April 20, 2014

Michael Brantley, Come on Down

Now that we have had a few days to soak in the final ramifications involved with dealing away last season’s Cy Young award winner, I felt that it was appropriate to discuss the Tribe’s newest addition: Michael Brantley.

If you had read any of my takes on the trade prior to last week, you were likely aware that Brantley was the guy I had pegged since day one.  Is it the nostalgia involved with the days of Kenny Lofton?  Or is it the fact that I would love to eventually see Grady Sizemore moved to the third spot in the lineup?  Perhaps, it is a combination of both, coupled with the fact that Brantley is a very, very talented player.

But while I have learned a lot about Brantley from doing some of my own research, I was able to touch base with Milwaukee Brewers blogger Jim Breen from Bernie’s Crew to help dissect this now complete deal.

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At one point this season, I was enamored with the play of Minnesota’s Carlos Gomez.  He is young, fast, and very exciting to watch.  He bunts for base hits, plays a stellar center field, and has the ability to sway momentum his team’s way.  What more could you ask for?  The quick answer to that: hitting.  Gomez strikes out a ton, and relies on his speed more than his ability to make solid contact at the plate. 

At times, I tend to take Grady Sizemore for granted.  He’s a team leader, and easily one of our best hitters.  So why wouldn’t you want him to get more at-bats than anyone else?  Well, as we have seen, his production would be maximized had the Indians been able to get base runners on ahead of Grady.  Thirty-plus home runs is great.  But it’s even better when the RBI potential is there.  And that’s where a player like Brantley can come in handy.

And while plate discipline may very well not be Carlos Gomez’s forté, Jim directs me to some very stellar numbers that have been with Brantley through his assent in minor league ball.  Specifically: .395 OBP and a 50-to-27 BB-to-K ratio.  Think about that.  Nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts.  These days, it’s tough to find a major league player with a 1-to-1 ratio.  Even if he regresses a bit at higher levels, these numbers would still be stellar. 

And once Brantley gets on base, he can make things happen as evidenced by his stolen base totals in a shortened season.  Consider the players that were on the same team as Brantley.  You have Matt LaPorta, who is now with the Indians as well, and then you have players like Mat Gamel and Alcides Escobar, whom are both players that Brewer fans cannot wait to see in Miller Park.  And then consider the fact that his manager in Huntsville has stated that Brantley is the best total player of the bunch.  Food for thought, to say the least.

Jim’s biggest downer on Brantley is that he does not project to be a player of position; meaning that his fielding doesn’t project to be a major league center fielder and that he does not have the power to play in left.  This may have been an issue with the Brewers farm system, but they also have players like All-World Ryan Braun currently manning left.  The Indians have David Dellucci and Ben Francisco playing left, both players that I think could easily be passed up on the depth chart by Brantley given time.  When you have a center fielder that hits 33 home runs with an OPS of .876, you have some wiggle room, and with the gaping issue we have in left I am not as worried about the lack of power from Brantley’s bat.

The only huge issue that I see possibly forming is if Matt LaPorta establishes himself as a power hitting left fielder to compliment Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo.  Between the three of them, we’re looking at at least 60 home runs with decent average.  Who would you remove for Brantley at that point?  Would be a tough call to say the least; but one that then opens up several other players for trade opportunities (looking at you, Franklin Gutierrez).

I asked Jim if he could do it all over again, would he have acquired Sabathia given the chance that he is no longer with the team next season and the Brewers are now without two top prospects.  He had the following to say:

As you can see, there is a lot to like about Michael Brantley.  He’s going to be missed in Milwaukee’s system.  Was the CC Sabathia trade still worth it?

Yes.  A resounding yes.

Grown men were moved to tears in Milwaukee because they are playing October baseball for the first time in over two-and-a-half decades.  Merchandise is flying off the shelves, and Miller Park has never had more people packed in on a consistent basis.  Milwaukee had a bigger total attendance than did Fenway Park (which is admittedly a smaller park) this season.  Baseball has trumped the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin for the first time in a long, long time.

