Brantley Looking to Take His Game and Tribe to Another Level

Michael Brantley makes it clear, he’s never consumed with individual statistics, he’s only consumed with improving his own game and helping the team win.

If Brantley can improve upon last season, it will be quite a feat. In 2014, Brantley hit .327, with 20 home runs and 97 runs batted in. His .327/.385/.506 was a vast improvement from what had been his best season, 2013.

Once a player who bounced all over the batting order, Brantley is firmly settled into the Indians third spot in the lineup and the Tribe’s best pure hitter. After playing over 150 games in each of the last two seasons, and signing a four-year contract extension, Brantley is expected to be the leader of the Tribe on the field through at least 2018.

And last year may have been Brantley’s break out season, one that left him finishing third in the American League MVP race, but the Indians did not achieve the level of success he would want. Improving upon the individual statistics from 2014 may be tough, but the biggest goal for he and the Indians in 2015 may be returning to the playoffs.

If the Indians are to return to the playoffs in 2015, and fulfill Sports Illustrated prophecies, Brantley will have to be a major contributor. Remaining healthy and playing another 150 games seems necessary while he is surrounded by aging veterans like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Bourn is trying to play his first season with the Indians without going to the disabled list while Swisher will open the year on the 15-day disabled list as he continues to recover from knee surgery.

Offensively, his 2014 numbers will be tough to replicate, but another season of .320 could lead the Indians to more run production this season with Brandon Moss hitting behind Carlos Santana. Brantley-Santana-Moss are expected to be the 3-4-5 of the Indians lineup and the added offensive production behind Brantley could lead to more runs being driven in. One of Brantley’s few weaknesses in his game could be his defense. The Indians front office feels new defensive metrics are not kind to Brantley, who is regarded as a below average defender by most measures. Defense is one of the most difficult statistics to measure and evaluate, but if Brantley can improve if could be a small step toward improving the Indians putrid defense from 2014.

Regardless of whether Brantley can reproduce the statistics he had a year ago, the largest improvement he may have to show in 2015 is just meeting expectations. Before last season most people perceived Brantley as a good player, now he’s an American League All-Star, potential MVP candidate and leader of a team projected by many to reach the playoffs. The same statistical production, with greater team success, would be Brantley’s quite a feat in itself.

And if you asked Brantley, a player who gazed up at the sold out crowd in 2013 before the Wild Card game, returning the Indians to the playoffs would make 2015 his best season yet.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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