Entering the 2020-2021 offseason, the Houston Astros had outfielder Michael Brantley’s future as one of their many difficult decisions to make. Eventually, they shocked the baseball world when they snatched Brantley away from what appeared to be a completed deal with the Toronto Blue Jays and re-signed him on a two-year, $32MM deal.
It was just what they needed to do. Since joining Houston back in 2019, the soon-to-be 34-year-old has been a vital offensive piece for the Astros, showing his enviable hitting skills that seem to never get old.
What they’ve received so far in 2021 has been pure quality. After Brantley’s first 15 games this year, he’s posted a .310/.344/.552 slash line that goes along with a .896 OPS. Michael has hit six doubles, one triple, and two home runs plus four RBIs and six scored runs.
But there’s more beyond that.
First, there’s consistency. Brantley has never gone hitless in consecutive games this campaign. Better yet: He’s hitting for a .440 batting average —11-for-25, two doubles, one triple— after going without a hit in the previous game. Call that resilience!
For reference, right now, there are 394 ballplayers with at least one game of two or more strikeouts. Michael Brantley is not in that group. In fact, he’s the only everyday position player that has yet to strike out twice in a game for the Astros this year.
But, I insist, there’s more beyond that.
Brantley has never stopped evolving as a hitter. Not only is he hitting the ball harder than ever before (91.4 MPH Exit Velocity, his best since Statcast was created in 2015), but he’s also connecting for line drives at a 38.8% rate. Just to have an idea, the league average is 25.6%, while that number for him last year was 27.5%. More power + more lines = more hits, baby!
2020 was a rare year for Brantley in terms of swing-and-miss percentage. Based on his standards, he was just missing too much (16.3%). Well, as the professional hitter he is, Brantley has cut down that number to 9.6% so far this year, his lowest percentage since 2015 (8.8%).
And that’s not even what I like most. He’s developing the eye of the tiger. How come? He’s being aggressive as heck at the plate, but at the same time, he’s being wise.
Let me explain.
On average, Brantley is taking 4.00 pitches per plate appearance. This year, there are only 72 qualified hitters averaging over 4 pitches per plate appearance — Brantley and Yuli Gurriel are the only Astros. For a guy that doesn’t have overwhelming power and doesn’t get walks a la Mike Trout, that 4.00 is elite. He’s just choosing what to hit and when to hit.
But Michael is still going after anything that seems good to hit. Despite chasing pitches more than ever —33.9%, his highest percentage before was 26% in 2019—, his chase contact % is higher than ever (88.1%) as well. The best part of it? He’s having success.
The veteran left-fielder is hitting for a .300 average and a .500 slugging percentage (6-for-20) when he swings at pitches out of the strike zone. The gorgeous point of all this is Brantley is going with hittable deliveries that are —most of them— near the square. Basically, he’s made his comfort zone a bigger one. The following image contains every pitch Brantley has swung at out of the strike zone. Enjoy...
In case you’re doubting Brantley’s aggressiveness, he’s swinging at 51.2% of pitches — notably higher than the 39.9% he put in 2020. And his first pitch swing % went from 20.9% last year to 34.4% this campaign, the highest mark of his 13-season career.
And thanks to swinging at first pitches, he’s recorded one of his doubles and his lone triple (3-for-9).
Michael Brantley’s resigning has been a tremendous asset so far for Houston. He’s a classy, pure, professional hitter that we’re happy to have and watch in H-Town. Looking forward to seeing what’s around the corner for him this season as an important member of the heart of the lineup.