Detroit Tigers Free Agent Review: Michael Brantley

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A veteran bat in Michael Brantley could help the Detroit Tigers in 2021.

A new era for the Detroit Tigers started a couple of days ago with the hiring of AJ Hinch as the new manager just in time for the start of free agency. Throughout the next few months, we will be covering any moves the Tigers make and hopefully provide some different insights and opinions on what could help Detroit in the off-season.

The 2020 off-season will be like no other from an economical standpoint. The tension between players and owners before the season started will continue as MLB has stated they have losses of $3 billion dollars in 2020. While based on the history of the MLB not exactly being forthcoming about exact numbers they have lost, we really will never know how much they have lost for sure and that does not exactly bode well for free agency.

Teams may not be able to spend as they once have. Brad Hand, who Cleveland put on waivers to avoid paying him a buyout, went unclaimed. They also could not find a trade partner for the lefty either.

How does that pertain to the Detroit Tigers? Based on the tweet Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, Detroit is willing to spend, but in time.

We hope that is the case but for 2021, Detroit needs to put a few band-aids out there to stay competitive. This is where Michael Brantley fits in.

Michael Brantley’s numbers

Brantley, who was an All-Star under Hinch in 2019, is as steady as they come in terms of production. For his career, he has walked at a 7.9% clip with a K rate of 10.8%. How good was his plate discipline in 2020? 88% in K rate and 93 in whiff%. 

He put up a career-best 4.8 bWAR season in 2019 and in a shortened season, he put up a 1.5 bWAR with a slash line of .300/.364/.476. As far as his splits against righties and lefties, he hits right-handers at a slightly higher clip at .307 compared to left-handers at .275.

Another stat that pops out is no matter where Brantley is in the lineup, he can hit. Batting 3rd, he has a career slash line of .316/.376/.485 with 52 career home runs. In terms of Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), he was among the top 10 among left-fielders in 2020 with a 134.

The best line of them all is the damage he has done at Comerica Park. In 276 plate appearances spanning 64 games, he has batted .310/.366/.444. The only other place Brantley has hit better at was at Kauffman Stadium.

Why sign Brantley?

He is a lefty bat who turns 34 in May of 2021 and he could be a one-year solution until they see what is going to happen with Christin Stewart and the progress of 2020 draft pick Daniel Cabrera, who the Tigers are pretty high on.

Granted, Stewart could be what he is currently, which is an outfielder with power but can’t string together consistent at-bats but with players redoing the swings from the ground up, who knows what Stewart will end up in 2021 but I don’t believe Detroit is going to write him off just yet.

Michael Brantley is a solid defender and could also DH if necessary.  As the stats indicated above, it would be an upgrade to the current situation in left field for Detroit.

Why not sign Brantley?

I mentioned his age above and it means players do start to decline. His strikeout rate jumped in 2020 to 15.9% and granted, it was a 60 game season in which he only played 46 games,  still, does pop out a bit.

He had a quad injury that kept out of action out of a few games this season and while he has played over 140 games in his two seasons in Houston, you can’t help but worry about nagging injuries, which hurt him for two seasons in Cleveland. His XBA was down from his previous three seasons at .262. Again, could be the number of games played but it was down from .301 in 2019.

Conclusion: One year deal and get it done

A veteran bat to help out the likes of JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes would help the Tigers’ outfield. I rather not see a rotation of 4A outfielders again and in the time we saw Travis Demeritte come up and play, he failed to make an impression.

The uncertainly that exists right now in the minor leagues and how it will be structured will certainly play a factor but Detroit really does not have a solution there unless Stewart gets another opportunity.

I would like to see a two-year deal because of the uncertainly of left field which since 2010, has seen two players in Andy Dirks in 2012 and 2013 and Justin Upton in 2016 and 2017 start there for at least 75 games.  However, economic unknowns will play a factor in signing free agents but Michael Brantley should be on top of the Tigers’ list.

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