FG on Fox: Michael Brantley’s Amazing Season

Last February, Michael Brantley and the Indians agreed to a four-year contract extension worth $25 million. The Indians figured it was a safe bet for an average player with upside. Some of the Indians’ players, meanwhile, had a different take. For example, let’s consider the words of Nick Swisher:

“We all said when that deal came out that that was a bargain for us,” said first baseman Nick Swisher.

Point: Swisher. Not that the Indians mind. Used to be, in terms of performance, Brantley was consistently, exactly average. Now, take a trip through the Wins Above Replacement leaderboard. You see Mike Trout at the top, naturally. Then there’s Alex Gordon, and Josh Donaldson, a previous breakthrough. Hanging out with the likes of Giancarlo Stanton is Brantley, who this year has become a fringe MVP candidate. Not that Brantley really stands any chance of winning, but at least statistically, there’s an argument, which tells you most of what you need to know.

Brantley’s offensive game is driving all this, and while he’s been developing for a while, his results have changed overnight. We have a measure of offensive performance called wRC+, which compares a player’s productivity to the league average. A figure of 100 is exactly average; a figure north of that is better than average. Between last year and this year, Devin Mesoraco leads baseball with an 87-point wRC+ improvement. That currently stands as one of the very biggest season-to-season improvements ever. Brantley’s in second place, with an improvement of 52 points. If it weren’t for Mesoraco being an anomalous freak, Brantley’s improvement would look more absurd.

Part of this is that Brantley’s reduced his strikeouts. Not that he was ever particularly strikeout-prone, but now he’s whiffing just once per 12 trips to the plate. A year ago, he whiffed once per nine. A bigger deal, though, is that Brantley’s hitting for power. It’s power people always suspected would come from his frame, and right now Brantley has more home runs in 2014 than he had the two previous years combined. Isolated power is simply slugging percentage minus batting average, and Brantley used to hang out around .110. This season he’s pushing .200. He’s kept most of everything the same while adding power and cutting down strikeouts, and that’s a pretty effective recipe for achieving a breakout.

Brantley swears he hasn’t made any dramatic changes. Terry Francona thinks he’s just developed a stronger base, and that he’s finding a little extra power as he enters his prime. Michael Bourn, for what it’s worth, thinks he sees something:

“I had to convince him a little bit,” Bourn said. “It’s all about believing that you can do it. When you come up here first, you might just want to stick with what you’ve been doing the whole time. You might not want to take a chance of swinging the bat with a little authority. He’s done that now.”

Let’s stick with that “authority” idea. The evidence suggests Brantley is looking for more opportunities to drive the ball. Below, a chart from Brooks Baseball. This is showing the average angle of Brantley’s balls in play, where more negative means more to right field, which is Brantley’s pull area. I’ll explain more after the image.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Chris Sabo
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Chris Sabo
1 year 11 months ago

“Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.”

This is becoming very much more than annoying. Stop doing it.

Jake
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Jake
1 year 11 months ago

I’m guessing their contract with Fox requires them to do so.

Sam
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Sam
1 year 11 months ago

Rabid mosquitos are very much more than annoying. Clicking one button is not.

Bill
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Bill
1 year 11 months ago

Paying for this content would be far more annoying.
Deals like this keep if free.

MustBunique
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Member
1 year 11 months ago

Flip side of that is that I’d pay a little for FanGraphs content. Oh wait, I already do. FG+. Not that I have to, but it isn’t that much and I like to support the site that I really enjoy reading. Much like donating to NPR, I see my FG+ subscription as a very small thanks to these guys who bring me so much throughout the year. That said, even though the rest of the article is just one click away, I find it a bit annoying too.

Jason Bourne
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Jason Bourne
1 year 11 months ago

You’re whining about free content. If it bothers you that much, just don’t click on the article. It tells you that the whole article isn’t on Fangraphs before you even click on it.

gump
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gump
1 year 11 months ago

some formatting issues in the bradley vs. fastballs

isavage30
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isavage30
1 year 11 months ago

Brantley’s biggest problem in the past was he was often too passive. He had always performed much better hitting with RISP than in other situations. I always thought this was a rare case where the RISP numbers for a player showed something real, he had a different, more aggressive approach in these situations, and was more successful because of it. He’d come to bat with no one on and often take the first two pitches, even if they were very hittable fastballs, while in RISP situations he’d swing at those pitches. This year, he’s finally taken the more aggressive approach into all of his at bats.

Wobatus
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Wobatus
1 year 11 months ago

.813 OPS men on, .826 RISP, RISP 2 outs .847. .702 bases empty.

Interesting idea about approach, so to focus less on the whole clutch bugaboo and more on why a particular hitter may succeed in a different situation given how he goes about it.

krinks
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krinks
1 year 11 months ago

Brantley is a testimony to zero’ing in on players with a good to even K/BB ratio that are also 27 or under. In my 10 team Head to Head points League Brantley wasn’t even drafted. Top points producer in the league this season.

AddyMac8
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AddyMac8
1 year 11 months ago

It’s not that I don’t understand pitch values, I’m just curious, though, why pitch values per 100 pitches were used over, say, 2014 SLG% or OPS versus specific pitch types instead. It seems when Dave, Jeff–essentially any of the prominent FG staff–write for Fox, they have to ‘dumb it down’ a little bit due to the less-specialized reader. (See: Jeff explains bare-boned basics of wRC+).

And I totally get that.

So I’m not at all knocking using pitch values, they likely are more wholly inclusive about a player’s performance against a certain type of pitch than just static OPS versus fastballs, say.

But if the audience is in need of a wRC+ lesson, could it be possible his increased success versus certain pitch types in 2014 be indicated through a more traditional lens?

Very good article. Along with Mesoraco, Alex Dickerson, Garrett Richards, fellow Indian Corey Kluber…etc…Brantley is a really good story and one of 2014’s best breakouts. Enjoyed the piece, as always!

Luke
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Luke
1 year 11 months ago

I was pretty surprised when I tuned in to some Indians games in April to see how thick Brantley looked. I didn’t watch him play a lot previous seasons, but I had the impression he was more of a thin speedster type.

It should be noted that he had surgeries before the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Late August 2011 he had part of his hamate bone removed, and in October 2012 he had sports hernia surgery. I think what we are seeing this season is what a guy with such outstanding contact and plate discipline skills is capable of when he actually gets a full offseason to workout and build muscle.

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