We've discussed this plenty of times, but the Yankees have a need for a left-handed bat to platoon with Andruw Jones. That need may have been filled in the form of a non-guaranteed deal for Russell Branyan, an aging power bat that has had plenty of success against righties throughout his career.
Against right-handed pitching from 2004-2010, Branyan averaged a .355 OBP, a .288 ISO, a .376 wOBA, and a 131 wRC+. Those are very good numbers, and when given the chance to showcase his strengths, it seems like he'd do very well.
But last year? Not too good, especially for a guy that was supposed to hit righties very well. Granted, small sample sizes were in effect, as he only had 116 at bats in 60 games. It's absolutely worth wondering how much an effect the small sample had on him. On the other hand, it's also worth noting he has dealt with small samples before, and those samples never showed him to be so bad against righties.
Let's try and figure out what exactly happened.
After taking a look at his 2004-2010 numbers, a team looking for a guy to mash righties would have thought they were getting exactly that - a guy who could crush right-handed pitching. He did it for seven consecutive seasons, so should expecting an eighth have been expecting too much?
Here are his numbers:
Statistics from fangraphs.com
In 2011, his BB% and K% stayed constant, so that's probably not the problem. And while his BB% stayed constant, his OBP fell off a cliff. That's a red flag for me.
His ISO also dropped considerably, and he is getting older, so it is very possible that his 2011 decline has to do with age. As age increases, power decreases, and that isn't a secret. Maybe those home runs just started turning into long fly outs.
But then I see his BABIP, and I start seeing a potential problem. Could it be that he was simply unlucky? From 2004-2010, Branyan averaged a .303 BABIP, but in 2011, it dropped to .237. As stated above, we are dealing with a small sample size, and BABIP coupled with small sample size can lead to some interesting numbers to say the least.
Looking at his statistics, when his BABIP stays around his average, he puts up consistent numbers. If his BABIP hovers around .300, the Yankees could be getting a player that can really hit righties, maybe even along his 2009 and 2010 lines - seasons where his BABIP hovered around his average from 2004-2010.
If his BABIP doesn't return, or if his 2011 struggles were age-related, then it doesn't really matter because the deal is non-guaranteed. Branyan would simply get DFA'd and we'd be done with it. In signing Russell Branyan, the Yankees have given themselves a high-upside, low-risk option that has shown the ability to hit right-handed pitching very well.