Michael Brantley isn’t flashy in the way he plays or the way he dresses.
He isn’t loud, and he isn’t cocky.
Brantley doesn’t have the charisma of Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher, doesn’t carry himself with the down-to-earth ease of center fielder Michael Bourn and certainly doesn’t possess the life-of-the-party swagger of utility man Mike Aviles.
Brantley is pretty boring by the standards of today’s well-paid professional athletes.
But if there’s one thing that sets Brantley apart, it’s his consistency in all phases of the game.
In baseball, that’s pretty much the point, but it doesn’t necessarily get a player noticed.
When the first American League All-Star balloting numbers were released this week, Brantley didn’t even crack the top 15 among outfielders.
It can be argued that Brantley is having a better season than star Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who leads all players with 764,007 All-Star votes.
Through 50 games, Brantley had a higher batting average (.307, third among AL outfielders) and on-base percentage (.377) than Trout. He also had more stolen bases (eight) and RBI (39, second most in the AL).
Brantley’s stats even indicate a better overall approach at the plate with as many walks (19) as strikeouts. Trout’s 58 strikeouts are tied for the most in the league.
“I’ve never been big into the politics of trying to help guys get votes,” Indians manager Terry Francona said recently. “But I think when guys do things within the framework of the team and those numbers start to get better, that’s when you’re seeing a guy turn into one of the better players in the game. That’s what Brantley does.
“He’s got (eight) stolen bases — that’s not leading the league — but that’s part of the game and he seems to always do it when they’re big. (He’s) a two-out hitter, hits for average and power (and plays) Gold Glove-caliber defense. There’s things that maybe don’t jump out of the stat sheet that probably makes him even better. So I do feel a little bit of an obligation to brag about him because he won’t do it himself.”
Defense is also a big part of Brantley’s game. He has an accurate arm that has resulted in a major-league-leading six outfield assists.
“I take pride in (my defense) because it’s helping my team in a positive way,” he said. “It’s important and it’s a momentum changer if you can throw a guy out in a big situation and if they don’t score a run.”
Brantley incorporates defense into his daily spring training workouts.
“He’s very diligent,” Francona said. “In Cleveland, he plays that corner and he works on it all the time. He works on the angles, his footwork; his arm is so accurate and he’s got good carry.”
With no lack of statistical evidence supporting the argument for Brantley’s inclusion in the All-Star Game at Minnesota’s Target Field on July 15, Francona hit on one of the two other factors that may have played a huge part in Brantley’s early snub.
With a 24-30 record, the Indians aren’t getting a lot of attention in Cleveland (the Tribe’s average attendance of 14,315 ranks last in the major leagues), let alone among fans of other teams.
In addition to the team’s slow start, there is Brantley’s quiet personality.
He’d be happy to go a season without talking to the media if he could. It’s not because he’s unfriendly; he just prefers to lead by example.
The only thing that stands out about Brantley, 27, is his play. That was worth plenty to the Indians, who signed him to a four-year, $25 million guaranteed contract in February that includes an $11 million club option for the 2018 season.
“He does everything great,” veteran teammate Jason Giambi said. “He plays great defense. He throws to the right base. He runs the bases well. He takes great at-bats. He can hit the ball the other way. He can pull the ball. Now he’s showing more power.”
Although he’s embraced the nickname “Dr. Smooth” bestowed upon him by a well-meaning local media member, perhaps more fitting is simply, “Mr. Consistent.”
During Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox, Brantley extended his hitting streak to 14 games, which is baseball’s longest active streak and the most by an Indians player since second baseman Jason Kipnis’ 16-game streak last season. Last year, Kipnis overcame a slow start by heating up in May, and parlaying it into his first All-Star nod.
With only one game this month without a hit, Brantley is more than one-upping Kipnis’ feat. He’s smashing it. Not in a flashy manner, of course. Just quietly, albeit consistently, putting up the kind of all-around numbers that will be hard to ignore by AL All-Star manager John Farrell, who gets to choose the All-Star reserves and to help make up for fans’ omissions.
By Stephanie Storm
©2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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