It goes against your instincts as a fan, but there’s no point in rooting for the Marlins to have team success right now. They have been eliminated from 2018 postseason contention, and even climbing out of last place requires many events beyond their control. The club has incentives, actually, to lose down the stretch and secure its best draft position of the past five years, improving access to premium amateur talent next June.
Instead, root for individuals. Root for Lewis Brinson.
Strong spring training production and a lack of viable alternatives propelled the South Florida native to an everyday job entering Opening Day. Brinson squandered the opportunity over the next three months, however, putting his extraordinary power bat to poor use by hammering pitches into the ground, and often failing to make contact altogether. The occasional tape-measure homers and leaping grabs in center field didn’t come close to out-weighing his struggles:
Brinson will be eligible to return for final weekend before All-Star break, but if Marlins don’t rush him back, he’ll finish 1st half batting— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 4, 2018
.186/.232/.338 with 10 HR and 94 K in 311 PA. Among the worst offensive halfs by a qualified player in franchise history. https://t.co/GePRolq1pR
Brinson’s rehab assignment with Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans yielded more discouraging results (.180/.226/.300 in 53 PA). He was reinstated to the Marlins roster in September with minimal fanfare.
Entering Wednesday’s doubleheader, the 24-year-old has participated in every inning of every game, looking like the ideal version of himself. Brinson owns a 1.000 OPS this month with hits against several of the devastating matchups for right-handed batters. He’s coming through in high-leverage spots, racking up 0.69 Win Probability Added, nice enough to tie him with Houston’s Alex Bregman for sixth-best among all 172 MLB qualifiers in September.
So much of athletic performance can be attributed to good health, but this better-late-than-never breakout runs deeper:
Look at the beautiful mid pitch adjustment he made. He's sitting fastball (good) and when he picks up the slider spin, he adjusts and still hammers this for a HR. Beautiful to see Lew make these strides, keep this up and he's poised to break out next year https://t.co/M1wKAP5K7B— Luke Simpson (@4_lukesimpson) September 8, 2018
Brinson has faced Mets ace Jacob deGrom more often than any other pitcher thus far in his major league career (12 PA). During the first half of this season, that was bad news.
Watch the first GIF loop a handful of times. Take note of the setup, the lower half, the timing of the swing, etc.
Now, let’s move on to the fun stuff...
Right there, Brinson did something that no other deGrom opponent had done in 2018. Here are a few things that made it possible:
- September batting stance is more “open” than it was in May with a deeper crouch. His hands are closer to the hitting zone as deGrom releases the pitch.
- The leg kick has been toned down. The toes on his left foot barely leave the ground, but he’s still able to achieve full hip rotation and generate power.
- Thanks to these efficient mechanics, he arrives on time against a 97.1 mph fastball.
Carrying a no-hitter into the fourth inning on Tuesday night, deGrom was as sharp as ever. This is all about Brinson. He had the two hardest-hit balls against the NL Cy Young frontrunner (double to deep center, fly out to deep right-center).
Jacob deGrom realizing he has to deal with Lewis Brinson in the NL East for years to come pic.twitter.com/ou11tYfP92— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) September 12, 2018
Although the sample size is microscopic, Brinson has inspired some confidence by cutting down on the grounders—52.6 GB% in first half, 45.8 GB% in second half—and improving his pitch type recognition. His swing rate outside the strike zone has been trimmed from 39.3 percent to a tolerable 33.9 percent.
The overall numbers are still repulsive and the circumstances that brought him here—trading Christian Yelich to the Brewers—are even more painful in hindsight as Yelich has emerged as a superstar to lead a contending team.
But the most important victory that the Marlins could hope for this September is peace of mind that Brinson is part of the long-term solution. By avoiding any nagging injuries over the final 19 games and demonstrating slightly more plate discipline, he can make all the tough times worthwhile.