Saturday, July 03, 2010

My Thoughts on Gary Brown

Like many Giants fans, I was a bit underwhelmed by the selection of Gary Brown.  The experts, like BA's Jim Callis, ESPN's Keith Law, Minor League Ball's John Sickels did not care for the pick, thinking that there were better options available.  There were other, some bigger, names available, Nick Castellanos, Yordy Cabrera, Bryce Brentz, Jedd Gyorko, Brett Eibner, Zach Cox, Stetson Allie, and thus fans were not happy with the pick.

The most immediate sore point was his lack of walks this season.  There was also the sinking feeling that the Giants drafted another great defensive CF lead-off hitter who don't know how to get on base, whether by hit or by walk.  There is also the history of the Giants taking toolsy speedsters who end up fizzling on us in some way.

So, as I am wont to do, I researched all the comments on Brown, many of which are in my original post on the pick or in the comments, and they have been ruminating in my mind the past few weeks.  I think I'm ready to discuss him and the various views of Brown.

#1 Knows How to Take Walks

First of all, he does know how to take a walk.  He took plenty of walks in his freshman year when he wasn't as good of a hitter, better than the league average.  He also took a lot of walks when he played in the Cape Cod league as well, particularly, again, when he wasn't as good of a hitter.  His behavior there and in college games suggest that he will do what he needs to do to get on base:  when he wasn't as good of a hitter, he took more walks to get his OBP much higher, and when he was a better hitter, he took less walks but the tradeoff is getting basehits, which helps generate more offense.

It is just that when you hit .438 like he did and for power, you generate more runs by hitting when the pitchers are giving you pitches that you can handle and hit them for base hits, if not for extra-bases.  His OPS this season is even better than what Evan Longoria, playing in the same conference (same team even).  In fact, it was the best of the past seven years of data I could find for the Big West conference, and players like Longoria and Kurt Suzuki had similar but still lower OPS than Gary Brown.

Also, his agent is Scott Boras.  As much as I dislike what he does to baseball through his manipulations of the rules, I know that he understands how to market his players.  I also know that to maximize his players' value, he will guide them as to what to do to get a bigger contract (he has sports psychiatrists on payroll and a fitness center that assists his clients).  In Brown's case, clearly the advice to give is he needs to get on base, whether via hit or walk, and often, then use his speed to steal bases and to play great defense in CF.

The key is that not taking walks is OK if you can avoid strikeouts and use your speed to get a lot of hits and extra-base hits.  As long as that combo leads to a high OBP, that is all that matters, so if he gets it via a high batting average and below average walk rate, so be it, as long as he's getting on base more than average.

Still, I think it is clear that he knows how to take a walk when he needs to, and when to swing for hits when he is able to do it at a good rate, for both average and power.  And he does this while also avoiding strikeouts, which is a good way to end up with a high batting average too.

#2 Not Proven as Hitter But Looks Good

But that's true of almost all prospects, especially past the first few picks overall.  Hitting is one of the hardest tools to develop in the majors.  All potential draftees use aluminum bats growing up and in high school and college - it is just cheaper than wood bats that break.  That is why leagues like the Cape Cod League, which uses wooden bats, are scrutinized so closely.  Because there is a technique to using a wood bat that you just don't learn with aluminum bats, as wood bats only have the sweet spot on a certain area of the bat (label), while the aluminum bat has it everywhere and anywhere you hit the ball with it.

There is no consensus on Brown as a hitter.  He does have a very busy stance - the scouting video on mlb.com shows his legs dancing and shaking all around before he hits, which reminded me of Joe Morgan's arm flaps.  However, he acknowledged this in the interview after the selection and vowed to do everything he can to become a MLB hitter, whatever it takes.   And some point out his problem walking this season, but hopefully I made it clear above that this appears to be a misconception.

And there are those who like him.  Kevin Goldstein noted in an email published on MCC that "It's all kinds of funky, but the dude was on the same team with the #4 overall pick in the draft, and out hit him by almost 100 points.  Oh, and he has power ... and he really drives the ball."  Andy Seiler of MLBBonusBaby.com and Perfect Games feels that he has a "plus hit tool" to go with his plus plus speed and plus defense.  Not as rosy, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com noted that "while his approach is unorthodox, he's got good overall hitting skills. ...  [he] consistently gets the barrel on the ball ... the bat is always in the right place, particularly against fastballs."  Dan Rawnsley of Perfect Games noted that Brown provides hitting and athleticism at a premium position, when analyzing him.

Allan Simpson of Perfect Games provided a very comprehensive scouting report on him at the Perfect Games website.  He noted that Brown had "become a more polished hitter, both barreling up more balls  and not getting himself out as often."

