Decision Time 2008: Emil Brown

In honor of Emil's pending arbitration decision date...

One of the key decisions the Royals will have to make during the next few weeks is Emil Brown.  Brown is entering his third and final year of arbitration.  The Royals can either offer Emil arbitration and commit to paying him whatever figure results; or, they can non-tender him.  If Emil is non-tendered he could be claimed by any other club as he passes through waivers; however, I believe if he is claimed the new club would still have to offer him arbitration.  If no other club picks up Emil he becomes an unrestricted free agent after he clears waivers. It is possible that Emil might pass though waivers and then decide to resign with the Royals for a split contract, but I think that is not something anyone should count on.

If Emil is offered arbitration he can be offered no less than 80% of his current $3.45M salary.  The final figure likely will be closer to $4M.  Arbitration decisions are made based upon the player's performance over the last TWO years, and Emil was pretty decent in 2006.

Emil as a Royal:
2005 - .286/.349/.455/.804.  545 at bats, 17 HR, 86 RBI, 10/11 SB.
2006 - .287/.358/.457/.815.  527 at bats, 15 HR, 81 RBI, 6/9 SB.
2007 - .257/.300/.347/.647.  366 at bats, 6 HR, 62 RBI, 12/14 SB.

During these years, according to the numbers, Emil has improved as an outfielder.  

His range factor has moved up each year.  As a right fielder primarily in 2005, his range factor was 2.05, then he shifted to Left Field in 2006 (2.13) and 2007 (2.40).   His Revised Zone Ratings for these years (2005 RF = .650, 2006 LF = .915, 2007 LF = .843) make him about a league average LFer today.  According to this measure of defensive performance Emil is a step below Soriano and Crawford, about on the same level as Jason Bay and Jay Payton, and somewhat better than Raul Ibanez and Pat Burrell.

Also, Emil's errors decreased from 12 in 2005 to only a total of 9 in the next two years.

My eyeballs tell me Emil Brown fields like he has a brick attached to each of his palms, but I do tend to favor statistics over occasional direct observation.  Looking at the numbers, Emil Brown is no longer a hack in the outfield.  He is about average.

Regarding his work at the plate, all Royals fans know that Emil has led the team in RBI's each of the last three years.  When comparing Brown to the two other everyday outfielders over the last two years (David DeJesus and Mark Teahen), Emil has no reason to hang his head.  All three received roughly the same number of at bats.  When their counting stats are put side by side we see Emil produced at a comparable rate.

Name - (RBI - HR - SB - XBH)
Brown - (143 - 21 - 18 - 78)
DeJesus - (114 - 15 - 16 - 96)
Tehean - (129 - 25 - 23 - 91)

Why is Brown considered so expendable by much of the Royals fan base?  I would hazard the guess that in general Royals fans see Brown as easily replaced, a hanger-on; while at the same time they picture DeJesus and Tehean and upper tier talent.  Why?

Is it because Brown is older?  He will be 33 next year, so he probably is nearing his drop-off point.  When his career is reviewed it seems to me that most fans tend to think of his fine 2005 and 2006 seasons as aberrations rather than his new career norm.  Challenge these assumptions.  How can you write off two consecutive solid seasons?  Doesn't it make as much sense to see 2007 as the aberration rather than 05/06?  Does a pseudo-power hitter really drop off the statistical cliff at 33?  On average, no they do not.  Emil should have a few more good years in him.  Power and plate discipline actual peak around his age.  The skills that decline in the early 30's are defensive and base running skills, and these were certainly never Emil's bread and butter.  On average, Emil probably will be a little worse in the field and on the pads next year, but not show decline at the plate just yet.

Is it because Emil is paid so much more than Teahen and DeJesus?  If so, that gap will close significantly in 2008.  Teahen will get his first arbitration award this year and DeJesus is already signed at $2.5M.

I suspect the biggest reason Brown is so lowly regarded is his consistently poor production during April and May.  This is a fuzzy argument, but maybe you will agree.  Here are his monthly OPS numbers throughout his career.

