Michael Brantley: Better than you Think

In my FanGraphs+ write up of Michael Brantley, I wrote, “Michael Brantley out-earned Bryce Harper this year. That is probably the last time I’ll be able to type that sentence, but it does give you a sense of how much value Brantley created compared to his cost.”

Brantley broke double digit home runs for the first time in 2013 and set a new career high in stolen bases, as well. He put up solid R and RBI numbers (more combined than Harper, for example) and his .284 average was enough to help any fantasy team. And 2014 is shaping up to be even better.

With all the usual small sample size caveats, let’s look at what Brantley has done thus far. His 4 HR and 4 SB in 25 team games puts him in pace for 25 of each, which would clearly both be career highs. His .273 average would be a step back, but still very solid. And he is on pace for more than 200 combined RBI and R.

Now, he won’t continue those paces, clearly. But there are reasons to believe 2014 will be his best year yet. Brantley, who has always make great contact, is striking out only 7.8% of the time, which would be a career low. He is also walking 9.8% of the time, which would be a career high. Brantley has room for both of those numbers to slip and still be posting a career best walk to strike out ratio, which is great for owners in OBP leagues and very good for everyone else.

It’s only April, but Brantley is hitting the ball harder than he has in the past, too – 284 feet on his home runs and fly balls, compared to 276 feet last year and 270 the year before. He is doing this in some cool (actually, downright cold) weather, which can depress batted ball distance. It is way too early to say that Brantley will continue to hit the ball with such authority, but the four early home runs were not wall-scrapers – he has earned them – and as the weather warms up, his distance should increase, all else equal.

He is doing this all with career low LD and FB rates. Brantley, who has never dipped below a 20% LD rate and only once sank below a .300 BABIP (which goes along with those LD rates), is currently hitting only 17.5% line drives and has a .263 BABIP.

A betting man would project all of these numbers to regress – and for Brantley’s 2014 to end up looking an awful lot like his 2013. But if he can get the LD rate back up and if the new fly ball distance is legit, even without the improved K and BB rates, you are talking about higher AVG/OBP/SLG, more home runs, more chances to steal bases, more RBI and more runs scored. And that is on top of a player who was already the 34th rated OF in our end of season rankings last year.

Brantley was an extremely solid fantasy contributor in 2013 and is – in the admittedly early stages of the season – on pace for a career year. This from a guy whose Yahoo average draft position was 211th, or the middle of the 19th round, making him the 54th OF off the board.

If you weren’t the one lucky enough to nab him there, find the owner who was, and make him an offer. You can probably trade an 18th-20th round player for a guy who is already far more valuable than that, and could be on the verge of a breakout. Even if I am wrong – even if Brantley doesn’t improve and basically repeats 2013, you’ll thank me in October.

A long-time fantasy baseball veteran and one of the creators of ottoneu, Chad Young's writes for RotoGraphs and PitcherList, and can be heard on the ottobot podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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Ugh, and to think the last keeper selection in my 16 team league with 15 keepers came down to pat corbin and michael brantley, and I went corbin.