#3 Speed Demon with Plus Plus Speed

Obviously speed is his game.  Most agree that he has plus plus speed, which helped him steal 27 bases in 31 tries (87%).  Kevin Goldstein was very effusive about Brown's speed.  He was in love with the fact that Brown could run 3.9 to firstbase from the right side (from what I remember, true speedsters can get to 1B in 4.0 sec, and most need to be a left-handed hitter so that they need those extra steps closer to 1B than a right-handed hitter like Brown).  In his podcast (available on iTunes), he rated Brown's speed as an 80 (in the scout's scale, 80 is the highest rating you can give a player in any tool), which will make a great difference in CF.

Others also pointed out his speed.  Patrick Elbert of Perfect Games concurred by noting that Brown has "game-changing speed" that would be a welcome addition in any spacious outfield.  Baseball America's John Manuel mentioned Brown's "top-of-the-line-speed".  Perfect Game's Allan Simpson wrote that his "best tool is his blazing speed, and it's a significant asset at the plate, on the bases, and in centerfield."  John Barr, the Giants scouting director in charge of the draft, said that Brown "has plus-plus speed, which helps offensively and defensively.  And as the old scout's saying goes, "you can't teach speed."

#4 Gold Glove Defense

Another clear plus is his defense in CF.  That despite being an infielder all through high school and his first two years of college ball (2B and 3B).  Some like he has the innate baseball sense to be good in the outfield in spite of his lack of experience there, while others (like Fred Lewis) who has played the outfield all his life show no feel for the position at all.

Some don't think he has a great arm, some think it's average, but Kevin Goldstein said in his podcast that Brown's arm is average to plus.  In any case, with his plus plus speed, he will get to a lot of balls in CF, particularly those going into the gap in Death Valley at AT&T.

Perfect Game's Andy Seiler answered a question as to Gold Glove talent in the first round by saying that Brown was the only player potentially in the first round who could be a gold glove defender.  He also noted that Brown has "incredible instincts for a player with limited experience in the outfield."  Baseball America's John Manuel noted his "excellent defensive ability in CF."  MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo noted that Brown didn't look good when he first started in CF, "but he's improved quickly in his routes and reading the ball off the bat."  John Sickel's wrote, "His glove is highly regarded, and scouts love his work ethics and energy on the field."

Andy Seiler also noted that his "whole defensive package is the best in the draft class for CF and many scouts predict him to be a gold glove winner."  Allan Simpson of Perfect Game noted that "he has excellent range in all directions, get good reads and jumps, and his arm strength is above-average.  His raw speed allows him to play shallower than most centerfielders, enabling him to take away more than his share of hits. ...  He has fully taken to his everyday status in CF, where his range and arm strength are significant assets."

#5 Intangibles and Other Qualities

He seems to rate high on other qualities as well.  I like that he was willing to work on his stance.  He could have just said that he's been successful doing what he does so why should he change it.  John Sickel noted that "scouts love his work ethic and energy on the field."  His athleticism is also noted by a number of analysts.  Someone also noted his upside.

He is considered toolsy by most.  Baseball America noted that his "tools are big."  Allan Simpson pointed out his "boundless energy" and that "it was evident that Brown has matured in several phases of his game as a junior."  He had previously noted in early season review that "Brown still needs to refine most aspects of his game to take full advantage of his speed," so his opinion clearly changed greatly.

Giants Thoughts

I am on board with the Giants selection of Brown.  I think most people are aware of his negatives.  I think the fastest way for a Giants fan to feel positive is to check out Perfect Game's report on Gary Brown here (scroll down to 24th pick) and to take Baseball Prospectus's  Kevin Goldstein's comments into consideration.  Allan Simpson's in particular because it gives his perspective early-season and end-season, giving you a view of how he improved and what his positives are.

Of course, there is no guarantee that he will develop and become a major league player ever, let alone a starter for us.  Most 24th picks fizzle out somewhere in the minors.  Once you get that far deep into the draft, the prospects selected have huge flaws that might never be fixed or developed out of them.  Only 6 of the 45 players selected 24th before have played significantly in the majors, only 6 of 40 if you look at only the first 40 years.  And there were two recent hits in Blanton and Billingsley, so only 4 of the first 37 had a WAR of over 5, and only Billingsley I would call a star in the league, the others were average or worse, though Rondell White was slightly above average, to be fair.

But his choice makes sense.  At this point of the draft, any high school prospect will be very raw (see Wendell Fairley) and flaws (though tools) aplenty, so the odds are that they will take 4-6 years to develop and contribute.  So it would make sense to focus on a college hitter who might contribute sooner, though perhaps not so high in potential.

Among the college hitters, Zach Cox is probably the best but he's no sure thing either, as there are rarely any sure things in the draft, even with the #1 pick overall.  Plus he appears to want $5-10M else someone in the Top 10 would probably have selected him then, that is just too much for a hitter who does not play at a premium position like SS or C, nor hit for power.  Some see him as a left-handed Bill Mueller with average defense.  Hard to pay premium bonus money for a player like that.

