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Orbiting Cleveland: A look at Brantley's extension

Brantley's extension is a huge victory for the Indians

Orbiting Cleveland: A look at Brantley's extension
February 14, 2014
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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
Michael Brantley .313/.401/.464 .823 .315/.376/.417
Carlos Santana .255/.417/.462 .848 .274/.401/.466
Jason Kipnis .259/.379/.437 .771 .267/.345/.407

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 orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Hermie13
February 19, 2014 - 10:55 AM EST
I've said it before and I'll say it again....Santana is the most underrated Tribe hitter by far.


"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.
Seth
February 16, 2014 - 12:17 PM EST
I don't know, Brantley's kind of slow for a CF. He's sort of the Jhonny Peralta of CFs, "makes all of the routine plays." I know when Brantley was in CF and they would play the Tigers e.g., I'd always see balls off the Indians' bats that I thought were sure doubles that Jackson would track down easily ... but the reason I thought they were sure doubles is because Brantley did not normally get those ... and when Stubbs was in CF last year it was the same thing, balls the opponents hit I thought were sure hits, but he grabbed them (though Stubbs inexplicably develop Choo-itis in RF and started taking horrible routes, in CF he looked great). I liked Brantley's defense a lot in LF though. Would have a real hard time believing he was anything worse than average there, and would think he was solidly above average.
Joe Chengery
February 16, 2014 - 11:19 AM EST
Tony,

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).
Seth
February 16, 2014 - 11:00 AM EST
UZR actually agrees with you on Bourn Tony, had him slightly below average last year at -0.5. I'd agree with most of the metric numbers on the Indians, the one that stands out to me as nuts is Brantley. He was viewed positively in left field in 2011 with an 8.1 UZR/150, then it shows him at -4.9 last year. Brantley was not a worse fielder than Ryan Raburn last year. I take the metrics with a grain of salt, though usually between UZR and DRS, one of them gets it pretty right, and you know the number's not trustworthy when the two have a big disagreement.

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
Tony
February 16, 2014 - 1:02 AM EST
Part of the problem is a lot of people are just brainwashed into thinking of the days of old using batting average, RBI, and ERA to prove a player's value....when there are just so many better ways from a statistical perspective to determine value. I agree that some of the sabermetric stats are kind of out there. Anything that takes a crazy formula to determine I am always leery about it. But stuff like strikeout rates, walk rates, OPS, isolated power, on-base percentage, strand rates, o-swings and so on...these are basic stats that are easily computed based on numbers we are all familiar with. And they have value. I still wonder about WAR, partly because of how it tries to factor in defense. I'm sorry, but I watched almost every Indians game last year and Bourn was not an elite or even above average defender....yet some of these metrics calculate it as so. Finding a way to accurately grade defense with an objective measure has been amazingly difficult for as long as baseball has been around.....and probably will continue to be!
yourtribe
February 15, 2014 - 11:24 PM EST
Seth, Kershaw would get at least 15 to 20 more wins than d. Huff. If huff could even make it to June!! And cano is worth at least that many wins over say his replacement, cord Phelps. To think otherwise is foolish. So Kershaw gets about 30 mil per year and huff 1 mil and war thinks Kershaw is only worth seven more Ws???
pathofkindness
February 15, 2014 - 11:16 PM EST
I'm with Shy. This signing is an excellent move by the tribe.

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!
Seth
February 15, 2014 - 7:15 PM EST
A replacement level left fielder was like Chris Carter of the Astros last year, Viciedo of the White Sox, or Willingham, or Don Kelly. Do I think having Brantley and his .720ish OPS and not-very-many steals is worth 2-3 wins more than those type of guys? Yes I do. You think Brantley, with his lack of power for a corner outfield spot, is worth a lot more than that? I don't get that. And WAR does correlate with team wins. If you think a pitcher like Kershaw, appearing in 33 games in a year, gets you more than 7 wins versus a David Huff, or say, the Twins' Andrew Albers, then I think you are seriously overvaluing the contributions that one player can make. 7 wins is a HUGE amount of wins for one player to net you over a replacement, especially when that player can only impact 1/5 of your games.

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.
yourtribe
February 15, 2014 - 6:16 PM EST
Seth, it says his war between the two services was about a 2 last year. A replacement is defined as basically a AAA guy or journeyman type player.


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.
Seth
February 15, 2014 - 5:00 PM EST
yourtribe, you still don't seem to get something about it. If they traded Brantley and let a replacement type take over left field, WAR is saying they'd have lost about 3 more games each of the past 2 years (at least bWAR, the fWAR I think is flawed due to the defensive rating being wrong last year) Brantley was below replacement level in 2010, so that drags down his overall career numbers, but over the past 3 years he's been worth about 8 bWAR. Seems to me he's been a pretty average player during that time frame, so that looks right to me.
yourtribe
February 15, 2014 - 2:52 PM EST
I know it's wins above replacement (war). maybe I wasn't clear. but if brantley is only worth 6 more wins over his entire career over a typical replacement player or bench player whatever you want to call it, is still dumb.

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.
Rmacd
February 15, 2014 - 2:01 PM EST
I've thought that WAR was a good indicator of a players value over another. It gives Bourn a higher value than Brantley for the 2013 season so would question how accurate it really is.
shy
February 15, 2014 - 1:15 PM EST
In Michael Brantley we got a guy who is clutch, money, and bleeds Wahoo. This is who you need not only in the ninth inning of a tie game in May, but in October when the promised land that has eluded Cleveland for more than a half century is in sight. To me, a legacy Indian
Matthew
February 15, 2014 - 11:48 AM EST
What Mark said is exactly correct. WAR doesn't mean Brantley has been worth 6 wins. It means he has been worth 6 MORE wins than Tim Fedroff or a similar player would have been worth over the same span.
Mike H
February 15, 2014 - 8:37 AM EST
Tests on a boar hound are actually pretty underrated.
Mark
February 15, 2014 - 7:19 AM EST
Youtribe,

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.
Themaven
February 15, 2014 - 5:12 AM EST
If Brantley has 4 more seasons like the ones he's had till now,the Indians will have got what they paid for.If he has a career year in there somewhere they'll have got a bargain and if he improves on his numbers every year it will be a helluva bargain.


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.
Joe Chengery
February 14, 2014 - 11:00 PM EST
Need to keep in mind that UZR is not without its own flaws- I agree that it doesn't measure a player like Brantley well, and that Brantley's value is considerably better than what UZR thinks it is.

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).
Norm
February 14, 2014 - 10:53 PM EST
Defensive metrics are as useful as teats on a boar hog!
Seth
February 14, 2014 - 10:32 PM EST
Brantley seems a case where UZR just gets him wrong. He's rated sharply below average last year in left field, and I don't see that at all. He gunned down a bunch of guys with some good plays off the wall early on, and then it seemed runners stopped testing him as much as the season went on. Doesn't make errors, occasionally might took a bad route but showed a good arm and good speed. I buy b-ref's WAR a lot more, since by DRS he was slightly above average.
yourtribe
February 14, 2014 - 10:18 PM EST
War is just absurd. To say Brantley has been responsible for no more than 6 wins in his career is just dumb. Real dumb. As mentioned, his clutch hitting speaks for itself.

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.
pathofkindness
February 14, 2014 - 2:54 PM EST
I am a huge Brantley fan, which was not easy when everyone was dogging him a couple of years ago and calling him a fourth outfielder at best. You could just tell at a fairly young age that this guy had what it takes.

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.

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