Brantley's bat has Astros buzzing ahead of '19

Inked in December, veteran brings left-handed presence to lineup

February 9th, 2019

HOUSTON -- The signing of veteran outfielder by the Astros came a week after the Winter Meetings and only a few days before Christmas, meaning it didn't exactly garner much attention on national, or even local, news cycles.
Maybe that's because Brantley wasn't or -- two generational players who are still dominating the headlines as they search for work only days before pitchers and catchers report. Or perhaps it's because Brantley played in only 101 games in 2016-17 because of injury, robbing baseball fans from appreciating his impact.
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For the Astros, Brantley was exactly the player they needed at exactly the right price -- two years and $32 million -- and the kind of addition that should fire up the fanbase. The club signed the former All-Star to give it a left-handed bat to plug into the middle of a talented and right-handed-heavy lineup that includes , , , and .
"I'm certainly happy to have him," Springer said. "He's an extremely professional hitter and extremely professional player. Seeing him on the other side for a few years and being a pest and being the guy who's always hurt us, I'm glad he's on our team now."
Brantley enjoyed a bounce back season in 2018 with the Indians. He slashed .309/.364/.468 with 17 homers and 76 RBIs over 143 games, making 134 starts in left field, while serving as the Tribe's DH seven times. He'll start in left field for the Astros and get time at DH, as well.
"I think he brings a complement to the team we have and adds to a lineup that's going to be one of the best and deepest lineups in baseball next year," Astros president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It gives us a good chance to repeat as division champions and hopefully do some damage in the postseason."
Brantley figures to bat fifth behind Springer, Bregman, Altuve and Correa and ahead of Gurriel, giving the Astros one of the most potent top two-thirds of a batting order in the game. He has some power, but his calling card is contact and being a difficult at-bat for opposing pitchers.
The Astros already collectively had the second-lowest strikeout rate in '18, but Brantley is on another level. He swung at 1,008 pitches and missed only 111 times last season, according to Statcast™. His 11 percent whiff rate was the third-lowest in the Majors, just ahead of Bregman, who at 12.9 was seventh-lowest.
Brantley will have to show that he's beyond the injury issues that plagued him for two seasons. He missed most of the Indians' pennant-winning season in 2016, playing in just 11 games because of right shoulder surgery the prior offseason. He missed 72 games in '17, following right ankle surgery.
Signing with Houston gives Brantley a terrific chance to win his first World Series ring.
"Once you miss a few years like I did through injuries, all you want to do is get back with your teammates," Brantley said. "I love this game so much; this game has been great to me and my family. I've always been appreciative of it, but missing out and the fun of being around the guys and traveling and competing every day is what you miss the most. Last year I enjoyed being with my teammates again and getting back into action. I'll miss the guys there [in Cleveland], but I'm looking forward to this new journey."

Meanwhile, Brantley was also one of the game's better fastball hitters last season, hitting .308 while slugging .473. Of the 1,388 fastballs he saw in '18, he swung and missed just 5.2 percent of the time. He was such a difficult out that manager AJ Hinch said the Astros would shift against him and he'd always find the hole regardless.
"We don't go after players just because they have a particular attribute -- we go after the whole player," Luhnow said. "This is a player that we know is going to be able to play the outfield, we know he's going to be a leader in the clubhouse. The left-handed bat definitely helps balance out the lineup a little bit."