Russell Branyan was drafted by the Indians in 1994 as a spry 18-year-old, but didn’t see his first major-league at bat until 1998. Since then he has played for – in addition to Cleveland – Cincinatti, Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, San Diego, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and now, Seattle. He has seemingly come out of nowhere this season, hitting 29 home runs with an 0.883 OPS, but was this completely a surprise? Not really.
Between Cleveland in 1998 and Milwaukee in 2008, Branyan did show signs of high productivity. During that time, just under 22% of all his fly balls (Fangraphs) were home runs – with very little variability from year to year – and he averaged one homer per every 15 at bats. What does that mean? About 37 home runs per season for an everyday player at his pace, but of course, Branyan never got that chance before this season. Safeco generally relinquishes about 10% less home runs than the average park, so that puts Branyan’s expected home run totals at 33 going into this year. His 29 this season looks a little less surprising now, doesn’t it?
In fact, Branyan is performing at his career levels in just about every indicative stat category except strikeouts, where he has cut his strikeout rate nearly in half. In doing so, he has increased his OPS 70 points. Making just $1.4 million this year, Branyan has turned out to be quite the steal for the Ms, and probably one of the top veteran bargains in the league. Too bad he’s on a one-year contract, because they’ll probably have to pay him a lot more next season if they want to keep him.