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Brantley's versatile season deserves MVP consideration

Indians outfielder provided steady presence, consistent production
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley did not spend much time poring over his statistics last season. The Indians outfielder was focused on doing everything in his power to help keep Cleveland afloat in the playoff chase as long as possible.

Last week, though, Brantley could not help looking at his numbers. They were displayed on his television when he was named one of the final three candidates for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Brantley turned to his dad, former Major Leaguer Mickey Brantley, and smiled.

CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley did not spend much time poring over his statistics last season. The Indians outfielder was focused on doing everything in his power to help keep Cleveland afloat in the playoff chase as long as possible.

Last week, though, Brantley could not help looking at his numbers. They were displayed on his television when he was named one of the final three candidates for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Brantley turned to his dad, former Major Leaguer Mickey Brantley, and smiled.

"I said, 'Hey, Pops. I had a pretty good season, huh?'" Brantley recalled. "He just laughed at me. He said, 'Son, you had a great season.'"

In most years, Brantley's campaign might be a clear-cut favorite to earn MVP honors. This past season, however, Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez -- the other two finalists for the annual award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- also had dynamic seasons for their respective clubs.

Video: Michael Brantley -- MVP?

The Most Valuable Player Awards will be announced on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network, with additional coverage on MLB.com. The general belief is that Trout, who was the runner-up for the AL MVP Award following the 2012 and '13 seasons, will finally take home the award for his work with the 98-win Angels this year. That does not mean Brantley's case for winning the award is not strong.

"He's a complete player," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said at the end of the season. "And we think he's deserving of MVP consideration with the year he had. He was a huge part of our success and we think one of the best players in the American League."

The 27-year-old Brantley was not known as much of a power hitter or run producer in past seasons, but the outfielder stepped up in a big way this year for Cleveland. As the Indians dealt with injuries and inconsistencies with other players, Brantley provided a steady bat in the lineup, leadership in the clubhouse and was named to his first All-Star team along the way.

In the batter's box, Brantley compiled one of the most offensively versatile seasons in baseball history.

Brantley became the first player in Indians history to end a season with at least 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases, 45 doubles and 200 hits. It marked only the ninth time in Major League history that a player hit those marks in one year. The others on that short list include Jacoby Ellsbury (2011), Hanley Ramirez ('07), Alfonso Soriano ('02), Craig Biggio (1998), Larry Walker ('97), Ellis Burks ('96), Vada Pinson ('59) and Chuck Klein ('32).

Brantley joined Ellsbury (2011), Walker (1997), Burks ('96), Klein ('32) and Babe Herman ('29) as the only players in baseball history to have at least a .320 average, 20 homers, 20 steals, 40 doubles, 90 RBIs and 200 hits in one season.

Video: Finalists revealed for 2014 AL MVP Award

"He had an amazing year," said Indians catcher Yan Gomes, who joined Brantley as a Silver Slugger Award winner this year. "I credit him a lot for me having the year I had. Seeing him in front of me, he kind of set the tone for the lineup. That helped me out a lot."

In 151 games for the Indians, Brantley posted a .327/.385/.506 slash line to go along with 20 homers, 45 doubles, 94 runs, 97 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He ended with exactly 200 hits -- the first Cleveland player to hit that mark since Kenny Lofton in 1996 -- and had nearly as many walks (52) as strikeouts (56).

"There's so few moving parts in his swing," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "that he has the ability, because of his demeanor and his work ethic and then just his swing, that he can repeat it so often. He gives himself a chance every at-bat."

All of that said, it is hard to deny what Trout did for the AL West-champion Angels.

Over 157 games, Trout hit .287/.377/.561 with 36 homers, 39 doubles, 111 RBIs and 115 runs. The outfielder led the AL in WAR (7.9), runs scored, total bases (338), runs created (137) and extra-base hits (84).

For the AL Central-champion Tigers, Martinez pieced together an incredible offensive season as the team's designated hitter. He hit .335/.409/.565 with 32 homers, 33 doubles, 87 runs and 103 RBIs, while drawing more walks (70) than strikeouts (42).

Brantley did have an edge over the other two candidates in terms of value to his team's lineup. Brantley's offensive WAR rating (7.2) accounted for 30.4-percent of Cleveland's overall offensive WAR. Trout came next at 27.9 percent, followed by Martinez at 20.2 percent.

As strong as his season was for the Tribe, Brantley would tell you that he is hardly satisfied.

"I've never been that player that is really stat-driven," Brantley said. "I care about wins and losses, and I care about my teammates. That's what comes first and foremost for me. My goal, just like every other year, as soon as I step into Spring Training, is to get to the postseason and win the World Series. That's a group effort, and we all know that in the locker room. That's No. 1 on my list."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley