Whither Brandon Wood


Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick and Kendry Morales in the Arizona Fall League, October 2005. Of the three, only Morales has fulfilled his potential.

 

This morning’s Los Angeles Times reports that not only did the Angels keep Brandon Wood out of the starting lineup for a second straight game, but he wasn’t even allowed to take batting practice.

Brandon’s AVG/OBP/SLG this year are .156/.168/.213 in 122 at-bats. If a veteran player did that in the middle of a season for a contending team, it would probably be dismissed as a typical mid-season slump, but with the Angels struggling at 21-25 nearly two months into the season Wood’s failure to adjust so far to major-league pitching has turned him into the poster boy for the team’s slow start.

I raised a red flag on February 28 in a blog article looking at Wood’s 2009 splits with Salt Lake.

Unlike the traditional home/away splits, with Salt Lake Bees players I look at their numbers in five super-hitter friendly PCL ballparks versus the rest of the league, including their home town stadium in Salt Lake City. Performance in those parks tends to distort a player’s true performance, so I’ve found that my custom split system is a more accurate barometer.

Wood’s 2009 Salt Lake numbers:

OVERALL: .293/.357/.557 (386 AB)
HITTER-FRIENDLY: .318/.382/.614 (280 AB)
NEUTRAL/PITCHER-FRIENDLY: .226/.291/.406 (106 AB)

In 2007 and 2008 his neutral/pitcher-friendly numbers were much better, so the 2009 numbers were a red flag in my mind.

Did something change with him? Hard to say. We know from newspaper reports that the Angels tinkered with his hitting mechanics to shorten his swing and lengthen the time the bat spends in the strike zone, but that’s unlikely to be the problem.

Armchair psychiatrists on fan boards have claimed that Angels management somehow “ruined” Wood by keeping him in the minors so long, but that’s ridiculous.

Any major league manager, coach or player will tell you that the most difficult adjustment a player can make in his professional career is the jump from the minors to the majors. Successful transitions are the exception, not the rule.

Howie Kendrick is a career .360 hitter in the minors, and won the 2004 Midwest League batting title with a .367 average. But he’s struggled to repeat that performance in the major leagues; he was even sent back to Triple-A in the middle of the 2009 season. His 2010 AVG/OBP/SLG are .260/.292/.349, showing he still hasn’t made the adjustment.

Unlike Kendrick, the Angels can’t simply send Brandon back to Triple-A to clear his head. Wood is out of options, meaning he would have to pass through waivers before reporting to Salt Lake. His potential remains so high that there’s no doubt someone would claim him.

The inevitable “Trade Wood!!” threads are showing up on fan boards, written by people who apparently don’t realize that you don’t trade someone when their value is so low. But as a waiver claim, he’d be very desirable because he’d come cheap.

So the Angels have no choice but to let Brandon figure it out at the big-league level.

Wood now has 346 major league at-bats scattered over four seasons. His career AVG/OBP/SLG are .179/.203/.277. The general rule of thumb in baseball has been to give a batter at least 500 at-bats at the major-league level before writing him off.

My opinion is to just roll with it. The Angels’ problems to date are much more than Brandon’s slow start. No other third-base option is imminent in the organization. Odds are he’ll figure it out eventually. If he doesn’t, well, he won’t be the only reason why the Angels aren’t in first place.

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