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Nobody spoils a pitch like Will Brennan

Do some of these fouls turn into hits when he gets his timing right?

Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It’s no secret — the Guardians’ offense right now is dreadful. They can’t seem to hit their way out of a paper bag, the lucky ones aren’t dropping, and nothing gets over the fence. Right now they rank 27th in wRC+ and while they’re middle of the pack in total hits with 19 since May 1, they only have two extra-base hits. Atlanta has 11 home runs. It’s not great.

Amid all this, Will Brennan is no exception. The young outfielder is hitting .191/.243/.294, is walking at roughly half the league average at 4.1%, and has that one lone dinger to his name. He’s good at one thing, though — actually the best in the league.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, can spoil a pitch like Will Brennan.

Since Steven Kwan debuted last year, a growing sickness has grabbed me, and likely many other Guards fans, of a raw adoration of those long, drawn-out, stupid at-bats that a lot of times don’t really go anywhere. Kwan can turn those into walks a lot with his ancient wizard’s eye that seems to know where the ball is going before even the pitcher does. Brennan doesn’t have quite the same plate sense, and considerably more aggression than Kwan, but he can certainly keep an at-bat alive.

Since the beginning of 2022, Brennan leads all of baseball with a foul ball rate (the number of pitches he sees that he fouls off basically) at 27.1%. It’s slipped a bit the last week or so, topping out at about 29.5% in late April, but he’s still right there at the top of the leaderboard. It’s not some inconsequential number either — 119 foul balls on 439 pitches since he debuted last summer. That’s pretty neat.

Obviously, this isn’t turning into any kind of offense right now. His aforementioned slash line is dreadful, one of the worst in a really bad Cleveland lineup, but surely it’s something, right? After all, getting the bat to the ball is the first step to hitting, maybe after actually seeing the ball. And Brennan does have some pretty good numbers in the batted ball world in general, making contact 82% of the time in his short career (league average is 76.3%), zone contact 88.5% (85.3% league-wide), and 67.9% outside of the zone (62.3% league-wide). Again, nothing superlative, but good.

It does speak in part to an aggressive streak. He’s not walking much, and his swing rate, 61%, leaves the league average of 46.6% far in the dust. This is not all a good thing, since he’s chasing out of the zone 44% of the time for his career, compared to the 31.4% league average. It’s just hard to get a good, solid hit if you’re expanding the zone.

On top of all that, the other guys he’s on top of that foul ball rate list aren’t exactly studs:

Foul ball leaders since Will Brennan’s MLB debut

Player Foul Balls Total Pitches Foul Ball % 2023 wOBA
Player Foul Balls Total Pitches Foul Ball % 2023 wOBA
Will Brennan 119 439 27.1 .240
Francisco Mejía 349 1305 26.7 .258
Jose Rojas 59 228 25.9 .292 (2022)
Mark Contreras 54 220 24.5 .189
Didi Gregorius 198 827 23.9 .251
Ozzie Albies 358 1506 23.8 .371
Jordan Diaz 69 290 23.8 .261
Corey Dickerson 260 1102 23.6 .175
Josh Palacios 49 209 23.4 .225 (2022)
Chuckie Robinson 48 205 23.4 .173 (2022)
Alcides Escobar 119 510 23.3 .242
Mauricio Dubón 306 1317 23.2 .311
Bo Bichette 705 3058 23.1 .389

I had to go six deep to Ozzie Albies to find anyone that is any good, and beyond that, there are more guys on this list who couldn’t stick in a lineup after last year than are actually good or even useful. Not all superlatives are good, it seems.

Perhaps he does swing too much. Michael Brantley slashed.265/.316/.359 his first three partial years, but I was convinced he would get good eventually because he constantly made contact, and would surely get stronger. Brennan isn’t quite as much of a contact savant as Brantley, who lived in the low 90s for contact rate, but he’s still getting the bat to the ball, and that’s important. He also eclipses Brantley’s career 41.8% career swing rate, so it’s less than an ideal comp. He just needs to keep making that contact but narrow his focus a bit.

His zone chart for foul balls is a bit much:

There are some wildly out-of-the-zone balls there, like that trio of fastballs up top, or that curveball behind his feet. Though it’s not too different from his zone chart of every pitch he’s swung at:

So perhaps it’s growing pains, a bit too much aggression at the plate, and he’s just figuring out what they’re trying to do to him. After all, it’s still only 37 total major-league games. Brennan was never a major plate discipline guy in the minors, his walk rate ranging from 7.6% his last year in Triple-A to 10.8% the year prior in Double-A. Contact is the name of his game. For now, a lot of that is just ending up in foul territory.

It’s a bit painful to think that we need to deal with his working through these issues considering the team needs bats and are the reigning division champions, but for the long run, perhaps patience — both us for him to figure it out, and him for finding the right damn pitch to swing at for goodness sakes — is the name of the game. He’s got to figure out that timing eventually. Right?