Michael Brantley is off to a torrid start in 2014. The Cleveland Indians outfielder was 15th on ESPN’s player rater entering Thursday night’s game thanks to a .295 batting average, four home runs, 12 runs, 18 RBIs and four steals. He finished the 2013 season 93rd on ESPN’s player rater, but fantasy owners clearly weren’t buying. Brantley was the 257th player drafted this year according to ESPN’s average draft position, behind guys like Kolten Wong, James Loney and Andre Ethier. What should we expect from the outfielder moving forward? Do we need to start perceiving this guy as a top 100 fantasy commodity?
This may come off as a hedge, but I mostly believe in what we’ve seen from Brantley so far.
I do think Brantley will be a reliable source of average and RBIs while being a slightly above average contributor in runs, and he’s certainly capable of swiping 20 bases (he swiped 46 in AAA back in 2009).
Brantley has always had excellent contact rates, and that still holds true in 2014; his 3.2 percent swinging strike rate (3.3 career average) is the fifth best in MLB and his 92.6 percent contact rate (91.4 career average) is fourth, and he currently has a well below average .279 BABIP (.303 for his career). Even if his contact rates regress slightly back to his career norms, the increase he’s likely to see in BABIP should balance everything out, and if his contact rates remain where they are, with an expected increase in BABIP, he could very well finish 2014 with a batting average north of .300. Brantley has hit .284 or better since 2012, and there’s absolutely no reason we should be expecting anything lower then that this year.
Given Brantley’s spot in the lineup, along with his elite contact rates, he should be an excellent source of RBIs. Brantley is entrenched in the fifth spot against right-handed pitchers and he typically bats sixth against left-handed with two elite on-base guys right in front of him in Jason Kipnis (career .350 OBP) and Carlos Santana (career .365 OBP). As long as Kipnis and Santana stay true to their career on-base skills and Brantley stays true to his elite contact skills, Brantley should continue to provide fantasy owners with plenty of RBIs.
What I don’t believe in is the power.
Brantley is currently on pace to hit 31 home runs this season; that’s five more home runs than he had in 2,162 plate appearances entering 2014. He set a career high with 10 home runs last season, and while I do think he could set a new career high in 2014, I’d be shocked if he finished the season with more than 15 long balls. He currently has a 21.1 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate (5.6 percent career average), and we should expect that to drop faster than Enron’s stock value in the early 2000′s.
If you can market Brantley as a player who could potentially go 20-for-20 with a .300 average and 90 RBIs, then by all means sell high and don’t look back. Given what he did last year though, where he was going in drafts this year, and the fact that he still isn’t universally owned in both ESPN and Yahoo! leagues, chances are he’s going to be a pretty tough sell in a standard, 10-team league.
If you can’t sell him, take solace in the fact that you likely got yourself a top-125 fantasy player at a very reasonable price, and just make sure you aren’t relying on him to sustain his early power surge.