The Disappearance of Reid Brignac

The season started off so promising for Reid Brignac. In April, he sported a .334 wOBA and then followed that with a .373 in May. He even drew nine walks combined over those two months, which is a lot considering he has racked up just seven more in June, July, and August. The month of June didn't see Brignac fare particularly well - his wOBA for the month was .253 - but the same could be said of just about everyone on the offense. His plate appearances over the first three months fall right in line with what one would expect from a platoon player: 44, 74, 71. However, the last two months have seen his PAs fall to 55 in July and just 34 in August. What was once a solid shortstop platoon has transformed into a one-man band with Jason Bartlett beating the drum.

Take a look at the games in August in which the Rays have faced a right handed starting pitcher (in reverse order) , and which player of Brignac and Bartlett has started:

1. Lackey: Bartlett

2. Buccholz: Bartlett

3. Haren: Brignac

4. Santana: Bartlett

5. Mazarro: Bartlett

6. Cahill: Brignac

7. Hunter: Bartlett

8. Arrietta: Bartlett

9. Guthrie: Brignac

10. Verlander: Bartlett

11. Scherzer: Bartlett

12. Galarraga: Bartlett

13. Morrow: Bartlett

14. Slowey: Brignac

15. Baker: Bartlett

16. Pavano: Brignac at 2B, Bartlett at SS

That's 16 games, with Brignac getting the start at shortstop four times and second base once. Jason Bartlett, he of the career .691 OPS and .307 wOBA, started the other 12 times. Though it's a much smaller sample size, 318 PA, Brignac has a .723 OPS and .313 wOBA vs RHP. Brignac also has the advantage of unquestionably being the better defender. So then what is keeping him planted on the bench?

There isn't one correct answer to that question. His August numbers aren't lending much support to his cause. Granted, it's a very small sample size of 34 PA, but these numbers are far from inspiring: 2.9% BB, 40.6% K, .156/.176/.156 slash line, .250 BABIP, and a .143 wOBA. What seems to be a main cause behind those uninspiring numbers is Brignac's 10.0% line drive rate (LD%) and 50.0% fly ball rate (FB%). In Brignac's previous bad month, June, his FB% was also 50.0 while it fluctuated between 32%-37% in his good months of April, May, and July. His LD% had also never dipped below 21.4% and never rose above 23.7% in any previous month. A .250 BABiP certainly doesn't help things, but when you're hitting fly balls in half of your plate appearances it's hard to expect it to be much higher. It's likely a combination of bad luck and bad approach, but needless to say, Brignac needs to work on keeping the ball down if he hopes to see his numbers improve.

Another factor could simply be Joe Maddon's preference to have the veteran presence of Bartlett in the lineup during the season’s stretch run. I can't confirm if that's true, but from the usage of the two players over the past month it's not outside the realm of possibility. Bartlett has gotten 102 PAs in August, triple that of Brignac, and has put up a .292 wOBA against RHP over that time. He's been worth 0.6 WAR up to this point, while Brignac is at 0.9 in significantly less PAs. I’m not trying to disparage Bartlett; he is what he is at this point, a below average defender who hits well against left handed pitching. A player like that has value. But a player like Brignac has value too, and it’s being wasted in the way he’s being used.

There is one month left in the season and the Rays are in a dog fight for the division title. Even though the shortstop position is arguably the weakest on the team, they’re likely going to need to squeeze every last bit of production out of each position to come out on top. If the Rays feel like giving a significant amount of September at bats to Bartlett then I’ll wish him the best and hope he succeeds. However, Brignac is not as bad as his August numbers look, and if given more than 34 PAs this month he should produce close to or above his normal level. The Rays would be better off for it.

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