Expected Improvements: David Murphy & Michael Brantley

For the final test of the Baseball-Reference similarity score as a predictor, we will take a look at Michael Brantley and David Murphy. The pair are likely to be the starting corner outfielders in 2014 for the Cleveland Indians. Since pitchers are too unpredictable and the rest of the possible players haven't played long enough to have similarity scores, this will be the final edition of predictions.

Murphy is, to this point at least, the Indians biggest free agent signing of the off-season (no offense to John Axford). He will likely be the starter in right field, or at least a platoon player along with Ryan Raburn, despite his poor showing in 2013. The whole reason the Rangers were willing to let him go and he was available for the Indians to sign was because of his off year. The career .286 hitter batted just .220 and knocked in just 45 after averaging more than 60 over his previous five seasons. The question now is, is there a better chance of Murphy repeating his 2013 season or going back to his top seasons before.

2011 29 120 404 46 111 14 2 11 46 11 6 33 61 .275 .328 .401 .729
2012 30 147 457 65 139 29 3 15 61 10 5 54 74 .304 .380 .479 .859
2013 31 142 436 51 96 26 1 13 45 1 4 37 59 .220 .282 .374 .656
Average 32 80.2 208.6 25.2 49.2 12 0.8 4.8 26 2.8 2.2 16.8 42.4 .236 .295 .370 .665

Using Murphy's five most similar players, George Altman, Xavier Nady, Jeffrey Hammonds, Eric Byrnes and Todd Hollandsworth and averaging their age 32 seasons together, we get the numbers above and the prospects aren't very exciting. All the players compared had major drop-offs in production in either their age 31 season or their age 32 season, so it isn't surprising to see the predicted numbers (which of course, are meaningless in the end) look poor. Of course, just because they look bad, doesn't mean they aren't at least slightly accurate. Murphy will likely see a large reduction in playing time depending on the success of Raburn, although it will probably be closer to 110 games than 80. It also would be wrong to expect a jump in average back to the .275 range when he batted just .220 in 2013.

Luckily, the Indians have plenty of options for right field, including Raburn, Jeff Francoeur, Nyjer Morgan, Matt Carson and Carlos Moncrief. The numbers predicted above are not good enough for a starting corner outfielder on a play-off team, so having these options will be a great asset if Murphy struggles. Of course, just because five players with similar careers struggled when they hit their 30's doesn't mean that Murphy won't have a spectacular resurgent season.

Michael Brantley is the other starting corner outfielder and is just entering his prime at 27 years old. He is truly an old school style player with an emphasis on great defense, hitting to contact and solid base running. In a great example of this, four of his five most similar players, Frank Welch, Beals Becker, Terry Moore and Ping Bodie, played their entire careers before 1950. The fifth player compared is former Indian Dion James and because Bodie missed his age 27 and 28 seasons, he has been replaced by Ken Landreaux.

2011 24 114 451 63 120 24 4 7 46 13 5 34 76 .266 .318 .384 .702
2012 25 149 552 63 159 37 4 6 60 12 9 53 56 .288 .348 .402 .750
2013 26 151 556 66 158 26 3 10 73 17 4 40 67 .284 .332 .396 .728
Average 27 113.8 368.4 56 109 19 4 7.6 51.2 12 4.7 35 37.6 .296 .348 .430 .778

While it may seem that the expected average numbers are increased and the power numbers deflated due to his comparison with players from before the common era, the least efficient power hitter compared was James, who played in Cleveland in 1990. The fact is, power is not and never will be Brantley's game. In fact, the numbers listed don't look too off if you assume he will play around 150 games again and extrapolate them to that point.

One reason that just about every player judged so far has been expected to play fewer games in 2014 than in 2013 is the injury factor. While wishful thinking would have the entire Indians lineup make it all the way through 2013, most likely there will be at least one and possibly multiple serious injuries. Since it is unknown which players will be affected, it is necessary to build an injury contention into any predictor for every player and using similarity scores does this because almost always at least one of the five players compared will have been injured. In this case, both Welch and James had significant drop offs in playing time when they turned 27 and as said before, Bodie missed the entire season.

Assuming he makes it safely through the season, Brantley is set for a peak year. Using the above averages, he is set for career highs in all his rate stats and that shouldn't be a surprise as he is heading into his prime and the Indians offense should be better overall. Brantley will likely hit near the top of the lineup again and be protected by the likes of Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana who are also entering their prime years. While he has flirted with it in the past, this could finally be the year Brantley breaks a .300 average.

Of course, a large part of his value is not with his bat, but in the field where the is no reason to expect a slump. Brantley should have won a Gold Glove in 2013 with his perfect fielding percent and 11 assists, but even without the hardware, Brantley likely saved more runs than any other Indian in 2013 and should continue that trend into next season. Even with Drew Stubbs gone to Colorado, Brantley and Michael Bourn should combine to give the Indians one of the best outfields in the American League.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB