Michael Brantley: The New Alex Gordon?

Kevork Djansezian

Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley is well on his way to setting career highs in home runs, runs, RBIs and steals, so why is no one noticing?

If there's one player I can't shake, it's Alex Gordon. No, it's not because we share the same first and totally awesome name; it's because we've experienced -- together, in totally separate and distant circumstances -- the same ups and downs. Since debuting in 2007, I've owned Gordon in some way, shape or form. The patience finally paid off, in 2011, when Gordon slashed .303/.376/.502 with 23 home runs and 17 steals. Then, in 2012, Gordon hit a respectable .294/.368/.455, but added only 14 home runs and 10 steals.

This season, in 95 games, the Royals outfielder is batting .274/.348/.406 with nine homers and six thefts. With declining numbers for the third straight season, I threw aside our long history and decided to part ways with Gordon via trade. Or so I thought. My eventual replacement was Michael Brantley, who I avoided adding all season long because of the entire "meh-ness" of the package. But, to my surprise, Brantley's "meh-ness" has been a little better than Gordon's "meh-ness" since making the switch. He has been, in a sense, Gordon without the name.

In a vacuum, yes, I prefer Gordon, but Brantley -- still available in 58% of Yahoo! leagues -- has been the better fantasy play this season. Through 96 games, the Indians outfielder is batting .277/.332/.389 with seven home runs, 46 runs, 51 RBIs and 10 steals. Brantley's edge in batting average and steals gives him the upper hand over Gordon, and -- prior to Friday's games -- it's interesting to see Brantley sandwiched between two former MVP candidates, Justin Upton and Matt Holliday, in the in-season outfielder rankings.

Brantley has almost zero power. His .111 ISO ranks 48th out of 61 qualified outfielders. Gordon, meanwhile, isn't much better at .132. But, this season, Progressive Field has played homer friendly, while Kaufmann Stadium has played neutral. Brantley has already tied his career high with seven long balls, with six of them coming at home, while Gordon has hit five of nine away from Kansas City. In addition, five of Brantley's seven homers have come in the last two months, while Gordon hit six in the first two months.

LD%

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

April

15.8%

59.2%

25.0%

5.3%

May

19.6%

56.5%

23.9%

4.5%

June

25.3%

38.6%

36.1%

10.0%

July

27.1%

39.0%

33.9%

10.0%

It's easy to see why Brantley has discovered a power stroke since the calendar flipped to June and July. Since July 1st, only eight outfielders have a higher line drive percentage than Brantley's 27.1%, while his ground ball rate has dropped nearly 20 percentage points from April. He's also hitting the ball in the air at the league average rate (34.4%) after toiling in the mid-20% range in April and May. Whatever has caused the dramatic shift in Brantley's batted ball profile has turned him into more than just a fringe fantasy outfielder, but his ownership is 32% worse than his AL Central outfielder peer, Gordon.

Whereas Gordon leads off for a Royals team that's scored the 25th most runs (389), Brantley hits in the middle of a Cleveland lineup that's scored the fifth most runs (439) and has the sixth best on-base percentage (.330) in baseball. In the case of run production for the rest of the season, I lean towards Brantley and the Cleveland offense. As far as steals go, Brantley has been a consistent source of double-digit steals since his major league debut, averaging 11 from 2010-2012, with 13 being his high mark. And it already appears likely that he will pass that number with 10 steals in 12 attempts.

I'm not saying Michael Brantley is Alex Gordon. Brantley won't sniff 23 home runs, and he won't challenge 100 runs or 90 RBIs like Gordon has already done. Brantley's power is likely to max out at 15, and he's, at best, a 75 runs/75 RBIs candidate this season. But side by side, Brantley and Gordon look like they're on the path to comparable numbers in 2013, so maybe we should start treating them the same.

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Alex Kantecki is a fantasy baseball writer for Fake Teams. He also writes the "Closer Chronicle" for Vigilante Baseball every Thursday, ranking and tiering all 30 MLB closers. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @rotodealer.

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