Where Branyan Could Make a Bigger Impact

Jack has a point. Russell Branyan could certainly help the Rays add a win or two to their 2011 total. That additional production might make a difference in a tight AL East race. It’s easy to forget, though, that there’s another team looming in the East. The Blue Jays surprised everyone last year, and they’re bringing back much of the same cast this season. They’d do well to bring in Branyan and add that win or two themselves.

Why the Jays? The fit makes sense for a number of reasons.

1. The Blue Jays are predominantly right-handed

Of the Blue Jays nine projected starters, only two, Adam Lind and Travis Snider, hit from the left side. There isn’t even a switch hitter to be found among the rest. The Jays were largely the same last year, though they did have three lefties — Lyle Overbay, Fred Lewis, and Lind — play in more than 100 games, and Snider played in 82. Adding another lefty to help balance out the lineup might be a decent idea. Branyan would fit right into their plans.

2. Rogers Centre is misspelled plays well for lefties

According to StatCorner’s 2010 park factors, Rogers Centre aided home runs and doubles for lefties and righties alike. The Trop, on the other hand, suppresses home runs for lefties while playing about neutral for doubles. It would seem, then, that Rogers Centre presents a more favorable home park for Branyan. If he produced ISOs in excess of .250 in the power-suppressing confines of Safeco Field, imagine what he can produce in a more hitter-friendly environment.

3. He fits right into a platoon role

For two reasons Branyan’s ideal role involves a platoon. First, he has an extensive injury history that has caused him to miss 97 days in the last two years alone. Scaling back his playing time could help keep him on the field more often. Second, he produces the bulk of his power against right-handed pitching. The Jays appear to have an easy solution here.

Adam Lind could get the nod at first base, but from what I gather the Jays aren’t sure he can handle the position full-time. An alternative is Edwin Encarnacion, whom the Jays re-signed as a first baseman. They could, then, move Lind back to full-time DH and platoon Encarnacion and Branyan at first base. This plays not only to Branyan’s strengths, but also to Encarnacion’s. He owns a career .365 wOBA against left-handed pitching (just .333 against righties).

4. The Jays could use a little more power

Last season the Jays built their success on brute force. They led the league in home runs and ISO by considerable margins while finishing 26th in OBP. Yet that power number figures to come down this year. There’s little chance Jose Bautista repeats his 54-homer season, and the team also lost Vernon Wells, who produced the second-highest ISO on the team. Juan Rivera might serve as a decent facsimile, but there could remain something of a power void in the lineup. Maybe Lind, Snyder, and Aaron Hill make up for it. But even if they do, there isn’t harm in signing Branyan. With a team constructed like the Jays, the more power the better.

There appears to be little downside in the Jays signing Branyan. He fills a role for them, and at this point in the spring he probably won’t cost much money — not that money is really an object for the Jays right now. Maybe his lower back problems have teams backing off, and that’s understandable. But if the Jays are going to gamble for a couple of wins, they could do a lot worse than Branyan.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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Safeco actually plays pretty well for lefty power hitters, so he might not see such a huge jump in performance. Nevertheless, this makes sense for the Blue Jays, especially if they could get Branyan on a cheap minor league deal.