Jedd Gyorko, who was mentioned by some as a possible Giants  pick because they scouted him, might be OK as a hitter, but most reports has him moving to 2B as they didn't think he would stick at SS.  Well, we have a lot of 2B prospects coming up the system in Noonan, Culberson, and Bond, plus still have Burriss who is still young enough and skilled enough to contribute as a starter if he ever gets healthy.

Stetson Allie was the best pitching alternative, if they don't go for a hitter, but I would defer to the Giants brain trust on pitchers they feel they must pick versus those they pass on.

All this left Gary Brown, Bryce Brentz, and Brett Eibner.  Bryce provides power, but is a corner OF only and some questioned whether he can handle wood bats.  And Baseball America felt that Brown had a better year than Brent.    Eibner, "most feel that his future is as a pitcher," noted MLB.com, but he has hit well enough that he has stated that he wants to be a outfielder, hitting.  So he is a possibility.

However, Brown appears to make the most sense.  Brown plays CF, a position the Giants are weak in their farm system.  Because his defense and speed is so good, he can be useful to the Giants even if he doesn't hit for much.  But given that he is the best hitter by far in the Big West conference in the past 7 seasons, it would suggest that he would have as good a chance as anybody to hit, because Cal State Fullerton is regularly in the College World Series, meaning that they play at a high level regularly and he's among their highest performers in recent years.

His ability to avoid strikeouts is very important.  Hitters who are good at doing this typically have a much easier time hitting .300 in the majors.  So do hitters who can walk about as much as they strikeout, which he has done in college.

More importantly, he has done it in the Cape Cod League, where wood bats are used.  Prospects have a hard time adjusting from using aluminum bats in their amateur status, as they need to learn how to hit with a wood bat.  Not all make that adjustment.    His BB% was 13% in 2008 and 7% in 2009.  It represented a change in how he was handling the bat, as his OBP did not change much and was high both seasons, it was .364 in 2008 and .371 in 2009.  His contact rate was 82% in 2008 and 90% in 2009.  These all suggest that he will find his way to get on base, however he can do it, so that he can take advantage of his speed.

80 speed is rare to find too.  And he has used his speed to good effect in college, culminating in 32 SB in 37 attempts in 2010 (86% success rate; you want 80%+ from base stealers).  That speed will help him also on the bases as a runner.  Bill James collects data on this and a player like Michael Bourn can add 55 bases in a season, or just over a win over average, just on base running and base stealing.

Add in Gold Glove potential in CF defense and the Giants look to have a strong up the middle defense with Posey at C, Brown in CF, Burriss or Noonan at 2B, and maybe Crawford or Adrianza at SS in a couple of years.  Great defense in CF could add another win over average as well.

That is two wins right there just on running and defense, which means that  even if he produced a replacement level of offense, he would be an average player, which would be useful to the Giants in CF because Rowand has not been doing it for us in CF, either offensively or defensively, let alone speed.

Gary Brown made the most sense at this point in the draft over the other players available.  Most of the alternatives were considered about as talented, except for Cox, but Cox presumably wants a lot more money than Brown (though it must be noted that Boras is his agent), probably as much as Posey, but a left-handed Bill Mueller is not that attractive to me.

Given equivalent talent, Gary Brown made the most sense for the team to pick, as we have no CF talent close to making the majors, nor do we have any great options for leadoff either.  And not that we don't have enough power in our system either, but Brown, given his speed and defense, look the most likely to be able to contribute something, anything, to the majors at some point in his career.  The others, particularly high schoolers Nick Castellanos and Yordy Cabrera, might have more potential and more potential power, but there was a high likelihood of swinging and missing with them as well.

Plus, Brown was the top hitter for one of the top teams in the nation that regularly makes the College World Series.  And he was the top hitter in a conference that produced both Evan Longoria and Kurt Suzuki, both of whom he out-hit.  And Fullerton is also one of the highest ranked teams in the U.S. by Boyd's World, 5th by Iterative Strength Ranking, 8th by RPI, showing how good the team was, and he was the best hitter on that team, even better than Christian Colon.

Brown (2010):  .438/.485/.695/1.180, ISO 257 (9 BB/12 SO in 210 AB)
Colon (2010):   .358/.444/.630/1.074, ISO 272 (32 BB/18 SO in 257 AB)
Longoria (2006): .353/.468/.602/1.070, ISO 247 (40 BB/29 SO in 201 AB)
Blumenthal (2005): .410/.511/.557/1.068, ISO 147 (39 BB/21 SO in 183 AB)
Suzuki (2004):  .413/.512/.702/1.214, ISO 289 (50 BB/25 SO in 252 AB)

He clearly knows how to hit for power, just not home-run power.  But that works great in AT&T where we have gaps where fast runners can run forever, particularly if they hit it into Death Valley.  And with his speed, he could run forever.

