An Alternative Look at the Giants’ First Round Pick
I’ll be honest: I didn’t spend nearly as much time tracking the draft this year as I have in years past. I don’t know why- it’s probably because the Giants didn’t have a top 10 pick for the first time since 2006, when they drafted staff ace and 2-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. I’ve also found myself busier this year academically than in years’ past, so that certainly plays a role as well. In any case, I had very little knowledge of the players entering the draft aside from the bigger names- Bryce Harper (duh), Christian Colon, Zack Cox, Jameson Taillon, Manny Machado, Anthony Ranaudo, and so on. I expected the Giants to grab shortstop Yordy Cabrera or third baseman Nick Castellanos- but, I was wrong (as I often am at predicting the Giants’ draft picks. Except for Brandon Crawford; I totally called that one. Score one for me.) Instead, the Giants drafted some kid I had (embarrassingly, I admit) heard very little of in Gary Brown, a 22-year old center fielder out of Cal State Fullerton. Rather than pretending to have my own personal scouting report on the kid, I’ll simply copy and paste Andy Seiler’s:
Gary Brown Position: OF School: Cal State Fullerton State: CA Year: Jr. Height: 6’1’’ Weight: 180
Bats: R Throws: R Birth Date: 9/28/88 Seiler Rating: 1B2 Last Drafted: 2007 (OAK-12)
Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO AVG OBP SLG 2008 61 195 46 57 7 2 5 27 25 3 18 25 .292 .374 .426 2009 63 259 64 88 17 7 3 40 23 8 14 33 .340 .403 .494 2010 48 210 62 92 20 8 6 41 31 5 9 12 .438 .485 .695
Gary Brown is a quick center fielder from Cal State Fullerton. Originally from Diamond Bar High School in Diamond Bar, California, a town about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, Brown has come a long way since his high school days. A versatile middle infielder in high school, he was considered a solid prospect with solid tools. He was deliberated over for the first day of the 2007 draft, but fell to the A’s in the twelfth round and they failed to sign him. He was an immediate starter at Fullerton, and he hasn’t looked back. He started at second and third base during his first two years, but a move to the outfield this season, a result of Josh Fellhauer (Reds, 7th) being drafted last year, has shown something new. He is a plus hitter with plus contact skills, but he has shown little patience at the plate and has below-average pop. However, he’s a gap-to-gap hitter with the ability to both hit doubles and bunt for a base hit. He’s a plus-plus runner with plus-plus range in center field and incredible instincts for a player with limited experience in the outfield. His arm is solid-average, plenty to carry the position. The whole defensive package is the best in the draft class for center field and many scouts predict him to be a gold glove winner. A late-season broken finger clouds his stock a little bit, but scouts have had plenty of time to see him. Brown looks like a surefire first round pick, likely in the second half of the round.
Brown has been mentioned as an 80 runner (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and after seeing a bit of video on him, I can definitely see why. The kid glides around the basepaths. This is undoubtedly a large factor in his plus-plus range. Considering he’s still relatively new to the outfield, one would hope that further experience afield would improve his routes and turn that plus-plus range into something truly special, which will fit extremely well in the vast expanses of AT&T Park. As Seiler notes, his arm is rated as solid-average, although there are a few reports of it being below average. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, though, and say that he has a solid-average arm. So we’re looking at a kid that is an 80 runner and is already considered to be a great defender. He doesn’t have much power, but the hit tool is a plus. Brown is known as being the quintessential leadoff hitter. But is he really?
This is where we leave the world of scouting and enter the realm of sabermetrics. Given that we’re working with collegiate statistics, we must err on the side of caution and not put too much stock into the numbers, as they can be misleading. Not all players make the transition from metal bats and college pitching to wooden bats and professional pitching well. And some players can completely revamp their approach in the pros. All caveats aside, let’s attempt to dissect Brown’s production and see if we can find anything interesting about him. First, let’s estimate Brown’s current talent level. I feel a bit wary using a single season’s worth of data on a hitter, since we’re looking at 210 at-bats in 2010. The amount of random variation and luck alone can give us wildly inaccurate misconceptions of a player’s talent (we can say with 95% certainty that Brown is a .438 hitter + .067 points- in other words, his talent probably resides somewhere between .371 and .505, which is too large of a gap to draw any strong inferences from). This is why I prefer to use a 5/4/3 weighting. While we’re still left with an excruciatingly small sample size, we’re still weighting his recent performance well above his previous seasons. This should help sift out some of the random variation, and let’s hope that it doesn’t sift out an improvement in talent.
