(Brantley's numbers from 2013 represent a small sample size.)
Recently on Let's Go Tribe we've debated what type of power numbers Michael Brantley could put up once he develops more. He's become somewhat of a frustrating player because he has shown little ability throughout his career to hit the ball into Souvenir City - or even into the gaps. Since it's hard to say his 2013 numbers are reliable and valid yet I'll mostly look at some of his comps through his 2012 season but then take a glance at how pitiful his power has been in 2013.
Brantley is in his eighth professional season and the most home runs in a season he has so far is seven, which came in the 2011 season. However, while his home run numbers haven't risen, his slugging percentage has increased somewhat sharply each of the past couple seasons (.327-.384-.402). Could he really slug over .420 in 2013? I probably would have predicted so before the year began.
The answer seems to be a resounding no as he's currently on pace for five home runs and 20 doubles to go along with his poor slugging percentage of .360. I think the doubles and slugging percentage will rise but I don't think the home runs will go up quite a bit beyond his current pace.
The impressive thing about Michael is that he improved all three numbers on his triple slash line for three consecutive years while bumping up his walk rate, too. It seemed like the next thing to come was a bit more power.
Since 2010 here are his PAs/HR:
2010 = 108.3:1
2011 = 70.9:1
2012 = 101.5:1
2013 = 126:1
Overall in his big league career he has become a better home run hitter (100.2:1) than he was down in the minors (154.8:1) so I still wonder what he's got left in the tank. Currently he profiles as around league average offensively but that is pretty much due to a high batting average and a solid OBP. To become someone worth giving a nice extension to soon, he'll need to be able to hit more gaps and get the ball out of the yard.
Per Baseball-Reference, the most comparable players to him through their age 25 season in order are Terry Moore, Jack Tobin, Ryan Sweeney, Rich Becker and Cleon Jones. Dr. Smooth's age 25 season was 2012.
Here are the home runs and slugging percentage numbers for those players from their age 26-29 seasons:
27: 17/.487 - this is quite the leap at age 27
29: 8/.487 - mostly due to a crazy amount of triples
28: 1/.500 - in only 64 PAs
29: N/A - he's only 28!
29: Did not play in MLB
All of these comps make it hard to see Brantley even reaching 15 home runs once, let alone multiple seasons. I'd like to see him rack up some numbers the way Jones did in his 26-28 seasons but when you look at their age 26 season they went in completely opposite directions.
Before the season began, LGT ran their Community Projects piece on Brantley. Ryan was pretty optimistic on his season and predicted a nice leap to a .439 SLG% and an ISO of .143. Isolated power rates a player's true power and is calculated as slugging percent minus batting average. It measures how many extra base hits someone hits per at bat.
ZiPS and Cairo basically forecast the same thing for Brantley as they saw him at .275/.333/.382 and .271/.332/.381 for 2013. (21 folks from LGT took a shot at Brantley's projections for this year and the results have been hideous from those optimistically biased projections so far. They mean nothing coming from us but I'll show you what we thought, anyways.)
In 2012, 66 MLB players hit 20 (hey, you guys picked that arbitrary number) or more home runs. The lowest ISO for someone who met that mark was J.J. Hardy at .151. Hardy reaching that home run total with such a poor ISO was more of an anomaly than something we can bank on Brantley doing so it doesn't tell us much.
Maybe Brantley could start getting that ISO higher each year for the next couple of seasons and start to squeak out some 20 home run seasons, right? Well, it seems highly unlikely that will happen.
Here are his ISOs in the past:
2011: .118 - 121st out of 146 qualifiers (he didn't qualify, but if he did this is where he would have been)
2012: .114 - 121st out of 143 qualifiers
2013: .070 - 156th out of 164 qualifiers and stuck behind Ichiro and Eric Hosmer
It's not a shot at Brantley to say it looks very doubtful that he'll ever even hit 15 home runs in a season much less the 20-25 speculated by some fans. He's improved his hitting, slugging and plate discipline for three consecutive seasons and has plenty of baseball in 2013 to make that four in a row.
I think it's time to start understanding who he is though. Hitting twenty home runs in a season doesn't yet look within his grasp although he very well (hopefully) has his best years in front of him. Brantley's a very nice player who is pretty much a singles hitter who can get on base and someone who is going to play for a long time at the Major League level. He doesn't really do anything poorly besides hit for power but that could still come.
My peak three year projection, and by that I mean I'd be flat out blown away if he reached this, of his home run totals would be 40 in three seasons. That would be a crazy jump for him to make and I find that hard to see as he's in the midst of such a down power year this year and never had power in the years he wasn't "down".
I will offer a couple of things that are more likely than seeing Michael Brantley reach 20 homers though:
1. Eric Wedge becoming the lead writer at BP and FanGraphs
2. Nick Swisher getting his name changed to "Bro" on his jersey
And here are some things that are less likely than Brantley hitting 20:
1. Lou Marson hitting one home run
3. The Marlins beating the Indians in attendance
Does Michael Brantley have some double digit (or 20+) home run seasons in his future?