”

On his two-strike approach: “There haven’t really been any mechanical changes, at least nothing too crazy. I try to stick with what got me here, and keep things simple. But I will change my stance. Before two strikes, I’ll be more upright. With two strikes, I spread out and don’t stride at all. I try to let the ball get deep and just put it into play. I guess that’s more approach than mechanics.

“What’s funny is, even though I’m trying to just put the ball in play, probably half of my home runs this year have come with two strikes. A lot of my extra-base hits have been with two strikes. People tell me, ‘Why don’t you just do that all the time?’ but sometimes with two strikes I put it in play weakly, so I’m not sure I want that approach all the time. Even so, there’s something to staying really short, and being calm with a quiet body.”

On keeping it simple: “I always tell myself KISS – keep it simple stupid – because when you complicate things… it’s already hard enough to hit against the best pitchers in the world. When you go up thinking about things while you’re trying to hit, and the ball is moving 90-95, that makes it even tougher. When I’m struggling, sometimes it’s because a lot of hitting-related thoughts are going through my head. When I’m doing well, I’m keeping it simple and not trying to do too much.

“If I hit a home run and get in a mode where I’m thinking about hitting another one, I’m probably going to be in trouble. I’m better off focusing on having a nice easy swing and just trying to hit the barrel. Simple is better, and for me, simple means not trying to hit for too much power.”

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A few hours after sitting down for this conversation, Guyer led off the game against Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez and hit a high, towering drive over Fenway Park’s Green Monster.

One other note on Guyer: He was plunked 24 times this year — the highest HBP total in the American League — despite coming to the plate just 380 times.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Detroit Michael
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Detroit Michael

Thanks for your interviews all season long, David.

Guyer’s platoon split problems didn’t disappear this year. He could play everyday, but his platoon splits mark him more as a terrific player against a LH starter and a fine back-up quality player against a RH starter.