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Michael Brantley, to swing or not to swing

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The past two off-seasons I have written about Brantley's strengths and weaknesses at the plate. In 2010, the issue was his outcome on balls in play. Brantley has elite contact abilities, but this often results in very weak contact. In other words, he is not making good choices about which balls to make contact with and which to let go by or foul off. In 2011he did a better job with the outcome of his balls in play, but too often he let good pitches go by.

Brantley's early season performance has left a lot of room for improvement. His .239/.300/.326 batting line puts him only ahead of Casey "groundball out" Kotchman on the team in terms of production (and Brantley actually has much less BABIP regression working in his favor). The problem is more of the same for Brantley. His contact rate is once again a team-leading and ridiculously high 93%. If he swings, he makes contact. And somewhat strangely, when Brantley makes contact he almost always puts it in play. Only 18% of Brantley's in the zone pitches result in foul balls, second-lowest on the team (Hafner is at 15%). All that contact is not amounting in much production, though. And like last year, Brantley is letting too many hittable balls go past him. While he leads the team in contact%, he also (together with Kotchman) leads the team in the percentage of strikes he lets go past him (40%). The league average is 29%.

I am not sure if this is a product of Brantley's basic "hit tool" or simply his plate approach, but he needs to do better. If Brantley cannot make better choices about when to swing and when not to swing, he is never going to produce at a rate that will keep him in the league, despite his obvious athletic gifts.