CC Sabathia is the reason for that.  He pitched three consecutive games on short rest to will the Brewers to the playoffs.  There was not a pitcher in baseball who threw more innings than CC did in the second half of the season, and he didn’t have a bad outing until Thursday against the Phillies. 

CC Sabathia and his big left arm are collectively the reason the Milwaukee Brewers are in the playoffs in 2008.  They has given Milwaukee a reason to care about baseball again in September and October.  Are CC Sabathia and the playoffs worth Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta, and two lesser prospects? 

Look around Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole.  The answer is obvious.  Baseball fever has invaded Wisconsin, and Brewers fans haven’t been happier since 1982.  The trade was definitely worth it.

A moving answer, to say the least.  And while the Brewers and their fans alike got what they wanted this season, it is pretty safe to say that the Indians will also benefit from this deal, albeit in a year or two down the road.  Who knows, though?  LaPorta could take on Columbus at a resounding rate, ultimately leaving Mark Shapiro with little choice but to bring him up to the big leagues.  Once that happens, it may not be all too long before the 21-year old Brantley makes his move as well. 

And while I won’t be able to watch Brantley really play until next season, I will take pride in the fact that we have a player that was one of the prized possessions of his former team.  He fills in a big hole in terms of a lead-off hitter with exciting abilities and amazing plate discipline.  And while he may not be donning Chief Wahoo for a year or two, tell me that a lineup that features Sizemore, LaPorta, Brantley, and Carlos Santana doesn’t make you excited for things to come?  Factor in the point that they could all be here sooner than later, and we have ourselves quite a farm system that could shaking things up very, very soon.

Now if we can just address that glaring issue in the infield…

Analyzing the CC Sabathia Trade [Bernie's Crew]

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(Also, check out the recap over at Tony Lastoria’s blog.  I especially like this: “What kind of player is Brantley?  At worst, he is a good fourth outfielder for a major league team.  As far as every day player ability goes, he certainly has it.  His floor looks like that of a Randy Wynn, a middle of Juan Pierre (little less speed, but much better plate approach), and a ceiling of Kenny Lofton (his career to this point is virtually a mirror image to Lofton’s, and at three years younger).  One person I was able to talk to about the Sabathia trade said he likes both LaPorta and Brantley a lot. When considering their ceiling potential, they mentioned that the Indians quite possibly may have very well got their 2000′s version of Belle/Lofton in the trade.”)

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig

    On top of all this the Indians finally got SOMETHING for their fleeing talent. Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome may have gotten away for free, but that streak has finally ended with CC Sabathia.

    Let’s hope this new trend yields a World Series somehow.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com DP

    I wonder if the Brewers’ fans still feel that way after their team got bumped out with a whimper.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    DP, I think they do. A decade or so without postseason baseball can do that to ya…

  • The Bambino

    I like this Brantley and his #’s.
    Also, Gomez has potential to be good, but he isn’t yet. Bad baserunning, the K’s (which you mentioned) and a OPB of .296 (Yikes) isn’t exactly overwhelming. But yes, I like his style as well, he just needs to control himself.
    One thing to keep in mind. Roughly 25% of games end when the #1 or #2 batters make the last out. Over a full season that works out to roughly 45 AB’s that the #3 and #4 hitters miss. There are those that truly believe that your best hitter should be placed first, then your second best hitter, etc. The thought is that over the course of the season the extra AB’s make up for the lack of RISP at bat’s. Managers tried this approach with varying degrees of success in the mid to late 60′s. For what it’s worth…

  • Spaniard

    Bambino, I think that is still generally the idea, but the point is that you have to define “best batters” in some way. If you define best batters as highest on-base percentage for the first batters then you maximize the number of at bats that everybody (including the 3 and 4 hitters) get in a game because they have less of a chance to cause that final out. That also increases their looks with runners on base, obviously, which is all the more important for power hitters. Of course, the trouble with a team like the Indians is that Grady is one of our best batters in every category, with a lot of dead weight around him, so the only good solution is to bat him 1 through 9 and keep everybody else on the pine.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Interesting logic, bambino. Paul at the DiaTribe did some interesting research on our farm team’s OBP…

