Before the 2008 season outfielder Ryan Ludwick was known to be a powerful hitter that had probably missed whatever chance he had to be a major league regular. Then the St. Louis Cardinals actually needed him enough to give him an extended series of at-bats. He carried the Cardinals offense the entire season. This year no one questions that Ludwick belongs in the Major Leagues and the Cardinals need to figure out how to work top prospect into the mix with Ludwick, Colby Rasmus, Rick Ankiel, Brian Barton, Chris Duncan, Joe Mather, and Skip Schumaker.
Russell Branyan is a similar player. Great power but too high a strikeout rate to win a regular job at this point in his career. In 2008, Branyan hit 12 homers in 132 at-bats. And he has essentially always performed that way. Last month, the Seattle Mariners signed him to a one-year guaranteed contract approaching a million bucks a year to be their primary first baseman. This was an excellent move. Branyan has a low contact rate but has a career fly ball rate over 50 percent and approaching 60 percent the last few seasons. This translates into homeruns because of his excellent career HR/FB of 21.9 percent. Do the math – (500 at-bats)*(70 percent contact rate)*(50 percent fly ball rate)*(22 percent HR/FB) = 38 homeruns. Branyan's best-case batting average is probably no better than .270 and reality suggests an average closer to .250, but if Ludwick can hit .290, anything can happen.
Eventually, Bryan LaHair will eventually present Branyan with a challenge for the position but almost no one expects that to happen in 2009. Chris Shelton has also been brought in as a platoon partner for Branyan. This is a good development. Less at at-bats against lefties against whom Branyan has hit .204 during his career gives Branyan better odds at a fantasy tolerable batting average.
He should be owned in every AL-only and the deeper ,mixed leagues.
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