Michael Brantley is having a breakout season for the Indians, having already established a new career high with 11 home runs, and with a batting line of .323/.391/.519, which represents easily the best figure of his career in all three metrics. He has a wRC+* of 160, which ranks 5th among qualified hitters in the American League. He's also 9 for 9 on stolen bases and is 2.6 base running runs above average at FanGraphs, putting him 8th in the AL.
*wRC+ takes a player's hitting and adjusts for era and park factors, and scales things so that 100 is league average, and every point above or below 100 is 1% better or worse than average.
In short, Brantley has been one of the top players in the league so far.
When the first AL All-Star voting totals were released a couple weeks ago, Brantley was nowhere to be found among the top 15 outfielders. Last week he showed at in 9th place though, and this week he's up to 7th, with nearly one million votes. This can't be credited to Tribe fans getting out the vote at Progressive Field. For one thing, there aren't that many fans at Progressive Field; for another, the Indians were on the road all of last week, so there weren't any fans at Progressive Field. Brantley' climb seems to be the result of fans around baseball finally recognizing what a fine season he's having.
Brantley could rise a bit farther, but there's no chance he's going to reach the top three, because even 3rd place Melky Cabrera is ~500,000 votes ahead of him, and that's too wide a margin to make up. It's a shame Brantley won't overtake him, because starting in the All-Star game is exactly what Brantley deserves at this point.
Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, so one of the three outfield spots should belong to him (and it does, as he's second among all AL players with ~2.5 million votes).
There are four solid candidates for the other two spots:
- Jose Bautista (TOR) - .312/.432/.540, 170 wRC+, 15 HR, 3 SB
- Michael Brantley (CLE) - .323/.391/.519, 160 wRC+, 11 HR, 9 SB
- Alex Gordon (KC) - .288/.368/.458, 131 wRC+, 8 HR, 5 SB
Gordon's hitting pales compared to Bautista and Brantley's, but he's one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, a factor that shrinks (and some would say, overcomes) the offensive difference between them. Defensive metrics are not as accurate as offensive ones though, and I have a hard time with the idea that Brantley is below replacement level out there. I can accept that his range isn't great, but don't believe his arm should rate as poorly as it does, given that he's second in the league with 8 outfield assists already.
I don't want to throw defense out of the equation, but I tend to downplay the defensive metrics a bit when making these sorts of comparisons. I think Brantley is an average defensive left fielder, and while that's far short of what Gordon does, I don't think Gordon's edge there makes up the difference between the two of them on offense (a difference I am much more confident in, given the nature of measuring offense as compared to defense). For the same reasons, I'd put Bautista a bit ahead of Gordon too.
Gordon wouldn't be a bad choice at all (unlike the guy who's actually going to start, Melky Cabrera, who's vote total is a testament to the voting powers of Blue Jays fans and perhaps also to a growing indifference about PED stuff), and I wouldn't complain if he were the starting left fielder, but my outfield would be Trout, Bautista, and Brantley.