Throughout the offseason, we’re reviewing each of the 316 players to have played for the Astros at any level in 2022.
Michael Brantley is a six-foot-two, 209 lb. left fielder from Bellevue, WA. Born on May 15, 1987, the left-handed hitter and thrower was a seventh-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005, 205th off the board. Of the 15 eventual major leaguers taken at that point in the draft, Brantley (34.1 WAR) is the most prolific. Jason Schmidt (29.5 WAR) is second.
Drafted out of Fort Pierce Central in Florida, Brantley signed a deal with Milwaukee that included a $150,000 bonus. Before he ever graduated to the major league level, he was dealt with Zach Jackson, Matt LaPorta, and Rob Bryson to the Cleveland Indians for CC Sabathia.
Brantley played 10 seasons with the Indians, appearing in 1,051 games and making the American League All-Star Team three times. He was the 2014 American League Silver Slugger Award winner for left field. He slashed .295/.351/.430 over that time, with 87 homers, 528 RBI, and 118 stolen bases in 148 attempts. After the 2018 season, the Astros signed Brantley to a two-year, $32 million deal. He later signed a second, identical two-season deal with Houston.
Brantley performed slightly better than advertised through his first three years with the Astros, slashing .310/.367/.474 over 315 games and hitting another 35 homers with 159 RBI. He made the AL All-Star Team twice more, in 2019 and in 2021. Although Brantley turned 35-years-old early in the 2022 season, he managed an OPS+ that was in-line with what he had been doing for the five seasons just past, logging a mark of 125.
Eighteen times in 64 contests with the 2022 Astros, Brantley logged multiple hits. On April 12, he collected three singles, including a tie-breaking RBI-hit with two outs in the top of the ninth as the Astros defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 2-1. On May 7, he knocked in Jose Altuve with a game-tying triple in the bottom of the eighth, later scoring as the Astros knocked off the Detroit Tigers by a 3-2 final. From May 10 through May 22, he hit in 11 straight games, hitting .333/.469/.513 with four doubles and a homer. He went one better from June 3 through June 17, hitting in 12 straight and slashing .426/.491/.617 with three doubles, two round trippers, and nine RBI.
On June 26, Brantley played in his final game of the season, going on the injured list the following day. In August, he went under the knife and had arthroscopic labral repair to his right shoulder.
Altogether, Brantley slashed a .288/.370/.416 line for the Astros prior to the injury, drawing 31 walks and striking out only 30 times. It was the first time since 2015 that he had drawn more bases on balls than he struck out. His expected stats were slightly better, with a .296 XBA and a .448 XSLG. Despite his advanced age, he found the barrel on six percent of his batted balls, a career-best mark. His 10.7 launch angle and 39.5 percent sweet spot contact were also career bests. Although his 88.5 percent contact percentage was slightly below his career mark of 90.7 percent, it was still well above the major-league average.
Through his four seasons with the Astros, Brantley was worth $68.4 million according to Fangraphs. He was continuing to mature into a notedly more patient hitter when his season came to an early close. His expected production for the 2023 season hasn’t yet been published, but his pitch selection is improving as he ages. This is perhaps the most important thing that a player can do to maintain his utility to a ball club on the 40-side of his 30s.
The Astros should make a play for Brantley, who could be worth (and I’m just ball parking it here) another two-year, $32 million. If the Astros don’t make a play for him, I’m positive he’ll find gainful employment as a non-coaching member of a team for at least another three to four seasons.