Hot Streak Breakdown: Michael Brantley

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Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) at bat against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always fun to watch a batter tear the cover off the ball for weeks at a time, or watch a pitcher mow down lineup after lineup over a bunch of starts.  But amidst the hype, sometimes the best numbers get lost.  In this segment, we’ll attempt to analyze what exactly is behind a player’s hot streak, along with a few impressive statistics you may not have noticed.

Player:  Michael Brantley

Breakdown Time Frame:  August 29th through September 21st (2014)

More from Cleveland Guardians News

Performance:  107 PA, 41 hits, 7 doubles, 2 home runs, 14 runs, 14 RBI, 2 stolen bases

Below the Surface: Michael Brantley has been a staple in the Cleveland Indians’ offense all season.  His 20/20 season is the first for the Tribe since Shin-Soo Choo in 2010, and his 193 hits so far are the most by an Indians player since Roberto Alomar in 2001.  His .325 batting average going into Monday’s games proves that he’s been excellent all season, but lately he has been just tearing apart opposing pitchers.  Since August 29th, he has recorded a .418/.467/.582 slash line.  To me, the most ridiculous part about those numbers is that the .467 on-base percentage means he’s reached base in nearly half of his at-bats for nearly a month.  His seven stolen bases during his hot streak are even more impressive when you consider the fact that he hasn’t been caught stealing during that time.  The 14 RBI in 24 games has pushed him to within three of the 100 mark for the year, something the Tribe has been missing the past couple of seasons.

Currently riding a 12-game hitting streak, Brantley now has four hitting streaks of twelve games or more on the year.  The third came immediately adjacent to his current one, split by his last hitless game on September 9th (a game in which he still reached base via a walk).  So not only has Brantley recorded at least one hit during 24 of his last 25 games, but he’s reached base for 25 consecutive games dating back to August 27th.  Opposing pitchers simply can’t find a way to keep Brantley off of the basepaths.

There are a few ways to explain the spike in batting average during his hot streak.  Comparing his pre-August 29th season numbers to his post August 28th season numbers, there are a few things that stand out.  While his line drive rate remains a remarkably consistent 26.1%, he’s decreased his ground ball rate from 46% to 42%, and turned those 4% into fly balls.  He’s reached base on his only bunt attempt, and he’s legging out infield hits a lot better as well.  Statistics show that his infield hit percentage is over three times higher during his current hot streak than the rest of the season. Brantley has always been known for his phenomenal plate discipline.  However, during the most important stretch of the season for the Tribe, his plate discipline has somehow gotten even better.  Take a look at the table below (courtesy of Fangraphs.com).

For those not familiar with plate discipline statistics, O stands for outside of the zone, and Z stands for inside of the zone.  One thing that stands out to me is that Brantley has made contact with an extra 6% of pitches he’s swung at outside of the zone while swinging at 3% fewer of them.  Another awesome aspect of Brantley’s play is that he’s cut his swinging strike rate to two-thirds of what it had been for the rest of the season.  That means that Brantley has made contact with 97.5% of the pitches he’s swung at during his hot streak.

What Can We Expect Moving Forward?  Dr. Smooth is the poster boy for consistency.  I definitely expect him to pass the 200 hit mark, which would make him the first Cleveland Indian to do so since Roberto Alomar in 1993.  Brantley’s plate discipline and quick bat give him incredible contact ability, putting him among the game’s most valuable players.  However, his .448 BABIP (a big part of the hot streak as well) is unsustainable.  His batting average will likely drop a few points before the season is over, but we might see a couple more home runs.  During his tear, Brantley’s HR/FB% has been nearly half of his season average.  Long story short, expect a lower batting average but perhaps more isolated power for the rest of the season.

Notice a hot streak or slump we haven’t broken down yet?  We try to keep an eye out, but we don’t catch everything!  If you see a player get hot or cold for a few weeks at a time, and you’d like us to break it down, leave a comment or e-mail us at wahoosonfirst@gmail.com

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