Not a lot has gone right for the Cleveland Indians so far in 2015. When the pitching was at one point looking dominate, the offense was sitting on their hands. Now that the offense has finally picked up, culminating in 13 hits last night in a loss against the Minnesota Twins, the starting pitching is consistently giving opposing teams big leads early in games. A large part of that offensive resurgence can be credited to Michael Brantley who - ever since joining the team in mid-April - has been dominating opposing pitchers.
He may not be hitting 6 home runs in 3 days like some other headline-grabbing players, but Brantley is a player that pitchers should be absolutely fearing right now. Ever since he took to the field, his contact rates have been nearly off the charts. Inside the zone, it's almost a guarantee he'll be making contact with the ball - his 98.8% Z-Contact% leads the league among qualified batters (just edging out Daniel Murphy's 98.2 Z-Contact%). Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he he's also making contact on 91.9% of balls thrown outside the zone, another league-leading stat. He also leads qualified hitters in swinging strike percentage (1.5%), and overall contact rate (96.7%).
At least part of his success is coming from his selectiveness at the plate. Although it appears he could hit almost anything at this point, he's only swinging at 38.2% of pitches, which puts him in the bottom 10 among qualified hitters. In other words, when he does decide to swing he's making it count.
Brantley is also currently on a 9 game hitting streak dating back to April 30th, and 4 of those were multi-hit games. In total during this streak (41 PA) he's tallied 14 hits, 3 doubles, and 3 home runs for a 240 wRC+. He has not struck out a single at bat during the streak, and he's hit every single pitch inside the zone that he's swung at other than yesterday's game when he had the audacity to swing and miss on a slider from Phil Hughes.
All of this has translated to some seriously impressive events at the plate. Predictably he leads the league in strikeout percentage by only striking out in 3.0% of his at-bats. The next closest is the Braves' short stop Andrelton Simmons with at a distant 4.8% strikeout rate. His 10.0% walk rate and down-to-earth .333 BABIP means that he isn't blowing the league away in the all important on base percentage. His .410 OBP is still nothing to scoff at, and it's landed him as the Indians leader as well as 16th in the league among qualified batters. If he can maintain that 10.0% walk rate for the rest of 2015 it would also be his highest rate in his career, well over his 7.5% career number.
The biggest question that could be asked is if all this hitting is translating to power. While it hasn't lead to a tremendous amount of home runs (his 3 dings are still good for T-3 on the Indians), he has hit a lot of extra base hits. To this point he's hit 8 doubles, which puts him as the Indians leader along with Ryan Raburn. It's also tied for seventh in the league, but keep in mind he's only played 23 games. Other hitters that have put up more doubles have done so in upwards of 30 games.
Granted, it's a much smaller sample size, but Brantley looks to be picking up right where he left off in his fabulous 6.3 WAR season last year. So far in his 100 plate appearances in 2015 he has the same BABIP, a higher ISO (.189 in 2015, .178 in 2014), a higher SLG (.533 in 2015, .506 in 2014), and a higher wOBA (.408 in 2015, .389 in 2014). By all accounts he's on track to match or even outpace last year, assuming he can keep up this level of play. On top of maintaining his power, he's also tacked on the ability to see and hit absolutely everything over the plate which is just scary.
Also similar to last year, Brantley's spray charts show that he's using the entire field with almost every at bat. It's still too early to read too much into it, but the two home runs he hit to almost dead center field were closer to being opposite field home runs than anything he hit in 2014. During his 20 home run season last year, every one of those homers was pulled.
While he hasn't been covered in the media to the extent that some other big hitters this year have been - in part because the Indians aren't a good team right now, and part because Brantley isn't hammering home runs - pitchers have surely taken notice. It's only a matter of time before the rest of the world does too.