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Player Profile #150: Michael Brantley | OF | CLE

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. %
2011 182 18 9.9%
2012 219 21 9.6%
2013 220 21 9.5%

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.


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  • Confused Roto-baller

    how can you list SB’s as a source of “strength” and in the same breath discuss at length poor he is at stealing bases, isn’t fast, etc, etc?

    • It’s a fair point so I can understand why you are confused. Our strengths/weaknesses guidelines are based on a formula where if a player lands in the top 30% of a category it’s a strength, if he’s in the bottom 30% it’s a weakness, and the rest is neutral. Brantley happened to clear the strength threshold by a whopping .001 point so he’s definitely teetering on neutral territory.

      I also should have made my point a little clearer — I don’t think Brantley is slow, he’s an above average runner in terms of pure speed for sure. However, stealing a base isn’t solely based on speed (you need opportunity, to seize the opportunity, and capitalize on the opportunity). Last year was the first time Brantley capitalized on his stolen base attempts with a good success rate, but he still only attempted a steal on 9% of his opportunities. He needs more attempts than that for me to get excited about his SB potential.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • On jailbreaks I’ve timed him multiple times in the 4.10-4.15 range (which is a 55-60 on the 20-80 scale scouting scale) so has more than enough speed to steal bags. Maybe he didn’t steal bases because his success rate was so low prior to 2013. Last year he had the best stolen base success rate since 2010 it’s not overly optimistic to expect 20-25 stolen bases next year.

    • I would agree that it’s not overly optimistic to expect 20-25 SB, but it would definitely be on his “best case scenario” side. Even last year, when he was successfully stealing bases, he didn’t attempt enough steals to give him a lot of SB upside (hence the 17 SB).

      Whether that’s because of Terry Francona’s managerial style, his spot in the order, or another factor I’m not thinking about? I’m not sure. But it’s been a consistent part of his game for three years now. Until he becomes more aggressive on the basepaths, you can find me on the pessimistic side of the argument.

  • Bbboston

    Overall, this write-up makes my AL only league argument on Brantley, without drawing the seemingly reasonable conclusion that he’s a great potential sleeper…..

    He’ll give you solid production at an appropriate auction price; people don’t value his potential upside. He’ll reliably help you support BA for your team, somewhat of an elusive skill to rely on from player to player….. AND … He has the potential to spike his power and stolen bases, arguably. Whether he does or not doesn’t matter. As a fantasy player, he fundamentally profiles as a guy with a reliable floor and good potential upside….normally you have to pay for that.

    Now, place him in the lead off position, and his value spikes enormously from a counting stats perspective, as well as the likelihood that he’ll be run more. Bourne is an aging player just off hamstring surgery… this possible? Most definitely, yes. Lastly, don’t forget Cleveland has just committed to him as a core player to build around, so he has a place in the line-up and isn’t likely to get a mid-year demotion.

    • I will agree with you that if he could somehow unseat Bourn as the Indians leadoff hitter he will significantly upgrade his R production, but his RBI will suffer so there’s a give and take there.

      This transformation would actually make him a better H2H option as it usually caters to players who can contribute above-average numbers in fewer categories as opposed to below-average numbers in all five.

      Now to where I disagree:

      1) I don’t know how you can argue that Brantley has any future power spikes in his future. He doesn’t hit flyballs (career 30% rate) and his ISO has sat in the mid .110’s for 3 years now.

      2) I get that Brantley is capable of stealing 30+ bases — based on his minor league numbers — but for whatever reason he has stopped running in the majors. Add in the fact that he has Terry Francona — who runs less frequently than the average manager — at the helm and you have a bad recipe for stolen base success even if he takes the leadoff spot.

      I like Brantley because he’s undervalued and contributes solid production across the board, but I would pump the brakes on his potential upside.

      Thanks for the comment!

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