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LGT Community Projections: Michael Brantley

Next in our series of community projections is Michael Brantley, who is coming off of a breakout season. Can he continue that trend?

Michael Brantley.
Michael Brantley.
Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Before getting into Brantley, a couple of housekeeping items.

  • If you haven't done so, please feel free to post your projection for the first two players in this series; I won't compile the results until after we've gone through all the starting positions. So you have until the end of next week (the 22nd) to post your entry.
  • There's a couple easy ways to get to those projections: first you can click on the link in the sidebar below, or you can click on the red Community Projections button at the top of this post.

As most of you are familiar with Michael Brantley, I'll keep his baseball life story to a minimum. Brantley was the PTBNL in the CC Sabathia deal, and is very likely the only player in that deal to give the Indians any tangible production. The other players in the deal were:

  • Matt LaPorta (-1.5 WAR). He's no longer on the 40-man roster, having been outrighted this winter. Thus far he hasn't appeared in a spring training game, but even if he was healthy there would be no chance of him making the major-league roster.
  • Zach Jackson (-0.7 WAR). Hasn't been with the Indians since 2009, and hasn't been in the majors since. Based on his recent minor-league stats (5.17 ERA in 158.1 with AAA Round Rock), he isn't going to get back anytime soon.
  • Rob Bryson (0.0 WAR). A lottery ticket (20-year-old in SAL when traded) that has been derailed thanks to injury. Has reached AA, possibly could help the Indians as a reliever.

So all the positive production has come from Brantley, who has given the Indians 3.1 Wins Over Replacement in his four-season career with the Indians. And most of that production came in 2011 (+1.6) and 2012 (2.9).

Breaking things down further, most of that 2.9 WAR came from his bat, not from either his defense or base running. In 2012 Brantley was successful stealing a base only 57% of the time, well below the threshold you want a player to be, well down from his first couple of seasons. So his Runs from Baserunning, one of the components of WAR, was actually negative in 2012, a measure you'd usually see from a plodder. Brantley's defense (mostly in center field) was either just about average or a bit below, depending on which stat you look at.

For comparison, here's how Brantley and his new teammate Michael Bourn did in the Rbaser, Rfield, and Rbat components of B-Ref WAR in 2012:

Player Rbat Rbaser Rfield WAR
Bourn 0 7 24 6.0
Brantley 8 -2 -1 2.9

Although Brantley was a perfectly fine defender in center, nevertheless him moving to left field will make the team better. Not only is Michael Bourn a great (as in Kenny Lofton in his prime great) defender, but Brantley in left should also mark a significant improvement as well. In 2011, when he played mostly left field, Brantley was a +6 defender, and there's no reason to think that won't repeat itself when he's a full-time player there this year.

So what about Brantley's offensive game improved from 2011 to 2012? Brantley started to hit for more power, and more specifically, more line drives. His Line Drive percentage jumped from 20.2% to 22.5%, and that increase came at the expense of Fly Balls. So his home runs didn't really jump (in fact, per PA they decreased) but his doubles jumped dramatically. In other words, Brantley has become a gap power slugger, and I don't use that phrase disparagingly. Brantley is still young enough to develop some more home run power, but as long as he's cranking out 35+ doubles a season he's going to be fine even in left field.

One other things bears mentioning in regards to Brantley's offensive breakout: he dropped his strikeouts dramatically. In 2011, he struck out every 6.5 Plate Appearances; in 2012, that fell to once every 10.9 PA. That jump in gap power certainly didn't come at the expense of contact. He's not going to be a traditional corner outfielder, but should be just as valuable. The Indians will probably bat him sixth in the lineup, where he'll have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs, all while playing above-average defense in left field.

Historical Stats

2009 22 CLE 28 121 10 35 4 0 0 4 4 8 19 .313 .358 .348 .707 92
2010 23 CLE 72 325 38 73 9 3 3 10 2 22 38 .246 .296 .327 .623 75
2011 24 CLE 114 496 63 120 24 4 7 13 5 34 76 .266 .318 .384 .702 97
2012 25 CLE 149 609 63 159 37 4 6 12 9 53 56 .288 .348 .402 .750 113
4 Yrs 363 1551 174 387 74 11 16 39 20 117 189 .274 .329 .376 .705 98
162 Game Avg. 162 692 78 173 33 5 7 17 9 52 84 .274 .329 .376 .705 98
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/13/2013.

Here's ZiPS on Brantley's 2013:

ZiPS Projection
PA 641
2B 31
HR 7
SB 19
SB % 73%
BA/OBP/SLG .275/.333/.382

In this projection, Brantley regresses a bit in power but improves in his stolen base numbers.

Here's what Cairo predicts:

Cairo Projection
PA 586
2B 29
HR 8
SB 16
SB % 67%
BA/OBP/SLG .271/.332/.381

Brantley's batting line is practically identical to ZiPS, but Cairo is more pessimistic with his playing time.

I'm going to be quite a bit more optimistic:

Ryan's Projection
PA 625
2B 40
HR 10
SB 10
SB % 65%
BA/OBP/SLG .296/.370/.439

I fully expect someone to break out the Kool-Aid pic, but I just feel that Brantley's offensive growth isn't done yet. He's going into his peak production years, he's always had an excellent eye at the plate, and has gotten to know the pitchers better. That he's going to play an easier position will have some effect on his durability over the course of the season as well.

What do you think?