Michael Brantley makes a living on being a good contact hitter. Being a good contact hitter can be interpreted in two ways and no matter which one you chose you’d be correct.
The first interpretation is that Brantley makes a lot of contact. Well, over the last two years his 91.7% contact rate ranked third-best in baseball. He’s also tied for the third-lowest whiff rate at 3.3%, and his strikeout rate is a minuscule 10.1% (ranked 9th).
The second interpretation is that Brantley’s contact is good, as in he hits the ball very well. His 22.9% line drive rate over the last two years is 30th-best in baseball and he also limits both his flyballs (29.9%) and infield flies (5.3%).
So Brantley makes “good contact,” but how does that translate for us in fantasy? Unfortunately, it really only reinforces that Brantley will hit for a good batting average, which he has (.286 BA), but not much else.
The most disappointing aspect of Brantley’s game is his lack of stolen bases. There’s a real misconception that Brantley is a burner and capable of putting up a 30 SB season. However, this is not the case and it doesn’t look like he will every top out past 20 SB.
|Year||SB Opp.||SB Att.||%|
For the last three years, Brantley has attempted a steal on about 10% of his opportunities. For reference, the elites (aka Michael Bourn during his prime years) attempt a steal on 20% of their opportunities. Brantley is clearly well below that threshold.
What’s also holding him back is the fact that he can’t successfully steal a base on a consistent basis. In his last three seasons he has attempted 60 steals and succeeded 42 times (70%) — that’s not very good.
People will point to his 46 SB season in the minors, but it’s becoming more evident that his minor league success probably had more to do with the opposing competition rather than his blazing speed. We don’t usually refer to FanGraph’s Speed Score stat when talking about fantasy, but it should be noted that his 4.6 rating over the last two years is lower than hitters like Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, and Eric Hosmer.
At A Glance
- Strengths: SB, BA, K, 2B, 3B
- Neutral: R, OBP, SLG, OPS
- Weaknesses: HR, RBI, BB
Players With Similar Fantasy Value
2014 Fantasy Baseball Projection
2014 Projection: 602 PA, .291 BA, 70 R, 10 HR, 61 RBI, 15 SB
Overall Rank: 150 | OF Rank: 52
He doesn’t really wow you anywhere, but you can definitely do worse than his 10 HR/15 SB with 131 R+RBI.
So Brantley isn’t particularly fast and doesn’t have a great success rate when stealing bases (although his 82% success rate last year was a career best) — so where does he get his value from? Well, he does a little bit of everything while putting up a good batting average.
The batting average is key because the league has seen a steady decrease in batting averages so a that .291 projected BA over 602 PA is pretty valuable. Then if you add in the fact that he contributes a little bit in every 5×5 category you realize how balanced Brantley’s game can be. He doesn’t really wow you anywhere, but you can definitely do worse than his 10 HR/15 SB with 131 R+RBI.
There’s one caveat when it comes to Brantley and it’s his splits vs. left-handed pitchers could suggest a platoon situation in the future. Last year, he wasn’t horrible against lefties (.276 BA), but his K rate more than doubled from 8.1% to 17.2%. It should also be noted that his BA vs. LHP was helped a lot by an inflated .329 BABIP.
Overall, you’ll be getting a decent player across the board and that balanced production is nice at the back end of your outfield. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking Brantley is a speedster due for a breakout year in the SB category.
2015 & Beyond
At this point in his career, Brantley is what he is. He’ll turn 27 in May so expecting him to become a premier base-stealer or increase his power production is unrealistic. If he could ever get full-time at-bats as a leadoff hitter he could contribute more in the runs category, but with Bourn in town that won’t happen as long as he stays in Cleveland.