(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
One of my favorite things about advanced analytics is being able to use them to confirm (or deny) suspicions that arise when watching a player. I know that often times it seems like the ‘eye test’ and analytics are at war with each other, but truthfully they can help prove something that a keen baseball fan may have noticed while observing a team or player.
For me, this came up while I was watching the Cleveland Indians and made an observation about outfielder Michael Brantley. To no one in particular I pointed out that ‘it seems like Michael Brantley puts the ball in play every time he’s up to bat’. While my fiance rolled her eyes at my ‘nonsensical jabbering’, a quick scan of Fangraphs proved that to be true. Brantley is sporting a career-low 8.1% strikeout rate as well as a career-low 5.4% walk-rate. Beyond that, he’s had a lot of success putting the ball in play, sporting a .324/.360/.520 line with three home runs, 18 RBI and a .196 ISO.
So is the Michael Brantley of old back? You know, the fantasy stud who posted double-digit home runs and steals with a batting average over .300 and an OBP over .370? The one who played in over 135 games four years in a row before nagging shoulder problems have kept him on the DL for the better part of two seasons?
It sure as heck looks like it.
Brantley’s not only putting the ball in play at a higher rate than ever before, he’s also sporting a 38.9% hard hit rate, a 91 mile per hour average exit velocity and a 4.2% barrel rate – all career highs. That data more than supports Brantley’s .326 BABIP, meaning his slash line looks sustainable.
xStats supports Brantley’s hot start at the plate as well. Brantley’s xslash line sits at a pretty .313/.351/.484. While his value hit rate of 5.4 is below average, his poor hit rate of 21.6% and his OUTs score of .093 are both above average. Overall, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Brantley’s success when putting the ball in play is sustainable.
One of the biggest red flags in Brantley’s profile is his career-low walk rate. However, a look at his o-swing rate shows that should stabilize as the year goes on.
Brantley’s o-swing rate is 24%, nearly identical to his career norm. His plate discipline profile doesn’t appear to have changed, so his walk rate should stabilize in the 7-9% range. While that’s nothing special, it’s certainly an improvement over his current 5.4% rate.
So what we are looking at is a 30-year-old former All-Star who is finally healthy, striking out less, and hitting the ball harder than he ever has before. His walk rate is an issue, but one that looks like it may experience some positive regression as the season goes on. He’s already got three taters on the year, and if he stays healthy should have no problem posting 20 round-trippers for the first time since 2014. He only has one stolen base, but for those concerned he’s lost a step his 25.3 ft/s foot speed is right around his career average – and actually has him 365th in the league, his highest career ranking. It remains to be seen if he will try and swipe more bases as the year goes on, but it’s safe to say the speed is still there if he chooses to utilize it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address Brantley’s one fairly significant flaw before I proclaim his value. Like many left-handed hitters, Brantley is struggling this year against left-handed pitching. His .250/.289/.278 slash line is ugly, although he does sport a much better .319/.355/.371 xslash. Still, his hard hit rate against left-handers is 26.5% and he has a value hit rate of 0.0%, which as you can guess is pretty bad.
Brantley’s career numbers against left-handers aren’t all that bad, so this could be an aberration simply due to a small sample size. Or Brantley’s age and limited exposure in the last few years has made hitting opposing lefties tougher. Hard to say exactly. In the grand scheme of things, Brantley’s overall value trumps his ineffectiveness against left-handers.
With Brantley there will always be an injury risk, especially now that he’s over 30 and has missed so much time. But if he’s available in your 12-teamer, he needs to be picked up right away. His profile suggests a .320 batting average with over 20 home runs, and if he starts running again he could easily get 10-12 steals. In ten team leagues that value batting average over OBP, he should be scooped up as well.
By all accounts, the old Brantley is back and he needs to be treated as such for fantasy purposes.
Hey! Great write-up. I’ve been fortunate owner of Brantley for a week and a half now so I was able to enjoy the grand slam he hit (was watching it live because I, unfortunately, was a Kela owner at the time too).
My input or question is will stolen bases not be an option due to where he is in the batting order. Either it’s a team preferred thing that their clean-up hitter doesn’t steal bases or if the clean-up spot has the lowest odds of getting to attempt stolen bases.
Thanks Taylor! I also had the fortune(?) of being a Kela/Brantley owner on that fateful evening.
As for your question, I do believe that hitting clean-up is probably costing Brantley some steals. I don’t think it’s been stated anywhere that Francona prefers his clean-up hitters not to steal bases, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that limits him going forward. The boost he gets in runs/RBI is nice though.
As a Brantley owner, this excites me to no end. I hope you’re right!