That’s pretty darn impressive if you ask me. The kid makes good contact, and he’s shown quite a bit of pop considering that isn’t his style of play. He hits a good amount of doubles, and he’s able to leg out quite a few triples. Should he pan out as the Giants hope, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Brown leading the league in triples for a number of years. It also appears that he’s quite adept at getting hit by pitches, too- and we all know the Giants love “gamers.” The gaudy stolen base totals look wonderful, as does his success rate- he’s about an 82% success rate base stealer, which is well above the break even point. Should this translate into the Majors, he’ll be an invaluable asset on the basepaths. In other words, should he have 61:13 SB/CS ratio, he’ll add about 7 runs by base stealing alone. That’s phenomenal. Should his success rate drop down to, say, 78%, he’ll be a +4 run base stealer. Still very solid. Given his speed and baseball acumen, there’s little question that he’ll be an elite baserunner at the Major League level. But there’s one glaring issue that has me extremely worried about Brown’s future.
He doesn’t walk. In 774 career collegiate plate appearances, Brown has walked a grand total of 41 times- a walk rate of 5.3%. His weighted line suggests that he’s a 5.0% walk player. Any way you look at it, the kid just doesn’t take very many walks. What this means is that he’ll be extremely reliant on his batting average- and should he hit a bit of bad luck and his balls in play fail to land for hits, he’ll stop providing value offensively altogether. In other words, if he stops getting hits, he’ll stop getting on base. If he was able to walk at least at a league average rate- which in MLB is ~8-9%- he’d still be able to provide some value by drawing a walk now and then to get on base. What this also infers is that his superior baserunning abilities are going to be limited. Allow me to explain.
Brown has to be around a .265 hitter in order to be league average at getting on base, which should be easily attainable for him. This is assuming, of course, his HBP rate remains constant- which doesn’t seem probable, given that 1) pitchers in the Major Leagues have superior control to collegiate pitchers, and 2) as far as I can tell, the only player to have a HBP% at 5% or above or is Hughie Jennings, who played from 1891-1918. Craig Biggio, by comparison, was hit in 2.3% of his PA. Let’s be generous and assume Brown is the reincarnation of Biggio when it comes to getting it. This changes our chart to:
Now Brown has to be a .285-.290 hitter in order to simply be league average at getting on base. If he drops below a .285 average, chances are quite good that he won’t be very effective as a hitter, given that he isn’t projected to hit for much power. And if he has a .270-.275 season? Then he’s going to be essentially useless as a leadoff hitter. Remember, the primary goal of a leadoff hitter is to get on base. If Brown isn’t getting on base, his value is limited to his baserunning and defense. That’s it. A league average hitter has a stolen base opportunity in 37% of his times on base. A leadoff hitter, say, someone like Chone Figgins, had stolen base opportunities in 43% of his times on base. Let’s say, for example, Brown has the same rate of opportunities per times on base. We’re now looking at 104 SB opportunities (assuming a .300 AVG/.347 OBP). The best base stealers, like Carl Crawford, attempt a steal in about 26% of those opportunities (Rickey Henderson, by comparison, attempted a steal in 32% of his chances. That’s it.). That means Brown will have roughly 27 stolen base attempts. Assuming his success rate stays static, he’ll be a 22 SB / 5 CS base runner; +2 runs above average. That’s it. If he runs at Henderson’s rate, he’ll have 27 SB / 6 CS, about +3 runs above average. That’s good, of course. I don’t want you to think that it’s not. But what I’m getting at, and what I’m hoping you’re beginning to gather, is that Brown’s inability to walk is going to severely hinder his ability to utilize his speed and wreak havoc on the basepaths.
Does this mean that all is lost, and that the Giants have drafted a bust? Absolutely not. I’m being rather bullish in getting my point across about Brown’s weakness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll never fix his issues at the plate, nor does it mean that he’ll never develop into a stud center fielder. Given the Giants’ ignorance to plate discipline and walks, I’m quite concerned that the odds are against Brown- and that instead of becoming Shane Victorino, he’ll become Willy Taveras. I have faith in John Barr as a talent evaluator, but I am uncertain as to how involved he and his staff are in the more statistical part of the game. It would be folly of me to assume that they have no clue, but this pick is questionable to me- especially when better hitters like Zack Cox were available. Players usually don’t all of a sudden turn from a free-swinging hacker into a well-disciplined hitter. But if Brown can change his free-swinging ways into a more refined and patient approach that allows him to utilize and maximize his best tool, I will be more than happy to eat my words and praise management for turning him into an extremely dangerous offensive weapon. He certainly has the potential to turn into an invaluable asset to the lineup- let’s hope he can make the adjustments to help achieve his potential. But for now, his weakness is going to hurt his strength.