Michael Brantley’s 2014 campaign was pretty much off the charts. I mean, he was number seven on the ol’ ESPN Player Rater, for whatever that’s worth. I use the player rater because it is one of the few places that compares players across all positions, comprehensively (I am not quite sure of the algorithm’s and whatnot, but when you look at the rankings and the statistics, they make sense). I mention this to also kind of clarify that this is number seven overall, not just for, say outfielders or American League outfielders. Without going back and checking draft data, ADPs, etc, etc, I feel pretty confident in saying he was one of, if not the, best value players in 2014.
For some context, I took a quick look back (on Throwback Thursday, of course) at one of my 12 team redraft leagues’ drafts. Brantley was drafted at number 286….second to last round. 286! Just, staying in this vacuum, by still looking at that draft, that was two picks after I selected A.J. Ramos, a relief pitcher for the Marlins (we use holds before you ask). Only two impactful fantasy producers were drafted later, Dee Gordon, who was the very next selection, and Adam LaRoche who went with the very last pick of the draft. Now, some things are weird to look at now, as I look back and I could very easily go on a 1000 word tangent on my drafting acumen and strategy, but I won’t. I will point out, really to just give myself a quick ego boost, the rounds before that I got Anthony Rendon, Yan Gomes and George Springer. But I digress, we’re here to speak of Michael Brantley. But let’s address that value.
In that particular league, we are turning this into a keeper league and we keep our players in the round in which we selected them. So, while the 2014 value was, as I said, off the charts for Brantley owners, what is one to do with him going forward? Well, your league settings will obviously play a part, but let’s say you get to keep Brantley at this 2014 draft price/round. Is it actually worth keeping him? I mean, I highly doubt that anyone is expecting a replication of ’14 from Brantley and to answer the title of this article, no I don’t think he is a superstar, but now we’re talking value.
Brantley hit 20 homers in 2014. I won’t say that homers are the best category in fantasy, but they play a very dominant role. They’re not, say, what touchdowns are in fantasy football, but they are, arguably (covering my bases…it’s an election week after all) the highest priced offensive commodity. So Brantley socked 20 dingers in 2014. In Brantley’s 2300 or so plate appearances, prior to 2014, he hit 23 home runs. Now, it is not impossible, that Brantley is just coming into his power, but the probability is well, not great. See, Brantley is 27, which is, for most, if not all intents and purposes the tail end of the hitting prime. Now, if Brantley had shown some signs of power over the previous seasons, then, yeah, I’d think this wouldn’t be as much of an aberration. Plus, he was not exactly crushing his homers. Brantley’s average home run distance was slightly under 400 feet (380s actually) which is not atrocious, per se, but leads me to maybe believe there were a lot of barely home runs. Bottom line here is I think you’ll be lucky if he hits 15 ding dongs in 2015. But HRs are not the end all be all, after all, let’s see what else we got.
While Brantley walked a tad more and struck out a tad less, his contact rates and batted ball data was pretty much on par with his career numbers. The BABIP did go up about 30 points, but that can always be a tough number to use, especially with a guy who has good speed. So that doesn’t, for me anyways, quite point to regression in the batting average category, but I still expect one (A regression, that is). Just from the fact that he hit almost forty points higher than his career average, I see a regression. That being said, he should hit in the .280s, which is respectable, but it’s no .327. With the lower average you have fewer times on base, which means fewer opportunities to steal as well, so 20 steals is probably your ceiling for Brantley. Again, that’ll play, but we are slowly seeing Brantley slip-sliding his way down the draft board. We’re not done yet, though, folks!
Almost, I think, a bigger surprise than the homers was the RBIs and to a slightly lesser degree, the runs. Brantley was in the 90s for both and while there are some interesting factors that can play into these numbers, like lineup and opportunity, this is a big jump for Brantley. Mikey never even got into the 70 for runs scored before ’14 and, if I am not mistaken, he was a lead-off hitter many times in one or two of those seasons. More hits and, of course, more homers certainly played a large role in these jumps, but there is nothing that points to those being sustainable. I set the ceiling on both runs and RBIs at 75. Okay, so where does this bring us on his 2015 value.
From what I see, with some numbers coming back to the norm or, at least, Brantley’s norm, we’re looking at a 2015 slash line of .287/.345/.420. Decent, but not spectacular and generally, not top 10. I’ll even go with my ceilings and say he hits 15 homers, with 75 runs driven in and scored. Based on this season, this is still a top 100 player. Now, in redraft leagues, you may have to lay off, as he will probably be going top 30, if not top 20. The keeper/dynasty situation is obviously a bit different.
If you have a chance to keep him at his 2014 draft day value, you almost have to do it. I say “almost” because Brantley may not fit your roster situation somehow and, for instance, in the league I mentioned, without looking at the owner’s roster, I know we only keep four players so there is that balance of value and actual production. What I mean is yeah he gets a probably top 100 player in the 24th round, but if he has four other players that project to have better stats, now he’s in a pickle. Value is great, but knowing the rest of the available talent pool is key as well and Brantley plays a deep position. In fact, looking at his roster, he also has Marte, J.Upton and McCutchen. We start four outfielders and a utility slot, but trading one of those players to fill a weaker slot, might behoove (love that word) him. My advice, in general, would be to sell Brantley at a price as close to his 2014 numbers as you can to shore up some weaker areas of your roster.