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Michael Brantley Flies Under the Radar

In his second full season with the Indians, Michael Brantley quietly earned the 34th most fantasy value among outfielders. Who would have predicted that Brantley would earn nearly identical value to Yoenis Cespedes? It may not have been obvious after a quick glance at his stat line, but Brantley does a little bit of everything at least decently, without standing out in any one category. That type of contribution package is typically undervalued in fantasy leagues, which is why it may surprise some to learn how valuable he actually was.

Though he hit a couple more homers driven by a bump in his HR/FB rate, his ISO has been nearly identical over the past three seasons. But, his average batted ball distance has been on the rise and sat just a bit below the league average this year. He has never shown any real power potential though and he hits too few fly balls to expect much better in the future. Even another spike into the low teens will barely boost his fantasy value.

Aside from the slight uptick in home run power, the real difference from a fantasy perspective came from his stolen base total. After totals in the low teens the previous two years, he was successful a little more often and swiped 17 bases this year. But, he attempted the exact same number of steals as he had in 2012. So it wasn’t a matter of him running more frequently, just succeeding more often.

The odd thing is that he was a serious burner in the minor leagues, and stole bases at a pretty good clip as well. He stole as many as 50 bases back in 2009 between Triple-A and the majors and succeeded on 85% of his attempts. But so far in the majors, he has only been successful on 70% of his attempts. His triples totals and Spd scores suggest that he was never such a speedster to begin with. Maybe he was just a smart base runner with the weaker defense in the minors, but that clearly has not translated to the majors and he doesn’t have the speed to make up for the better defense. So expecting any further stolen base upside would probably be foolish.

One of Brantley’s best skills is his ability to make contact. He sported the 5th lowest SwStk% and 5th highest Contact% this season, though his strikeout rate was a bit less impressive, coming in at the 14th lowest. Even with just a league average BABIP and below average HR/FB rates, he makes such excellent contact that he has been able to post a batting average above .280 two seasons in a row. His batted ball mix looks good, as he hits an above average rate of line drives, significantly more ground balls than fly balls and avoids the pop-up. As such, his xBABIP marks have hovered around .320 the last two years. While he seemingly has limited upside in the home run and stolen base department, he’s a nice dark horse candidate to bat .300.

The one concern involves his opposing pitcher handedness splits. The left-handed Brantley owns just a .284 career wOBA versus southpaws. That mark has been slightly higher the last two years at close to .300, but that’s still not good enough to make the platoon chatter go away. Though he posted a positive UZR/150 in left field in 2012, he was in the negative this season and has also posted negative marks every year he has played center field. So if he’s not contributing defensively and performing poorly at the plate versus lefties, you have to wonder if he’ll continue getting starts against them.

With limited upside outside of batting average and the risk that he loses playing time against left-handed pitchers, Brantley is a pretty good bet to fall significantly in next season’s final outfield rankings. Since he’s likely to still come rather cheaply at drafts, he might not necessarily be a true bust candidate, but he’s pretty close to being worthless again in 12-team mixed leagues.