That is an overall package which is very attractive that I can appreciate.  I still wish they would have gone for more potential in Castellanos or Cabrera, but I can understand wanting to get some value sooner plus wanting a more solid floor in what we might get in the end.   I think it is safe enough to say that he will make the majors and be able to contribute, if only for a few seasons, while these two could fizzle in the low minors like Wendell Fairley has done so far, though he's doing better this season, relatively speaking.  And if he can translate his tools to the majors, I think someone like Shane "the Flying Hawaiian" Victorino would be a good comp, with perhaps better defense or a faster, better stealing and defending CF Randy Winn in his prime.  That's not great but pretty good to have in CF.

Perfect Game Scouting Report on Gary Brown

I thought I would highlight certain parts of their scouting report, which I think is significant because it provides an early season view and near end-of-season view, and because they are one of the premier sources of draft information on the web.

Early in the season, while positive overall, Simpson noted that "Brown still needs to refine most aspects of his game to take full advantage of his speed, arguably the best in the Cape Cod League last summer and the best in the college ranks this spring."  He pointed out that Brown "can be overly aggressive, at times, and has a tendency to chase pitches, but has good hand-eye coordination and generally makes contact."  He also mentioned Brown's power:  "He also has surprising power in his slight 6-foot, 180-pound frame, but his swing is geared too much to drive pitches, rather than simply put balls on the ground to utilize his big speed."  While impressed with his speed, Simpson added that Brown "needs to learn better base-stealing techniques..."

Still, good overall impression.  His "best tool is his blazing speed, and it's a significant asset at the plate, on the bases, and in center field...  he has legitimate top-of-the-order potential and plays with boundless energy."  "Brown is an accomplished center fielder, despite spending much of his first two years at Cal State Fullerton out of position at third base.  He has excellent range in all directions, gets great reads and jumps, and his arm strength is above-average.  His raw speed allows him to play shallower than most center fielders, enabling him to take away more than his share of hits, while still being able to retreat on balls over his head."  "All facets of his game have improved..."

He was even more positive with his late-season review.  Brown has continued "to produce big numbers at the plate, and on the bases, through the spring."  "It was evident that Brown has matured in several phases of his game as a junior, even as he still remains as aggressive as ever at the plate, as evidence by just nine walks and 11 strikeouts in 47 games.  He's become a more polished hitter, both barrelling up more balls and not getting himself out as often.  His game-changing speed has been more of a weapon on the bases, and he has fully taken to his everyday status in center field, where his range and arm strength are significant assets."

3 comments:

  1. Hey OGC,

    I'm OK with the Brown pick. I was hoping for more power or a more projectable physical specimen, but those often don't pan out either.

    The comp that keeps running in my head is Dan Gladden with maybe a bit more speed. While we all would hope for more than Dan Gladden in our first round pick, Dan Gladden would be a way above average outcome for a #24 pick.

    I believe the Giants have been in on advanced defensive metrics a lot longer than Billy Beane, who only recently started obsessing over them. In fact, I I had Brown going to the A's at #10 in my mock draft just because of Beane's recent love for fast OF's. If the Giants were looking for the guy who would make more plays in CF than anyone else in the draft, they got their man. He'll probably be a +2 WAR player on defense alone. Anything he does above replacement on offense will be gravy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just one small correction: The college hitter you refer to a Brent Brice is actually Bryce Brentz.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for your comments.

    Yeah, power would have been nice, but as many of us, including you and I, know, you have to take a hit somewhere when you are drafting 24th overall. HR power is obviously the knock against Brown.

    Still, because of his speed and hitting ability, I think he'll provide better power than Gladden ever did by getting a lot of doubles and triples, as well as get on base more. Also, as you noted, I think he'll provide much more defensive value than Gladden, he was basically average as a fielder, based on the defensive stats available at baseball-reference.com (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/gladdda01.shtml#standard_fielding), whereas Brown looks to be a standout defensively.

    I saw a lot of comparisons with Juan Pierre too. His defense was not that good either in CF. Basically an all-hit, no-walk/no-power type of offense with the speed to steal bases.

    I think Brown can at least contribute as much as these two did in the majors. His major value, as DrB noted, will be his defense and ability to steal bases.

    Also, given how well he has hit in the Big West, equivalent to major leaguers such as Evan Longoria and Kurt Suzuki, it gives me hope that he should at least hit well enough to make his speed much more valuable.

    But even without that, his defense and speed should provide enough value to make him a useful major leaguer, which is the most you can hope for when it's the 24th pick in the draft.

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