Styles make fights, and Michael Brantley and Jose Bautista play the game in *extremely* different ways, making them a perfect Tale of the Tape matchup. If you were choosing between these guys in a vacuum, would you go with the fragile all-around stud in his prime, or the reliable, almost universally despised aging moonshot specialist? It’s not so easy to pick, but I’m here to help, should you need it.
Throw out last season’s 43-plate-appearance cameo and the worst that Brantley, a career .292 hitter, has managed to put up in a full since 2011 is .284, a figure Bautista has topped exactly twice in his long career, and once (2014) by exactly two points. Many of the categories in this matchup are close, but this isn’t one of them, and there’s no sense belaboring the point, except to make dick jokes, of which I currently have none. Advantage: Brantley
Here’s where things get fascinating. Brantley has finished his last two seasons—his age-27 and age-28 season—at .385 and .379, the highest marks of his career, and you’d expect a guy in his prime to be killing. Bautista is a goddamn walks machine, and his 87 last season, his fewest in three seasons, were 27 more than Brantley has ever had in a year. The problem, such as it is, is Bautista’s modest batting average and reliably anemic BABIP, which puts his OBP at around .400 in the good years and around .360 in the down seasons. Last year fell into the latter category. Will he rebound, at age 36, back to the .400 mark? If you think so, he’s your pick here. I think he’ll be good, but not that good. Advantage: Brantley
Two years ago, Bautista put up 114 RBI, a number Brantley has never even approached, but that was then and this is now. (I mean, politically speaking, a month alone seems like a decade, so yeah.) Brantley seems destined for anywhere from the high 70s to the mid 90s, but Bautista could end up anywhere from last year’s nice ol’ 69 to somewhere in the high 90s himself. He’s certainly a good bet to produce more RBIs of himself than Brantley, but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether his boom-or-bust production gives him the edge here, and it probably does. Advantage: Bautista
Counterintuition alert! While one (okay, I) might think Brantley’s speed gives him the advantage here, Bautista’s great on-base skills have led to some gaudy run totals over the last few seasons. He has by and large outperformed Brantley in this category, but I think this is the year it changes, almost entirely because Edwin Encarnacion will be knocking him in instead of his competition. Advantage: Brantley
Please. Advantage: Brantley
Bautista isn’t hurt right the f now, nor did he miss the majority of last season, so despite being dinged up in 2016, I’m gonna take him here. Advantage: Bautista
However you think Joey is going to roll this year, there’s probably no argument that his best days are behind him. The same could be true of Brantley, but, as a guy six years younger than Bautista, there’s a much better chance that if he takes the field, he puts up an MVP-type year, especially on an ascendant Indians team. Advantage: Brantley
It all comes down to health. If Brantley is ready to start the season and play every day, he’s the pick, thanks to skill set, age, and team. If he’s not fit to go, Bautista’s high floor makes him more valuable, but in a league where homers are losing their value, I’ll take the all-around stud over the aging bopper, everything else, save for upside, being equal. Brantley’s potential is just too nice to overlook.
And the winner is… Michael Brantley.