When Jack Zduriencik took over as GM of the Seattle Mariners, one of his first decisions was that he was going to sign Russell Branyan to play first base, and that he was going to give him an opportunity to prove that he could be an everyday player. Heading into his age 33 season, Zduriencik was convinced that Branyan could produce in a regular role, and was going to let Branyan prove him wrong.
So far, he looks like a genius. Branyan entered the day hitting .306/.395/.590, and he just hit a Trevor Cahill fastball about 750 feet for his 11th home run of the season. Given a chance to hit against left-handed pitching for the first time, he’s responded by showing a fairly normal platoon split – .312/.407/.634 vs RHPs and .294/.373/.529 against LHPs.
Watching him play on a daily basis, and looking at his career performances, I have to wonder just what kind of career Branyan missed out on for no real reason. Starting in 2000, when he got some real playing time for the first time in his career as a 24-year-old, Branyan has never posted a wOBA below .326. His career wOBA is .350, and his wRAA of 43.0 in 2,487 PA paints the picture of a guy who was worth about 10 runs more than a league average hitter over each full season’s worth of playing time.
He’s not a bad defender. He’s not a slow, plodding runner. He’s a pretty good hitter with ridiculous power. But, here he is, at age 33, getting his fist real shot as a major league regular. The Mariners are the ninth major league team he’s played for, yet none of the first eight saw fit to give him more than a couple hundred trips to the plate per season.
Branyan isn’t this good, but there’s a decent argument to be made that he could have been the early decade’s version of Carlos Pena had someone been willing to give him a chance. I’m glad that he’s finally gotten one and is running with it, but unfortunately, his career legacy will probably be a giant “what if?”
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.