Through 53 big league plate appearances, Cleveland Indians top prospect Bradley Zimmer has been better than advertised. The lanky outfielder with the shaved yet still unkempt facial hair has provided a significant upgrade over the Indians other options in center field.
Indeed, Zimmer’s success has been both a boon and troublesome. The 24-year-old has brought offensive life and a large defensive upgrade in center field stabilizing a middling position. On the other hand, the Indians recalled Zimmer before they would have liked and now sending him down to avoid super-two thresholds would be a tough sell unless the bottom falls out.
Zimmer has looked like an everyday player since making his Major League debut, a notion which Let’s Go Tribe’s Matt Lyons discussed with precision.
Even if we get the worst of Zimmer against left-handed pitchers, he will draw walks and play better defense than either of Jackson or Almonte. And with Zimmer’s speed, taking a free base as opposed to a double here and there is not the end of the world. He’s going to strike out a lot, sure, but so are a lot of players in baseball nowadays. Zimmer is the more talented player, he plays better defense no matter the handedness of the opposing pitcher, and his goatee is fabulous.
While Zimmer’s goatee is anything but fabulous, the Indians are simply better with Zimmer in the game right now. With 53 plate appearances, an unbelievably small sample it is time to see how Zimmer’s big league start compares to reasonable expectations of his performance based on minor league track record.
Before the season began, when Jeff Nomina still cared about baseball we discussed Zimmer in detail. In this I discussed Zimmer’s offensive profile which is in many ways lofty for his position and in one way limited thanks to strikeouts.
I wrote about Zimmer in the pre-season, question was whether tools would outshine contact issues, so far? Yes. pic.twitter.com/bnUDnfQEJp
— Mike Hattery (@snarkyhatman) June 5, 2017
The large question for Zimmer entering the big leagues was whether his above average power, walk rate, and base running value would be so loud as to quiet the limitations of his strikeout rate. To this point his strikeout rate has been silenced by big time power production. See the below home run for visual confirmation.
The next question is, what about Bradley Zimmer is real?
One of the really positive pieces to Zimmer’s start at the big league level is that excluding ISO/SLG there are no major outliers which scream regression. As long as Zimmer’s strikeout remains at 30 percent or better he can manage to carry the profile with other tools and so far that has happened. Perhaps most interesting with regard to Zimmer is that he runs a high strikeout rate because of swing and miss, not chasing pitches out of the zone. Zimmer has chased only 18 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.
For context, if he qualified in terms of plate appearances, this would be fifth best in baseball. Of course, this will likely a decline a bit but he does a phenomenal job just swinging at strikes. The K-rate is unlikely to modulate above 30 percent as once feared.
While the BABIP is high, Zimmer has two things that tend to raises BABIP: Speed (his legs appear to need but five steps from station to station) and contact authority.
First, in regard to his speed:
Further, minor league BABIP is a really good proxy for contact quality and BABIP skills, all these parts point to sustainability. Likely not at .357 but Zimmer should carry a .315+ BABIP. Of course, his pull tendencies are a piece to watch out for as the shift saps pull hitters BABIP, but so far Zimmer has used the whole field. Contact dispersal will likely regress shaving some BABIP but still remaining above average there.
To be blunt: Zimmer has been absolutely shredding baseballs. Among players with at least 30 batted ball events, Zimmer is 17th in barrels per batted ball event.
Look at some of the names on this list. Former MVPs. Home run leaders. All-Stars. Mike Napoli. Zimmer is blistering the baseball in a small sample, and based on track record there is no reason to believe that he will not have significantly above average contact quality.
Time to address the ISO spike/slugging improvement. It is true that a part of it is certainly noise that will be filtered out as the sample grows. However, can a he run an elite .220 ISO? Probably.
Zimmer has fantastic contact authority as demonstrated above and wielding minor league data. Further, hitting at Progressive Field is incredibly favorable for left-handed hitters. Baseball Reference’s park factor by batter handedness has Progressive Field as the most favorable park for left handed hitters in all of baseball. This after being second to only Coors in 2016 for left handed batters. Though Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Michael Brantley have all made power adjustments in their careers, Progressive Field has been a strong aide to these changes. In this sense, while Columbus’ home park is favorable, Zimmer may be playing half of his game in the most favorable hitting environment of his career which certainly will strengthen his power production.
All of this analysis comes with a giant caveat of the sample size. However, both surface level analysis and underlying data suggests that Bradley Zimmer’s game transitions beautifully to the big league level.