The through-line of the Astros’ run at the top of baseball is organic growth and front office finesse. Whether drafting smart with Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman or trading deftly for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, they’ve used the resources they gathered during the rebuild to forge a title contender. Then there's Michael Brantley. As the third-highest paid Astro this year and really their first big free agent pickup in this run, Brantley represents a real divergence from the path Jeff Luhnow laid out. Not that it was a bad idea at all. In fact, Brantley has been about as perfect for the Astros as a free agent— or even any addition— could be.
When a team sees its window so obviously wide open, the short-term moves are designed to make it a blown out greenhouse of an opportunity. That’s what the Grienke or Sanchez deals were, and that’s what signing Brantley was. They staked their claim and he’s responded in kind. For as stacked a team as they are, and with more well-known stars who already own rings, it’s amazing where he stands in their offensive rankings:
Michael Brantley’s Astros offensive rankings
In counting stats, he’s 4th on the team in home runs with 16 and leads the team in doubles with 28, because that’s who Michael Brantley is. For a team that is supposed to be on the cutting edge of baseball, you’d think he wouldn’t fit in. He’s not a launch angle guy, he’s not a “pull the ball over the fence all day” type of hitter. However, as was likely written before the season and is so obvious now, the front office method of “get great hitters” seems to be a path to winning that never gets old.
That strikeout-to-walk ratio of Brantley’s is very good— 11th best in baseball along with second on the Astros— but it doesn’t tell the same story as, say, Alex Bregman’s top ranked 1.30. Brantley doesn’t really walk that much. He never has. He ranks 79th in the game. It’s things like that which make him a slightly curious outlier for the Astros. Again, he’s simply a good hitter.
We are so enamored of players like Willains Astudillo and his success at the plate despite a lack of walking— and striking out— and call Jeff McNeil and his 5.1 percent walk rate a total throwback, but that’s been Brantley for 10 years. He’s a metronome, just knocking liners and groundballs and making contact 90 percent of the time, all the time. It’s what makes him so much fun to watch. With all the athletes on the Astros, his spray-it-around hitting style puts pressure on the defense and has made for a very dynamic team. Between him and Altuve, they’re a perfect pair to juice up a homer-happy team.
So on a team stacked with power and free passes, with all the most cutting edge technology, it’s neat that their big free agent signing is this guy who would have fit in perfectly in 1965. It’s even nicer that he’s been so central, and in fact one of the best Astros on the field so far. Maybe that’s the Astros’ recipe for success— have a guy who goes against the current grain of baseball lead them to a title. It worked once with Jose Altuve and his MVP, now they’ve added Brantley to double down on that, and double their ring total. That’s strong analytics. Perfection is hard to come by— outside of center field in Anaheim, at any rate— but for the Astros it doesn’t get more picturesque than Michael Brantley this year.
Merritt Rohlfing writes for Let’s Go Tribe and Beyond the Box Score mostly, with this piece an amalgamation of those loves. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillLunch.