There is no denying that Michael Brantley is having a spectacular season. Up until today, though, I had no problem denying that he could come anywhere close to keeping up the pace he had set. Though he is currently the third-ranked outfielder in standard Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats on CBSSports.com, I had him ranked 35th.
The following tweet marked the beginning of the end of my complacency about Brantley's ranking.
With the threat of a Michael Hurcomb intervention looming, I got to work. I was determined to defend my ranking, but my research didn't support it.
Now all I can say is: Mea culpa.
I figured Brantley had a decent chance at hitting .300 with 20 stolen bases, but I wasn't buying the 25-homer, 100-RBI, 100-run pace. I still think he could fall short of those benchmarks, but here are the three main reasons why I belatedly decided to give Brantley his due.
1. Brantley is striking out in only 9 percent of his at-bats, which is a career-low, but given that he posted a 10 percent rate two seasons ago, his current rate is totally sustainable.
2. On the basis of his strong contact skills and 17 stolen bases, Brantley ranked 29th among outfielders in Head-to-Head value and 32nd in Roto value a year ago. There was no reason to think he had gotten worse and at least some reasons to see progress, yet I had Brantley ranked even lower this year.
3. An interesting pattern emerges when you take a look at Brantley's home run log. Nine of his 15 homers this season have come at Progressive Field, which is a pretty good power park for lefty hitters. And nine of last season's ten homers came there as well.
But what about the seven homers he has hit away from Cleveland over the last two seasons? Four were hit at good home runs parks, and the other three came off Ian Krol, Joel Peralta and Brandon Workman -- all flyball pitchers. This season in particular, Brantley has been clobbering flyball pitchers, and he's been doing it to the tune of a .378/.415/.612 slash line.
Ground ball pitchers, who have yielded a .236/.333/.327 slash line from Brantley, have been his kryptonite, but he doesn't face them very often. The four pitching staffs with the highest ground ball rates are all in the National League, and barring a trade, he won't face the American League's best ground ball staff, because, well, it's the Indians'. It's no accident, then, that Brantley has 212 plate appearances against flyball pitchers (according to Baseball-Reference.com's criteria) and only 63 against ground ball pitchers. That imbalance has fueled Brantley's power surge, as he has figured out how to mash balls left up in the zone.
Because I don't expect Brantley to maintain either a 31 percent line drive rate or a .344 batting average with runners in scoring position, I'm still holding out on making him a top 10 or even a top 15 outfielder. I do now have him ranked 18th, as I finally realize he will continue to be a much more productive player than he has been in the past.