Indians

Brantley is back and a better power hitter: Bode Plots

“Random variation” was the term starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (6.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 8 SO) utilized to describe why he now has six wins against the Houston Astros (14-7) against zero losses. On a night when he gave up two two-run home runs, Bauer should have felt fortunate to register the win. The offense once again carried the team as the old guard of Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley each recorded two hits, while catcher Roberto Perez was the only member of the Cleveland Indians (11-9) to not reach base in the 7-6 win.

The bullpen did record the sixth SLAM1 in six tries, but the Astros made them work. Andrew Miller had the bases loaded in the seventh. Shaw’s error in the eighth almost cost the Tribe the lead. Each time the Astros threatened to come all the way back the bullpen rose to the occasion just as Bauer had earlier in the contest.

Brantley is back

The true story of the Wednesday night affair was the continued excellence of Michael Brantley (2-for-4, double, three RBIs, one run), who does not appear to be suffering ill effects from missing all but 11 games of the 2016 season. “Getting him back in name is one thing but getting him back as the player he was, that’s pretty impressive on his part,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

The larger question is if Francona is correct. Brantley has looked different at the plate this season even as his smooth swing has returned to the lineup. There seems to be more kick to his contact. Is it real or imagined? Since so much data is recorded in MLB, it is possible to dig in and find out.

stats courtesy of Fangraphs

2016 was a wasted year, so the numbers were removed. Otherwise, the batting average and on base percentage are similar. 2017 is seeing a nice jump in slugging percentage (and isolated power). Notice though that the increased power is coming at a cost. The once near-impossible to strike out Brantley is striking out at a much higher clip though his walk rate remains similar. While high contact is desirable, good contact is valuable. There’s a reason Felix Fermin was never considered a Silver Slugger candidate, after all.

stats courtesy of Fangraphs

Brantley isn’t much more of a pull hitter compared to his past versions. There is one number that is staggering though- a shift from medium contact to hard contact with a 20% jump! As a result of more hard contact, the fly balls have become increasingly likely of traveling over the outfield wall.

stats courtesy of Fangraphs

The plate discipline on pitches outside the zone has remained relatively static, while Brantley is swinging at more strikes. Brantley’s contact though has seen a dip on strikes, but a huge down tick of 21% on pitches outside of the zone.

2015 Brantley EV via BaseballSavant

2017 Brantley EV via BaseballSavant

The above numbers suggest Brantley is swinging harder with more intent on barreling the ball. The results is less contact, but better contact when it is made. He would scoff at the mention, but his exit velocity has seen a noticeable tick upwards against right-handed pitchers as a result (comparing 2015 to 2017). There is some cause for pause that his exit velocity has decreased against left-handed pitching, but the overall results have been quite positive for Brantley.

The sample size is quite small so far. But if Brantley can keep up any semblance of the current clip, then the Indians offense should continue to dominate the opposing pitching staffs.

  1. At least three of the four: Shaw Logan Allen Miller []

  • mgbode

    Mike Hattery pointed out to me that Pitch F/X registers more of the current swings from Brantley as strikes, which increases his O-Swing% and decreases his Z-Swing%. Worth noting that he is then swinging at more fringe ball-strikes at the least (depending on which tracker you look at).

  • JNeids

    Good article, Bode. Here’s hoping we got the old version of Dr. Smooth back for good. He deserves it.

    One question – looking at the second table, I see 2017 and 2015 having >50% for medium contact and >30% for hard, with those numbers reversed for 2014, but you said “a shift from medium contact to hard contact with a 20% jump!” Something seems amiss…

  • mgbode

    I somehow had 2017 and 2014 rows inverted. I fixed the table now. Thank you for the catch.

  • JNeids

    No worries. That’s what I figured, but just thought I’d point it out so you could fix it for everyone who isn’t like me and doesn’t read articles the second they are posted.

  • JM85

    Glad to see him back. I hope he stays healthy.

  • jpftribe

    Always great stuff Bode.

    On a somewhat related note….

    The shifts HOU played Tuesday night really stood out in my mind. Santana especially, but even Brantley had massive gaps in the OF. Just heard on the replay from last night 7 oppo field hits.

    I think when you look at Brantley, Lindor, Ramirez, Santana and Gomes (ignore the actual execution part for him) you can see a focused effort on EV / LA, which is hard evidence for a club philosophy behind it.

    Problem is teams shift into it and it’s more frequent and extreme. With a runner on first, Santana quite literally has the entire right side of the field wide open from the RH batters box. They shift hard on EE and pound him down and away. He took two oppo field last night.

    Whether last night was a fluke or the start of a trend, I think they are going to have to start hitting opposite field to get the opportunity to drive for power. Be nice to think they are making in series adjustments to the Stro’s as well.

  • mgbode

    Thanks.

    Bastian had a great piece on the focus not being on LA but when the ball was hit in relation to the plate (too deep leads to GB). It ends up being the same result (better barrel timing leads to better LA), but the organizational focus was great to see. Love the questions Bastian is asking.

    It is weird for anyone to shift against Kipnis or Brantley or J-Ram. They all use the entire field so well that you wouldn’t think that would be advantageous. Pitch selection coupled with the shifting does appear to be what HOU was thinking though.

    EE & Santana do need to prove they can hit more regularly away despite what the Astros are doing to provide reason for other teams not to do it. Or, hit it over everyone’s heads and the wall. That works too.

  • Harv

    good stuff. It’s April and maybe a month or two early to nail the trends. I remember Brantley explaining before his breakout season that he could finally work the previous off-season on certain things because he had finally been healthy. It’s possible the type of swings are related to what he’s been able to work on and what he hasn’t been able to do. It’s also possible that, as he’s reaching the age where hitters demonstrate most power, he’s going for it, and we would have seen exit velo last year had he been around.

  • mgbode

    all possibilities, or it could even just be noise that we look back in a month and go, well that was different. part of the fun at trying to identify the trends before they are trendy 🙂

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