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 []