It never feels good for a team to trade away a player just to watch that guy win the MVP in the next season. It doesn’t help when this player was traded immediately after the guy who just won the MVP. It especially doesn’t feel good when the best player that team gets back turns in a sub-replacement season in his first major league campaign.
Such was the story with the Marlins and Lewis Brinson. The former top Brewers prospect was the highlight of the Marlins outfield fire sale which saw Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich leave Miami in moves motivated by money more so than reinvigorating the farm system.
In Brinson’s first full year at the big-league level, he slashed .199/.240/.338 over 406 plate appearances. That was good for just a 59 DRC+. He struck out nearly 30 percent of the time while drawing just 17 walks. His biggest offensive contribution was incensing Hunter Strickland to break his hand punching a door but just about anyone could do that.
Dan Szymborski noted at FanGraphs that over the last two years, Brinson’s ZiPS projections have gone from good-to-great outfielder to everyday starter to fringe outfielder. Steamer projects Brinson to hit .234/.286/.395 for an 86 wRC+ in 2019 and that feels optimistic.
If Brinson doesn’t put things together, the Marlins will have to hope that some of the other prospects they received last offseason turn into solid everyday players. Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs put two of the other three players received in the Yelich trade Isan Diaz and Monte Harrison as the Marlins’ number one and two prospects. That might be more of an indictment of the Marlin’s farm system than praise for those two players.
One of the few positives to take from Brinson’s 2018 was that his defense was okay. DRS had him at 3 runs above average and UZR/150 thought he was a bit worse at -5.7. Mediocre defense wasn’t enough to keep him above replacement though and he ended the year at -1.0 fWAR.
Something that jumps out about Brinson is his 67.4 contact rate. Out of all batters with 400 plate appearances, that put Brinson at 208 out of 214. His low contact rate is largely driven by his tendency to chase outside the strike zone as he has a 37.5 o-swing rate. He’s especially vulnerable down and in.
Brinson loves to swing at pitches six inches off the inside part of the plate. While he has the bat speed to turn on pitches on his hands, he has trouble making contact if those pitches are below the belt.
Brinson struggles to make contact against all types of pitches, but he’s especially vulnerable against anything with downward movement. He whiffs at a quarter of all sliders, changeups and splits he sees, and opposing pitchers are well aware of that. Only seven batters saw a higher percentage of sliders than Brinson.
For Brinson to get better, he’ll have to be less aggressive and get better at recognizing offspeed pitches and breaking balls. When he squares up the ball, he can hit it hard, but it’s difficult to make consistent, good contact swinging at junk.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles.