Orbiting Cleveland: A look at Brantley's extension
Brantley's extension is a huge victory for the Indians
We have long heard of how small-market teams operate on a different playing field. Almost every move made carries additional risk. The end game is a chance at greater reward.
The Cleveland Indians made such a move this past week when they locked up outfielder Michael Brantley to a multi-year deal. The contract covers Brantley's three arbitration-eligible seasons as well as one year of free agency. There's also a team option for a second season of free agency.
Overall, the contract comes out to $25 million over four years with a $3.5 million signing bonus. The option for the fifth year is for $11 million.
To be more precise, here is the yearly breakdown:
- 2014: $1.5 million ($3.5 million signing bonus)
- 2015: $5 million
- 2016: $6.5 million
- 2017: $7.5 million
- 2018 (club option): $11 million
So what's the verdict on this contract?
Since it was announced, it appears as if the response has been overwhelmingly positive. While it may strike some as a risky move, we know that risks like these are exactly the types of moves that small-market teams must make.
Still, it's not a deal that is without its concerns. While he has become one of the more popular Indians and is even affectionately referred to as "Dr. Smooth," Brantley is not a player without flaws.
In fact, while he has certainly had his moments, it could be argued that Brantley really has not affected the Indians' chances of winning all that much. Take a look at Brantley's WAR numbers, courtesy of both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs:
- 2009: BR -0.0, FanGraphs -0.5
- 2010: BR -1.1, FanGraphs -0.6
- 2011: BR 1.8, FanGraphs 1.3
- 2012: BR 3.3, FanGraphs 2.7
- 2013: BR 2.7, FanGraphs 1.7
Overall, Baseball Reference estimates that Brantley has been worth 6.6 wins during his career while FanGraphs has him at 4.6.
His best season clearly came in 2012 in terms of wins generated, but it's easy to see why that was the case. That season was the one year where Brantley played center field for the majority of the season, which is the one place where his bat really does play.
It was widely known that Brantley's value, in terms of wins, would decrease once he made the move over to left field, and that was indeed the case in 2013. Even though he may have had his best offensive season in 2013, both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs have his value being worth significantly less.
Defensively, Brantley has also not adapted to left field as many had hoped. Many fans were clamoring for Brantley to win a Gold Glove in left field after he recorded 11 outfield assists.
However, it's not as easy as that. Brantley's arm obviously translated well to left field because center field had always been his natural position in the minors, but that was not exactly the case for his range.
Brantley posted a UZR of -4.1 and a UZR/150 of -4.9. Baseball Reference also had his dWAR value at -0.3. That's not exactly Gold Glove material, eh?
Tribe fans will have to get used to Brantley in left field as well because Michael Bourn is cemented as the everyday center fielder. Left field is really the only place for Brantley to go.
So, essentially, the contract that Brantley signed guarantees the Indians a below-average defender, whose offense does not translate to left field, for a $25 million price tage. Also, Oliver projections estimate that Brantley will be worth 8.9 wins through all four years of the contract as well as the option season.
So, is that $25 million deal still sounding all that great?
Ironically, it is.
Consider this piece of information. FanGraphs did a piece this November that provided an early estimate on the cost of a 2014 win in free agency. As of now, that price is $6.2 million. Where will that price be in 2015? 2016? 2017? Your guess is as good as mine, but the market tends to go up in baseball, not down.
So, let's go ahead and say that Brantley's option does get picked up, and he plays five more seasons in Cleveland at the cost of $36 million. If that's the case, then the cost for each of those 8.9 wins is $4.04 million each. Compared to the current rate, that's a bargain.
Also, it's important to remind ourselves that the Indians really do not have anyone in the minors right now capable of replacing Brantley. In a perfect world, a pre-arbitration eligible minor leaguer might be able to match Brantley's value at a far cheaper price, but there is just no outfielder in the system right now that is close to the Majors. Some might point to Tyler Naquin, but even if he makes the Majors, the Indians have made it clear that they would like him to play center field.
However, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind here is the limitations of WAR. WAR is an equation that tends to normalize statistics like hits to present a number that represents a players' value. As we know though, all hits are not equal, and it always seems as if Brantley's best moments come when it matters most.
For as great as WAR is, it really cannot account for Brantley's value as a clutch performer, and there are numbers that support that. Take a look at the table below, which includes some career clutch numbers for Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana:
|Player||2 outs, RISP||9th inning OPS||High leverage|
Over the past few seasons, Brantley, Kipnis and Santana have arguably been the Indians' most consistent offensive performers. Yet, Brantley continues to outperform Santana and Kipnis when the game matters most.
Brantley's OPS in the ninth inning is higher than it is in any other inning. In fact, the only inning that Brantley has an OPS of over .800 is the ninth inning. That says something when you consider that Brantley has never hit more than 10 home runs in a professional season and his season OPS usually hovers between .700-.750.
Keep in mind that these are also career numbers. It's just far too big of a sample size to say that it's a fluke.
Brantley's value is always going to be subject to debate, but the numbers do not lie. The guy seems to always come through.
There may be no way to quantify Brantley's value, but there may be a way to qualify it, and the IBI's Jim Pete seems to have done just that.
As most of you know, Pete has a gift with words. As Pete says, "Brantley is not a superstar, but he plays like one every game."
After this week, we now know that "superstar-mentality" will be staying around in Cleveland for a long time.
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.
"Yet, Brantley continues to outperform Santana and Kipnis when the game matters most"
This was written right after the table...that shows Santana having a better OBP/OPS with 2 outs & RISP...better OBP/OPS in the 9th inning....and better OBP/OPS in high leverage situations.
Not trying to take away how well Brantley hit in these key situations...but man does Santana get no love.
I was actually going to question how much better of a CFer Bourn is over Brantley, as that was the main reason Brantley moved over to LF.
Seth, no offense, but I definitely disagree with your assessment of Brantley being below average in CF. Choo is below average in CF, Brantley is average to above average. The only reason he was moved to LF was because Bourn was considered a Gold Glove CFer with excellent defense, as was Stubbs. You could have debated both of them being GG CFers, but especially in Bourn's case.
As I mentioned above, I'm not sure how much better Bourn is than Brantley in CF after seeing him there last year; Brantley can play the position at a solid level, just not at a Lofton or early-in-his-career Sizemore level (though Brantley could probably match or outplay Sizemore there now).
Have to agree to disagree on that one yourtribe. Kershaw went 16-9 last year in 33 starts. If you think he's 15-20 wins better, then that would mean a replacement level pitcher would never win a start. 7 wins less would be 9-16. Again, seems about right to me, 9-16 is a really bad pitcher if the team offense was somewhat decent. Huff's career he's been about replacement level, 1.7 WAR, but he's 21-27 in his career
And Joe, sure, he's good now and will continue to be valuable even if there are only very minor and incremental improvements.
However, he's still young enough that there's a possibility he takes his game to the next level. While not advocating that this should come at the cost of ruining his swing, 15-20 homers and .290/.360/.440 w 80-90 RBI's, even in 2014, is not out of the question, and would be a game-changing evolution.
Not necessary to earn his pay, but man would that be sweet!
Brantley is being punished for his defense on fangraphs, that's why his WAR is much lower there, baseball reference uses a different defensive metric that looks on him more favorably (and more realistically in my opinion) Where you get the big discrepancies in WAR for position players between the two systems, it's all defense, and that's the problem with defensive metrics, they're imprecise, and sometimes spit out downright crazy things in certain years. And that's a problem with WAR, that it inherits that imprecision. I'd ignore the fangraphs WAR for Brantley in '13, because I think the UZR was totally b.s. and I would suspect that it will show a much better rating in '14. What it does well is looking at player value on a position level. Brantley is less valuable than you think he is because he plays a corner outfield spot that doesn't demand as much defensive skill so there's a larger pool of players who can play it, so it's not as hard to replace. Shelley Duncan's been a replacement-level player on his career, and he has a career OPS of .724, which is about what Brantley was last year. So what value Brantley provides over a Duncan is speed (okay but not great) and defense (I'd say below average as a CF, somewhat above average in LF) 3 wins more than Shelley Duncan when Duncan has an okay year with the bat? Yes, that's about right.
U really believe Brantley was only worth 2 more wins than a replacement last year? No way.
To show the stupidity of war, Kershaw and cano have about a 7 for last year. Laughable. So if those two miss the year, the team only loses 7 more games with a replacement?? A joke.
War is totally unrealistic and a useless way of valuing a player in my opinion.
if war was even close to being accurate, just trade brantley and let the replacement player be your everyday player. you save a ton of cash and it doesn't cost you one game in the W column the entire year. just dumb.
You misunderstand WAR if you think that Brantley has only contributed "6 wins in his career". WAR is a measure of how many wins a player has contributed over what a "replacement level player" would have contributed.
In other words, how many wins was he better than someone we could have called up from the minors and paid league minimum, to simplify things. Well, since he has essentially been paid league minimum over that span, he has been incredibly valuable.
But please don't start into how we need to use "the good ol boy stats" that were meaningless when our parents and grandparents were around and even more out dated now.
UZR is based on a subjective grade,giving it a concrete number doesn't alter that fact.There are far too many of these instances, like Brantley's,for it to be a valid measurement.
Pathofkindness- I'm not that worried about if Brantley ever hits 15-20 HRs. If he does, great, but I think his ability to put bat on ball and deliver in clutch situations time and again is key, and that chart shows that he has done that much better than Santana and Kipnis (partly why I still have some reservations on him- more in a moment).
Power is sometimes sacrificed for that ability; it's rare to have a great HR hitter AND have that ability to hit for a higher AVG than your career norm AND do it in clutch situations consistently. While having extra power from Brantley would be a nice bonus, I'm not too concerned, and would actually prefer him to keep doing what he is doing. Plus, keep in mind the overall XBH power - that too factors into it.
Also keep in mind that the main reason Cabrera has fallen off is because he altered his approach to hit for more power, but he makes far less contact, is a less consistent offensive player, and his K rate has gone through the roof the last few years. I'd rather have the old Cabrera, quite frankly. That half season he excelled with HR power in 2011 was nice, but we haven't seen anything close to that Cabrera since, and the player he was before that largely disappeared as well, the one who hit for the .300 AVG, the one with 30 2Bs, and the one with good patience and the low K rate.
Therefore, if Brantley never develops more power, I'm not too concerned- I DON't want him changing his approach like Cabrera did. At times, it looks like Kipnis was doing that a bit. I'd rather he stay on the ball and use his natural power to drive it- that's why it was good to see him going to LF again. He just needs to become more comfortable and consistent with it.
Also keep in mind, too, what we've been putting out in LF the last 15 years. The last LFer who was as good or better than Brantley was probably David Justice (you could say Ellis Burks, but he didn't play LF long enough in my mind to be a real candidate for that position), and Justice was here, what 3-3.5 seasons? Compared to what we had been putting out there (Michaels, Dellucci, Cunningham, etc.), Brantley is a Hall-Of-Famer by comparisons.
I'm certainly glad he's remaining here for the long-term; I think he is more of a key to the stability and consistency of the offense than some think, perhaps as much or more so than Kipnis and Santana (though they're important too).
6 wins in his career!!!!! Insulting.
Just use the basic stats that have been around and watch games. Its not hard to figure out whose good and whose not.
This proliferation of stats is overkill. And gives me a headache.
I just wish he would develop the ability to consistency load up with a little more power in that swing of his. I know he's getting stronger every year, and I've seen him absolutely destroy some balls, so it seems like more is there. If he can turn himself into a 15-20 homer/year guy then we won't have to worry about whether we are getting value.