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May 6, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Covering For Bradley

by Craig Brown

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The Mariners are a team with roster problems. That’s what happens in the age of seven man bullpens when you decide to carry a pair of designated hitters. Those issues are now front and center with the news that Milton Bradley is seeking help with unspecified personal issues.

The Mariners say there are no plans to place Bradley on the disabled list, but that’s an option they will need to explore if he needs an extended period to get better. That means if you’ve been carrying Bradley and his .246 TAv, it’s time to explore your options. Actually, that’s something you should have been doing prior to him leaving the game on Tuesday.

With a line drive rate of 24 percent, Bradley has been making decent contact this year... when he’s been making contact. His strikeout rate sits at 30 percent, by far the highest of his career, and well above his average rate of 19 percent. It follows then, his percentage of swing and miss strikes is at an all-time high as well. Over 25 percent of the pitches he offers at, he fails to make any kind of contact.  His swing and miss rate has been climbing steadily over the previous five years:

2006 - 12%
2007 - 17%
2008 - 21%
2009 - 18%
2010 - 25%

His 12 percent mark in ’06 represents his career low.  

The swing-and-miss approach has effected his power game. Bradley’s power has generally come from the right side of the plate where he slugs 70 points higher. This year, the power is on the left side where five of his 10 hits have gone for extra bases. He’s hit three doubles and two home runs from the left side.  

It’s disappointing that Bradley hasn’t been able to replicate the success he found in Texas in 2008. His time with the Rangers presented him with the perfect opportunity:  A hitter friendly home ballpark (Bradley hit .358/.466/.679 at home and .290/.410/.462 on the road in ’08), over 75 percent of his time in the lineup at DH to keep his legs healthy and low fan expectations.  He may never find similar circumstances.

With Eric Byrnes released earlier in the week, the Mariners lone left field option for now is Ryan Langerhans.  With a career line of .232/.333/.379 and a TAv of .253, Langerhans is a fly ball hitter with warning track power and contact issues. That doesn’t sound too enticing, does it?  Over eight major league seasons, roughly seven percent of his plate appearances culminated with an extra base hit. He owns a career contact rate of 73 percent and a mere 59 percent percent of his plate appearances end with a ball in play. For the moment, Langerhans is an option only in the deepest of AL leagues… even then, it’s a judgement call.

The Mariners also have 23-year-old Michael Saunders in Triple-A for cover in case Bradley is out for an extended period. Rated a four star prospect entering the season, Saunders has struggled in his return engagement for Triple-A Tacoma, hitting just .200/.293/.213. He has just a lone extra base hit in 93 plate appearances. He earned a mid- season call to Seattle last summer and likewise struggled. Normally a patient hitter, once he got to the majors he changed his approach and started swinging… and missing. He drew six walks while striking out 40 times in 129 plate appearances and owned a .194 TAv.  

Saunders is the future, but the Mariners would undoubtedly like see more out of him at Triple-A before they give him another taste of the majors. If he gets the call, it would be to play everyday, ahead of Langerhans, where the opportunity and his potential make him a play in AL-only leagues. Right now though, that looks like a pretty big “if.”

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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