April .614
May .733
June .817
July .652
August .777
Sept .763

These bizarre splits are not the result of a low sample size.  Emil has 2,064 career plate appearances - over 300 for each of those months.  The Royals have played themselves out of contention each of the last three years during April and May, and during these same months Emil Brown is swinging a hollow bat.  He only comes alive once the season is already in the can.  Over the last three years (the "Emil Era" if you will) I think the disappointment and frustration of Royals fans has peaked during late April and May, and these weeks coincide with Emil's annual slump.  I think it is possible that a lot of Royals fans are connecting their disappointment seeing the team as a whole tank the season early with their more pointed disappointment at seeing Emil's name in these lineups while he is still hitting around .200. Emil is associated with despair and crushed hopes.

Why does Emil take so long to heat up?  I am sure if anyone had that information Emil would be happy to give you a call.  But it is what it is.  Emil is a slow starter.

What does Emil do well?

  1. He makes good adjustments at the plate during games.  His OPS increases each time he faces a pitcher in the same night.  On his 1st plate appearance he OPSs .630, the second time it is up to .738.  By the third time he sees a pitcher he is Ruthian.  .339/.400/.515.  Maybe this is why Brown is so adept at bringing home runs?  He is a smart hitter.  He makes adjustments.  
  2. We've all known for years Brown works hard at his game.  He didn't become an MLB starter until he was 30 years old.  His development might have been slowed when he lost most of 1997 sitting on the bench in Pittsburg.  The Pirates had taken him as a Rule-5 selection that year and just hid him on the far end of the pine all season.  Emil's career fell off track after that lost summer and by 2002 he was hanging on at high-A Durham and in the Mexican League.  Alan Baird's spring training invitation to Brown in 2005 represented his final long shot, and he seized it by ripping the cover off the ball all spring (.421/.493/.719) to earn a roster spot when the team migrated north.  You have to like the concentrated effort and determination displayed by the guy during his 11 year struggle to fulfill his dream.  Emil had nothing handed to him.
  3. Brown holds a very dangerous bat when facing left handed pitching.  Even though last year his overall numbers were truly poor, he still OPSed .823 in 160 plate appearances against lefties.  For his career his L/R OPS split is .777 vs. .706.  If nothing else, Brown could be half of an excellent platoon at DH or LF.
  4. Brown has been successful in 28 of 35 stolen base attempts.  He is a good example of a guy who knows how to take a base despite not having a lot of foot speed.  While it is a frustrating situation, Brown, Teahen and Gordon are the best Royals at stealing bases, not DeJesus, German or Gathright.  It is what it is.
  5. And finally, while Brown does come off in interviews as suffering from some level of delusion, as far as I can tell he is a pretty good team player.  He has never gone on the DL in his three years in KC.  He is a dependable professional.
What does keeping Emil cost the Royals beyond his estimated $4M salary and spot on the 25 man roster?
  1. The Royals can keep no more than seven DH/OF/1B players. Teahen, DeJesus and Butler are locks. That leaves four slots for Brown, Shealy, Huber, Gathright, Costa, Gload and, realistically, German. Factor in also the possible return of Sweeney and Brazell, and you see it is a numbers game. There are seven to nine players many of us want to see on the MLB roster, and there only four slots. Injury might reduce the numbers presure slightly, but in the end keeping Emil probably means not keeping Huber, Costa, Sweeney and/or Brazell. There probably is only room for one, maybe two, of these guys on the roster at any given time.
  2. Every game Emil starts is one less game started by a younger player who still has the potential to establish himself on the roster.  If Emil comes back next year he will reduce opportunity for Shane Costa, Justin Huber and Ryan Shealy, and maybe Chris Lubanski, Craig Brazell and Mike Stodalka.
  3. Emil had a horrible campaign in 2007.  He did rally late in August and September, but he never really caught fire.  His post all-star break OPS was only .697.  No one seems to know why Emil declined so badly last year, which makes bringing him back a risk.  If we knew why he struggled, some plan could be put in place to address the problem.  As it is, we are all just shrugging our shoulders.  Mystery is more unsettling than reassuring.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.