Michael Brantley is slated to be the only Indians player in tomorrow’s All-Star Game in Minnseota. The first thing that makes this special is that the Indians have sent multiple players to the game in the past three years and many times those players (like Justin Masterson in 2013 and Asdrubal Cabrera in 2012), made it more on career performance than the current season. Brantley is exactly the opposite. He has always been a slightly above average player offensive and a Gold Glove candidate on defense, but he has truly blossomed into something very special in the first half of 2014. In addition to that, Brantley is the first Indians outfielder to make the game since Grady Sizemore in 2008 and the first left fielder since Matt Lawton in 2004.
In fact, only 20 outfielders in Indians history have been selected to the All-Star game in it’s 81 year history. This puts him in a pretty impressive position, especially when considering that most of these selections are center fielders (like Kenny Lofton and Earl Averill) or right fielders (like Manny Ramirez and Rocky Colavito). While Brantley was a center fielder until very recently and has been playing there again in Michael Bourn’s stead, his numbers are much more favorable when compared to the left fielders in Indians history. Burning River Baseball has put together top ten lists for each position in Indians history that are updated yearly and when Brantley switched from center to left, he jumped from not being on the list, to sitting just outside the top ten, mostly due to the lack of competition.
Just looking at his offensive performance this year, he is already looking among the top left field seasons in Indians history. Like Corey Kluber, his 2014 campaign would already be in the top 50 seasons by a left fielder if he quit right now. Comparing to 114 starting left fielder’s in club history, Brantley is already 33rd in single season home runs, a very impressive stat considering that is the least of Brantley’s game. Left field has generally been a power position in baseball history, so it is necessary to compare him on this level as well and if he continues on his current pace, he could easily break the top ten by the end of the season. Of course, five great seasons by Albert Belle and three by Leon Wagner will likely keep him from rising any higher than that. In other power production, Brantley is currently 39th in RBI and needs just 34 more (he already has knocked in 63) to break into the top ten. Of course rate stats are much more fair to compare a half season with a full and Brantley already sits in ninth in both average and slugging percent.
For his career, Brantley already sits among the above average class of Indians left fielders despite playing in just 603 games. He sits at eighth in doubles, 12th in home runs and ninth in total bases overall among career left fielders and is eighth in average and 16th in slugging percent among left fielders with at least a full season’s worth of games. Of course, Brantley’s game is more about speed and defense than power, making him one of the only left fielders in Indians history to make that a priority. Already, he ranks fourth in Indians LF history in steals and is the most efficient all time among those with at least 50 attempts.
Defensively, only nine players in Indians history have played in at least 400 games in left and Brantley does not yet qualify, although he will at some point in 2015. Once he does, Brantley will immediately jump to first in career fielding percent as he currently sits with a .996 when the next best is Tito Francona with a .988. His arm also compares well among the best, with 31 career assists and a similar assist per game rate to all but Charlie Jamieson and Jack Graney, who had great arms, but were otherwise limited defensively. As soon as he qualifies, it will be very easy to call Brantley the greatest defensive left fielder in Indians history.
As already mentioned, Brantley is already putting out one of the top seasons as an Indians left fielder and is among the top 15 career, but he has one other thing going for him that makes his effort special. While he was originally drafted by the Brewers, he came to the Indians at the end of the 2008 season and didn’t make his Major League debut until September of 2009, which means he has never played for a team other than the Indians. This is his sixth year with the Tribe and he is under team control for the next five seasons as well. The Indians have never had a left fielder play an entire career with the team of more than a couple seasons and Brantley could be that player. Of course, he could end his career, get traded or leave during free agency by 2018, but the fact that he signed the initial contract may be enough to keep him around for good. For now, Indians fan can just enjoy watching a player who can hit, run, field and throw with the best of them and know that he will be around for a long time.