A quick glance at Lewis Brinson’s offensive numbers this season is likely to raise an eyebrow.
Pre-trade, AA Frisco: .237/.280/.431
Post-trade, AAA Colorado Springs: .382/.387/.618
On the surface, it is certainly odd to see someone who struggled at AA get promoted and then set AAA on fire. A closer look can identify potential reasons for this, but I’m not sure it helps us draw a solid conclusion as far as what we should make of Brinson’s season.
Brinson suffered a shoulder injury at the beginning of the season. It sidelined him for a month, so it could be possible that his dip was a result of fighting injury or simply getting back into game shape. Obviously, he’s healthy now, so that could account for his significant uptick.
That is only part of the story. That still wouldn’t seem to explain why he would do so much better after being promoted. Until, that is, you consider where he was promoted to.
Colorado Springs’ extreme altitude skews heavily toward offense and makes it nearly impossible to evaluate players. A few examples:
After struggling in Milwaukee, the Brewers demoted Taylor Jungmann to AAA. His numbers in 31 innings there were a complete disaster: 9.87 ERA, 2.39 WHIP, a 1.7/9 HR rate, and 11 more walks than strikeouts. The Brewers had no choice but to demote Jungmann again. After several strong starts at AA Biloxi, Jungmann had earned a promotion. Except why would they promote him back to the hellscape that is Colorado Springs and set him up again for failure? So they just let him continue to carve up AA until skipping AAA altogether and recalling him back to Milwaukee just recently.
Josh Hader got off to as good of a start to the season as any pitcher in all of the minor leagues, striking out well over a batter per inning in AA. So, after 57 dominant innings, it was time for a promotion. He maintained his K rate, but his hit and walk rates spiked.
Keon Broxton got off to a terrible start in Milwaukee, was sent down to AAA after two miserable weeks, and immediately began raking. So, they called him back up in May… and he was terrible for another two weeks. So, they sent him back down to AAA, and he of course immediately started raking again. What are the Brewers supposed to do with that information? It seems a prolonged second stint in AAA helped Broxton figure things out, but it’s also clear his early performance in AAA gave the Brewers false hope for his ability to hit MLB pitching early in the season.
There are other hilarious lines that have been inflated by AAA. Poor Shane Peterson couldn’t get a call-up despite a 1.122 OPS. Josmil Pinto OPSed .879, Manny Piña .877. Probably my favorite is Jake Elmore, the guy who looked completely lost in his stint in Milwaukee. He has a .428 on-base percentage in Colorado Springs!
All this brings us back to Brinson and why it’s so difficult to evaluate his performance since being traded to Milwaukee. Small sample size, but he’s got a 1.005 OPS in Colorado Springs. Should we just be discarding that completely? That doesn’t make much sense. Even though it’s not surprising he’s doing well there, it’s still better than not doing well.
If you’re looking for something to be concerned about, you can settle on his walk rate. It’s difficult to call it a walk rate, as he has drawn only two walks since being traded. I hate to complain about a guy not walking when he’s hitting .387, but unless we assume he’ll hit .387 in the big leagues, his plate discipline will need to improve.
Over the two combined teams this season (and a brief 4-game stint with the Rangers), Brinson has a walk rate of just 4.8%. That’s a big problem. However, in 2015, his walk rate was 9.7%. So could it be argued that his poor walk rate in Frisco was due to returning from injury, and his poor walk rate in Colorado Springs was due to the baseball looking like a beach ball? My answer to that is… maybe?
Taking all of these factors into consideration, it becomes very difficult to evaluate Brinson. Obviously, we should be encouraged, but if he is still performing at this level after a couple hundred at bats next season, he’ll have nothing left to prove at AAA. Does that mean we should expect a Braun-like debut, taking the league by storm immediately?
It’s important to remember that type of performance upon reaching the big leagues is extremely rare. Most great prospects go through some level of adjustment period (we’re seeing that now with Orlando Arcia, who is slowly improving at the plate after a rough start). Even though he’s killing the ball in AAA, his walk rate and the altitude of Colorado Springs give me pause. I just don’t know what to make of him.
To recap: Brinson was an elite prospect before the 2016 season. On the other hand, he got off to a very poor start this season. On the other hand, he was recovering from injury. On the other hand, his walk rate dipped. On the other hand, he started dominating after getting traded AND promoted. On the other hand, Colorado Springs is a joke and he probably should dominate there. On the other hand, his walk rate did not improve. On the other hand, does that really matter when his average is .387?
Got it? Great. Can you explain it to me?