I am here to help you understand why the Astros have signed Lewis Brinson. When considering why a team does a transaction it is important to understand the context of that deal. By context I mean what were the team's needs and how does the player added fit with the other players on the team. This is what you need to understand the Astros signing Lewis Brinson to a MINOR LEAGUE deal.
At this point, I would ask you read the "Astros 2022 Season Guide - The Essentials" article to ground you on what the Astros needs were.
A key statement I made in the January Season Guide is here in red.
Under Team Greatest Weaknesses
"Both Center Field and Shortstop are depending on rookies or second year players. Pena at SS and McCormick/ Meyers in CF may outperform their projections, but it is a performance risk. Read more about Pena here. Read more about McCormick and Meyers here."
Given his history, why Did the Astros even sign Lewis Brinson you might ask. As with the Goodrum signing, in one word this Brinson signing gives the team OPTIONS. It would appear to be Click's goal to have multiple answers and let performance determine the path forward.
How does Chas McCormick feel about his role in CF at the start of the 2022 season? Brian McTaggart included a relevant quote in his recent article.
“I’m trying to focus on the present moment, focus on the now,” McCormick said. “I have an opportunity to start in center field this year. Obviously, I want to, but I don’t have a guaranteed spot on this team. I’m still fighting with Jose Siri and Lewis Brinson, but I want that starting role in center. I need to have a good Spring Training and I need to be focused every day. I can’t just think I have an open spot for myself.”
So Chas considers his teammate Brinson a possibility as a starter in CF. This is surprising to me but clarifies the message McCormick has been getting- his role as starting CF is NOT guaranteed. Also, it appears that the Astros consider Brinson a possible starting CF.
Who is Lewis Brinson?
Many baseball fans will remember the Texas Rangers drafted Brinson in the first round of the 2012 draft. Brinson has been a key piece of a couple of big trades:
Part of the package Texas sent to Milwaukee for Jonathan Lucroy
Part of the package Milwaukee sent to the Marlins for Christian Yelich
Brinson had significant value in those deals because he was ranked a top OF prospect
Brinson must have tools to be rated that high by scouts. In 2016 he was rated with the following scouting grades:
This is an excellent prospect ranking. Brinson has struggled to live up to those expectations. He is a career 0.199/0.248/0.323/0.570 hitter.
How bad has he really been?
From the time he entered the league in 2017 there have be 316 players with 1000 PA.
Brinson- 1111 PA.
OPS (0.570) 315 out of 316
wOBA (0.247) 315 out of 316
wRC+ (54) 314 out of 316
K% (28.2%) 32 out of 316
BABIP (0.258) 297 out of 316- is this a sign that he has been horribly unlucky or is his contact so soft that he just makes a ton of outs?
Hard Hit% (37.1%) 174 out of 316 (Bregman 37.1%, Brantley 38.0%)
Exit Velocity (88.6) 172 out of 316 (Bregman 88.8)
Brinson MIGHT have been a little unlucky so far.
Here is an idea- Bregman said he fixed his swing in the off-season and has figured it out. Whatever he found, share THAT with Brinson.
So why did the Astros sign him?
Options- I have stated several times in articles that I believe James Click likes to provide his manager OPTIONS in the belief that one of the options will emerge as a strong performer.
Center field is a roster weakness- The Astros currently project to have the 22nd WAR producing CF. They are approaching Brinson as long shot.
So how frequent is it for someone to have this level of prospect expectations and for it to play out so negatively in performance in the first five years?
I explored all of the top 5 rated OF prospects from years 2011-2015 from MLBPipeline.com. Some of these players are the biggest stars of baseball and some you have forgotten about or never even knew.
How did this group perform through their age 27 season (2021 for Brinson)?
How did this group do after their age 27 season?
How many improved after age 27- i.e. their average 27+ WAR > -27 WAR?
The Data- it is not a pretty sight for Brinson.
The average WAR of the top 5 OF prospects from 2011 to 2015 through their age 27 is 1.7. First, the average WAR of this group is surprisingly LOW overall.
Brinson in FIVE seasons has delivered an almost mind boggling -3.2 WAR. Teams keep thinking "He is ready to break out and be good." He has delivered the worst production of all of this group.
Of these 18 elite OF plus Brinson (#2 in 2016)
Five have not played their age 28 season yet (including Brinson)
One spent 2021 in AAA
Three have ended their careers
For the 10 of these prospects that have played in the age 28 or older season, their AVERAGE WAR in those seasons is 1.6.
Harper and Hicks are the ONLY two that delivered average WAR after age 27 better than before.
Springer and Myers delivered average WAR after age 27 close to the same level as before.
The other six dramatically dropped in production after age 27.
So Brinson is the worst of this group and most of this group either gets worse or drops out of baseball.
Is it reasonable for the Astros to hope that Brinson, for whom there was so much hope, to have a career renaissance in his age 28 season? The data shows for this group of players that were well known and supported upon arrival to the MLB, there really is no reason to expect him to be a late bloomer. The two players Harper and Hicks, that one would could point out as giving them a chance, were both way better than Brinson up to age 27.
Bill James wrote about the aging pattern of baseball players in 2017. I remember reading similar from James as far back as the late 1980's. In summary, a baseball player experiences his performance peak in their age 26-28 seasons. In general, Brinson has hit the age he is more likely to regress than break out.
For Brinson and the Astros there may be a chance but it is a long shot. It almost like the Astros bought a lottery ticket. If you have ever bought a lottery ticket, take the same approach with Brinson.
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I found some interesting bonus facts. People are always hyper focused on the Coors Field effect. What the the relative effect of home games in Houston vs. Miami?
Brinson will hit a LOT more homers in MMP than in Miami.