In his latest ESPN Insider post, Buster Olney did a quick power ranking of the top left fielders in baseball. At number two overall sits Michael Brantley, behind only Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte. Olney’s evaluation on the two essentially boils down to Marte being the superior defender and thus the higher ranking, which is fine by me.
Here is a snippet of what Olney had to say about Brantley:
The Indians are relieved that Brantley was able to work past his normal reticence and tell them about his right shoulder issue; the team was able to schedule surgery relatively quickly after the season. Brantley is expected to miss the start of 2016, but when he gets back -- probably sometime before the first-quarter point of the season -- the Indians are hopeful he'll return to something close to what he has been the past couple seasons.
Brantley’s defensive metrics were poor again in 2015, although the good 'ole eye test usually disputes the numbers depending on who you ask. Marte finished with 24 defensive runs saved and a 10.8 UZR/150 compared to Brantley’s -2 DRS and -4.6 UZR/150. Even if you are a staunch Brantley defense defender, calling Marte the better fielder is accurate.
However, offensively, Brantley and his superb plate approach put him in a different league than Marte in 2015. Brantley finished T-2nd among Major League outfielders in wRC+ (135), 1st in OBP (.379), 5th in walk rate (10.1%), and he struck out the fewest times (8.6 K%). All of this, as Olney correctly noted, with lingering back and shoulder issues all season.
Because the Silver Slugger award goes by a generic "outfield" label instead of dividing it into left field, center field, and right field, Brantley ultimately lost the award to Mike Trout, J.D. Martinez, and
designated hitter Nelson Cruz.
Olney rounded out his Top Five list of left fields with Yoenis Cespedes at No. 3, Justin Upton at No. 4, and Christian Yelich at No. 5.
(h/t Jordan Bastian)