    Carlos Santana – C – .431 (age 22 at A & AA)
    Chris Gimenez – C – .421 (age 25 at AA & AAA)
    John Allman – OF – .427 (age 23 in Rookie League)
    Richard Martinez – 1B – .408 (age 21 in A)
    Dustin Realini – 1B – .407 (age 24 in A)
    Todd Linden – OF – .398 (age 28 at AAA)

    Pretty damn good if you ask me. It looks like we have quite a small-ball squad on our hands. Placed in the right spot of the order, and you can afford to have those power guys in the 3/4/5 spots…At least I would assume.

  • CJG

    I am curious to see what happens to Sabathia. While he is scary good during the regular season, his playoff performance has been dismal. I am glad his talent was appreciated in Wisconsin. As for the trade in our sense, I am in agreement/shared feeling as Craig. Here’s hoping substantial gains and a Championship comes of this.

  • The Bambino

    Cool Scott. Glad to see those numbers on the farm. While I’m not exactly a proponent of “small-ball”, the more guys get on base, the better. Now stealing and sacrifice bunting make me want to hurt small children because generally they are just giving up outs, but OBP is obviously huge in the game of baseball. I agree that if we can get some of those guys up here in the next few years that would allow us to actually have a standard AL lineup and be successful. Wouldn’t that be pleasant to watch…

    Also, how do you keep up with the farm players and statistics? I haven’t had the time lately to do so, but would like to start again. Are there any certain websites or publications that you read on a regular basis?
    Thanks in advance-
    TB

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    If you have a team of .400 hitters, you’re still giving up outs more often than not. Why not ensure that you advance a runner in to scoring position with that out?

  • patrick

    did we forget that we got sizemore, lee, and, tho not here anymore, phillips for colon…

    i mean, don’t get me wrong, cc’s trade may give us what we need to get over the top, but colon’s trade is what got us started up that hill….

  • Dave

    Assuming Laporta, Brantley, & Santana don’t turn into the next Andy Marte.

  • The Bambino

    Scott-
    There are certainly times when it makes sense to bunt, here is my beef with sac bunts and steals. You say…”why not ensure…”?

    First off, it is not ensured just because you will it so. Even the best bunters and base stealers have a large chance of failure. If they do fail, then you in the same position, and with one more out. In baseball, you have two main objectives:
    1) Score runs.
    2)Don’t make outs.

    I think we can all agree on this. There are only a few situations where I see a sac bunt as an intelligent move.
    1) You have a poor hitter at the plate
    2)One run is needed in the close innings of a tight game
    Other than that, you are giving up a precious out.

    The same with attempted stolen bases. It is generally a poor move with none or one out. However, it has been proven a wise move with two out. Here is an interesting factoid:
    Say you have an average basestealer on first. Let’s be generous and say that he will be successful 60% of the time. It then is a poor move to have that runner attempt to steal with any batter than a .260 average at the plate. Several statistical studies have been done that have proven this.

    Last example. Take Ricky Henderson’s record breaking season of 130 steals. He was also caught 42 times (76% success rate). However, he took 42 outs away from Oakland batters. Using Bill James’ Leadoff Efficiency statistic, Henderson scored his team an extra…wait for it:
    5 runs.

  • http://whiskyrebellion.com Battles

    Great column! Thank you for writing it!

  • bridgecrosser

    Good trade for both sides. I give the brew-crew credit for actually going for it… if Sheets hadn’t gotten hurt that would have been a tough 1-2 in OCT… For all their minor league talent, neither MIN or OAK ever got to the WS,,, sometimes it’s better to go down swinging… Talent is a renewable commodity but time isn’t – so too bad for MIL although it went sour. Good move for CLE as well to get all those players.

  • bridgecrosser

    @ Dave – you’re saying you’d rather have let Coco Crisp walk the next year in FA than have Shoppach (also in the Crisp deal)???? Seriously? You think that was a bad deal?

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