Brantley Can Be a Smooth Transition Back to Leadoff Spot
By Mike Brandyberry
Dr. Smooth, a nickname given to Indians outfielder Michael Brantley by a couple sportswriters that seemed to catch on during the 2012 season. Brantley may be more like his nickname than some realize.
With the trade of Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds, the Indians will probably be left with little choice but to return Brantley to the leadoff spot. Last season Indians manager Manny Acta did not like Brantley in the leadoff role after the first month of the season.
Acta felt Brantley did not reach base enough to hit at the top of the order and set the table for the middle of the order hitters. When the Indians activated Johnny Damon on May 1, Brantley was moved from the top spot to the seventh hole in the lineup. When Damon struggled, Acta replaced him with Choo at the top of the order, electing to keep Brantley in the bottom half of the order.
“Your job is to go out there and play baseball,” Brantley said at the end of the season. “You don’t get to predict where you want to be. Whenever your name is in the lineup, or not in the lineup, you just gotta be there for your team and go out there and do your job each and every day with a positive attitude and go to work.”
However, Brantley may have been smooth enough last season to not notice how good of a fit he really is for the top spot in the batting order.
While Brantley may not get to predict where he is in the lineup or on the field—most likely he is headed back to left field with the acquisition of Drew Stubbs—Brantley’s production last season makes him a very good option in the leadoff spot of the lineup. In 2012 he hit .288, with six home runs, 60 runs batted in and a .348 on-base percentage. He, along with Choo, was in the top ten of the American League in doubles.
Brantley may not have the same power production as Choo in the leadoff spot, but he does exceed league averages. The average production for the leadoff spot in MLB during the 2012 season was only a .257 batting average, with 11 home runs, 56 runs batted in and a .327 on-base percentage. He certainly exceeds league averages for the top spot.
The Indians’ production in the top spot last season was not nearly as strong as you might believe—even with Choo at the top most of the season. The Wahoo’s only hit a league average .257 at the top spot, with a .325 on-base percentage, including 135 strikeouts.
Another reason to believe that Brantley can become the starter to the lineup again is that his production in the big leagues has improved every season he’s played. Brantley downplayed his 2012 season and return from wrist surgery in 2011.
“I don’t really call it a breakout season,” Brantley said. “I call it this an ok season in my opinion. I want to get better in every aspect of my game.”
With the Indians revamped lineup, it could be key to have a table-setter like Brantley who does not strike out very much. He only struck out 56 times in 609 plate appearances last season, an improvement from 76 whiffs in 496 plate appearances in 2011 with that hampered wrist. In 2012, Brantley only struck out 9.2% of the time—a much lower rate than Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds or Stubbs will have in the middle of the Tribe lineup. Stubbs has the speed to leadoff, but coming off a season where he hit .213 doesn’t seem like he is the logical answer at the top of the order.
The new look Tribe offense will certainly be different than the one Acta wrote down a year ago, beginning at the top spot. If it is Brantley who returns to the top line of the lineup card, it could be a smoother transition than some expect. Dr. Smooth.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images