The Outstanding Defense of Michael Brantley
Ronnie Tellalian | On 22, Aug 2013
On Monday night, the Indians defeated the Angles 5-2. The win not only represented the first win of an opening series game since July 29, but it represented a milestone reached by a well-respected Tribe outfielder. Michael Brantley completed his 213th consecutive game without making an error. This is a Cleveland Indians record that has stood since another beloved Cleveland outfielder, Rocky Colavito, set the record in 1966.
The record is amazing for a couple of reasons, the first is obvious, and it is remarkable for a player to go that long without making an error. That is a complete 162 game season, plus another 51 games, that is truly fantastic! The second reason it is so amazing is a little more subtle. Brantley has not only avoided an error since June 3, 2012 (a throwing error), but Brantley has not made a fielding error since August 20, 2011. That is two years ago almost to the day. Two full years have passed since Brantley made an error with his glove.
Since he has not made an error this season, Brantley has a 1.000 fielding percentage on the year, leading the American League. His percentage is not due to few chances, he has played in the second most games of any outfielder in baseball. His stellar glove has been a fantastic defensive weapon for the Indians this season, but there is another weapon that may be a little more powerful.
Brantley has displayed a relatively new weapon in his defensive arsenal in 2013: his arm. Brantley has 10 outfield assists on the season, that is good enough to tie him for the league lead with Alex Gordon and Dayan Viciedo. He has done this mostly by cutting down runners at second base trying to stretch singles into doubles. The Indians once had another outfielder well known for his arm strength.
Former Indians Shin-Soo Choo built a reputation for having one of the strongest throwing arms in the game. Coming into the season, MLB scouting reports rated Brantley’s arm as just above average with a 55 out of 100; Choo was rated with an excellent arm with a score of 88 out of 100. On the season, Choo has only six outfield assists, four less than Brantley. Many would say that difference is because fewer runners try to advance on Choo, but this is not the case here.
There are five situations in which outfielders have a chance to cut down a base runner that are very heavily documented. A single with a runner on first, a single with a runner on second, a double with a runner on first, a flyout with a runner on second, and a flyout with a runner on third. In these situations, Choo and Brantley have a nearly identical number of runners. In the first situations, Choo has had 50 runners and 31 have held up, that is, they did not try to advance on his arm. That is 62% of runners. In that same situation, Brantley has had 53 possible advancing runners and 45 have held up, or 85%. Far more runners did not try to advance on Brantley than Choo. In the second situation, Choo has seen 38 runners with 11 holding their ground for 29%. Brantley has seen 29 base runners with 12 holding up for 41%. In situation number three, 10 of 17 runners held up on Brantley, while just 4 of 15 held on Choo. The fourth scenario, only one out of 10 held up on Choo and four out of 10 held on Brantley.
Finally, in the last situation, with a flyout and a runner on third with less than two outs, 18 of 23 held up on Choo and 17 of 18 held on Brantley. AN interesting note, the one base runner that did attempt to tag and score on Brantley was thrown out at home plate. In total, out of 136 possible advancing base runners, 47.8% held up on Choo with three men being thrown out on the bases. Out of 127 of Brantley’s possible advancing base runners, 69.3% held up and three were thrown out on the bases. Seven of his 10 assists come from hitters trying to advance to second base on singles. From these numbers we can see that not only does Brantley throw out a relatively large number of his both advancing base runners and hitters attempting to advance, but fewer men attempt to run on Brantley as well.
With the combination of a strong arm and fantastic glove, Brantley will definitely be in the conversation for a Gold Glove Award this season. Rawlings has already stated that they will use some advanced defensive metrics in Gold Glove decision making, and in these, Brantley fairs well. In Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Brantley ranks as a plus defender. In Plus/Minus score, a statistic that measures how many plays a player makes above average, Brantley ranks as plus defender as well. Basically meaning he saves runs and has good range for a left fielder.
On a season that has seen some great moments and some disappointments, Brantley, one of the team’s most consistent hitters, proves to be the most consistent defender as well. He will certainly be a Gold Glove candidate, something the Indians have not seen since Grady Sizemore won the award in 2008.
Photo: Jim Mone/AP Photo