Astros: Michael Brantley’s playing a different role and playing it well
We can’t recall where it originated though we did see it on the Houston Astros‘ Twitter last night, but my son and I utter it almost simultaneously each time Michael Brantley gets a hit like he did Tuesday night in Los Angeles to drive in the Astros first run of the night.
Michael Brantley is having great season with the Astros, as he has gotten better with age
Brantley started the season hot, hitting .345 in April and after a dip in May (.263), sizzled in June (.410), had a solid July (.299) and is off to a good start this month (.400 in 10 AB).
The left handed swinging Brantley, has proved human against southpaws batting .261 with a homer in 119 at bats.
But, put a righty out there and things change in a big way: .372 with six home runs in 218 at bats, including a first inning blast off Max Scherzer Wednesday.
At 34, an age when most players are struggling to keep up with the fastball, all seven of Brantley’s home runs have come against the pitch which he’s crushing for a .395 average and slugging at .638.
A few days ago I took a look at the curious case of Yuli Gurriel, whose batting average and expected batting average (xBA) aren’t in the same universe. This isn’t the case with Brantley, which gives analytics believers confidence that Brantley’s season is more real than lucky.
Brantley is within two-tenths of a mile an hour off his career high in exit velocity of 90.2 MPH (2018), he’s rocking career bests in xBA, xSLG, wOBA, xwOBA, Hard Hit % and is in the top 2% of the league in K%.
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While almost all of his advanced metrics are at the high end of the league, there’s a couple that are down for Brantley: home runs and RBI.
In 2019 Brantley had 40 doubles, 22 homers and knocked in 90 runs. This year, he’s still on pace for around 40 doubles (currently at 27), but only 11 home runs and around 55 RBI.
Why? That’s the difference between batting second (77.7% of plate appearances in 2021) vs. batting third or fourth (which is where he batted most in 2019).
Brantley’s been asked to bat in a different position in the lineup, with different objectives and with less men on base.
Yet he’s thrived, played his role to perfection, in many ways is having the best season of his career and is one of the biggest reasons the Astros reside atop the AL West in August. You’d expect nothing less from a professional hitter.