Should the Braves target free agent Michael Brantley?

As the stove heats hot, all eyes are on what the Atlanta Braves will do about Dansby Swanson. However, the shortstop isn’t the only area Atlanta needs. Eddie Rosario and Marcel Ozuna currently occupy left field, but the two combined for -1.7 fWAR, and one target the Braves could upgrade the center with is Michael Brantley.

As the Braves look to bolster their team and go to their sixth straight division title, could they look to Brantley as one of the last pieces in the 2023 World Series?

Why the Atlanta Braves should target Michael Brantley

The left-handed player is hitting the free agent market after spending the past four seasons in Houston as an above-average hitter. In fact, across 1,609 PAs in those four seasons, Brantley hit 0.306 and had a 128 wRC+.

Apart from 2016 when he was restricted to just 43 PAs, he hasn’t had a WRC+ score lower than 109 since 2013. This has made him one of the most consistent hitters of the past decade. Over the past 10 seasons, Brantley has ranked as the 30th highest WRC+ hitter of all hitters with at least 3,000 PSGs. He has costars for Adrian Beltre, Tria Turner, Manny Machado, and Robinson Cano during this time period.

Of course, Brantley’s means of production are somewhat unique to this age of baseball. Despite being an above-average hitter year after year, he doesn’t hit the long ball. During his four-year tenure at the Astro, Brantley only hit a total of 40 home runs, 22 of which came during his senior season and were career highs. Brantley hasn’t historically walked at a high clip either, with a walk rate of 7.9% (although he did walk 11.2% of the time in 2022).

Brantley relies on BABIP High for most of his production. This is usually an area of ​​concern in the modern era, as front offices are generally skeptical of a player’s ability to frequently spot holes in defense. If you were just looking at Brantley’s exit speed, you’d probably be concerned too, as his Max Exit Velocity was only in the 42nd percentile, and his average exit speed of 89.2 put him 115th out of 411 batters with at least 100 balls. multiplied.

But just because Brantley didn’t hit the ball doesn’t mean he’s a fortune teller. Last season, Brantley’s .310 xBA was lower than his .288 AVG average, which means that, if anything, he was unlucky. This is not strange either. In 2021, Brantley’s .312 xBA was in the 100th percentile despite only having an EV average in the 53rd percentile. This was, again, higher than his actual batting average of .311.

So how did that happen? How can a guy who doesn’t hit homers and doesn’t smoke cover off the ball other than Yandy Diaz have such a high xBA?

The first reason is something traditionalists would rejoice: it doesn’t explode. Brantley, for his career, has never been out more than 15.7% of the time, regardless of sample size, in a season. If you limit your sample size to only include seasons in which he had 250 or more PAs, Brantley’s K% never exceeded 15.3%. In the past decade, he hasn’t had more than 13.3% of the time in a 250-plus PA season.

When xBA is calculated, it takes into account strikes, which of course have an xBA of .000. The fewer strikes you have, the lower your 0.000 average will be in your xBA, which in turn helps keep your xBA higher.

Of course, not being written off does not guarantee that a player will have a high xBA. 2B Oakland Athletics Tony Kemp had a K% in 94 percent last season, hitting just 12.4% of the time. However, he only hit .235 and his .219 xBA reflects that.

So what did Brantley do that a player like Tony Kemp couldn’t? One is that Brantley managed to hit the ball harder, at five miles per hour, but the other reason was simply that Brantley had a better swing designed for line-driving hits.

While Kemp had a higher average shooting angle (15.0 compared to Brantley’s 10.7), the freestyle quarterback managed to hit drives an average of 30.7%, compared to Kemp’s average of 23.5%. Liners, even when hit lightly, deliver base hits at a much higher rate than fly balls or ground balls (especially if you are not known to hit the ball hard).

The outfielder’s ability to hit is, of course, one of the reasons he’s a good fit for the Braves, but what sets him apart from a guy like Aaron Judge who’s also a free agent and a much better hitter? Simply put: the price.

It’s clear that Judge will likely secure the biggest contract of the season, both in terms of dollars and more likely in years, so using the AL MVP as a comparison to Brantley is unfair. However, even when you bring down the best free-agent players, Brantley is one of the better guys not to need a multi-year deal. Fangraphs projected that he would receive a one-year deal at around $10 million.

Why Michael Brantley might not be the best idea

Brantley will turn 36 in May next year, and while the past four seasons have been successful from a hitting standpoint, there are some areas of concern. Brantley injured his shoulder in June and had season-ending surgery in August. Whether or not Brantley can bounce back from this injury is a major question heading into 2023 and also why he might have to settle for a one-year deal.

Plus, aside from Brantley’s communication abilities, his abilities on the field leave a lot to be desired. As mentioned earlier, the outfielder didn’t walk much and didn’t hit hard. He’s also been rated a passive defensive player by the OAA since 2018. Unsurprisingly, the 36-year-old is lacking in the speed department as well. If the shoulder injury persists and affects his contact abilities, Brantley will have little to offer a team on the field.

Despite this, the lefty still feels like a perfect fit for Atlanta. While the Braves add an outfield that could depend on whether or not they can get rid of Ozuna and/or Rosario, Brantley’s consistency as a hitter, Famous club attendanceAnd its price makes it an ideal target for the brave.

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