Astros: Michael Brantley enduring September slump

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 15: Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros hits an RBI single in the second inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on September 15, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 15: Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros hits an RBI single in the second inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on September 15, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /
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Astros outfielder Michael Brantley has been mired in a September slump.

One of the most consistent and reliable hitters in the Astros lineup, Michael Brantley has seen his fortunes take a hit these past few weeks. After hitting no less than .280 in any calendar month this season, he’s now hitting a woeful .177/.257/.274 in September.

To be fair, his overall numbers are still incredibly impressive. He’s sitting on a .315 batting average with 21 homers, 39 doubles and 86 RBIs. However, of those 39 doubles, not a single one has come in the month of September.

Slumps happen to everyone, and I don’t believe this changes the fact that Brantley was an excellent signing and has had an excellent season. He’s often gone under the radar in the same lineup as George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, which may be the best in club history. But sandwiched in the middle of those guys, he’s been as important as anyone.

Still, a nearly month-long slump is cause for concern. This is especially so after he tore up opposing pitching in July and August, hitting .349 and .378 in those two months respectively. So what’s the cause of his troubles lately?

The Numbers

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Brantley’s strikeout and walk rates aren’t markedly different from his prior months, so it doesn’t look like he’s waving at many more bad pitches. One number that is different, though, is his batting average on balls in play.

He never posted a mark below .314 in that category in any calendar month this season. However, for September, it sits at a measly .173. Is this a result of him making more weak contact, or simply a case of some bad luck?

Well, his average exit velocity for the season as a whole is 88.6 mph, per StatCast. For September, it’s 87.7 mph. With less than one mph difference, he’s close to hitting pitches about as well as he normally does, indicating he’s been the victim of some bad luck, such as when a hitter squares up a pitch but hits it right at a defender.

To illustrate this, here’s an example. For the month of September, Brantley has hit six pitches with exit velocities greater than 100 mph. Of those six, four turned into outs. Of the 30 pitches that left his bat faster than 90 mph, only seven went for hits. That works out to a .233 batting average.

By contrast, for the month of August, Brantley had a batting average of .587 on balls with exit velocities greater than 90 mph and was 15-for-20 on those greater than 100 mph. Admittedly this may have been a little higher than what is sustainable, as his overall batting average on balls in play that month was .391.

Still, it helps explain why his numbers have taken a dive this month. The simple answer is when he hits the ball hard, it’s just not falling in for a hit as often as it should. He may be squaring up pitches at a slightly lower rate than in August, but the fact that most of those turn into outs is really what’s hampering him.

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That should help fans breathe easier, as it’s only a matter of time before they do start falling in again. Hopefully his luck changes in time for the postseason, as the team could really use his veteran bat in the middle of that lineup.

***Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and BaseballSavant***

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