From the dawn of baseball they came; moving silently down through the decades, living many secret lives, struggling to reach The Show; when the few who remain will battle for the last roster spot. No one has ever known they were among you… until now.
He is Greg of the clan Allen. He was born in 1993 in the village of San Diego, California on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
He is Delino of the clan DeShields. He was born in 1992 in the village of Easton, Maryland on the shores of the Tred Avon River.
He is Bradley of the clan Zimmer. He was born in 1992 in the village of La Jolla, California on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Each enters the 2020 Cleveland Indians Spring Training as a LIMITED-BAT OUTFIELD SPEEDSTER. There can be only one–
on the Opening Day, 26-man roster– as opportunities for competitive advantage from surplus defense and speed on the basepaths can be fulfilled by one bench player. Given all three are quite capable of providing value in both of those areas, the differentiating factor is likely to come to who convinces the Tribe they don’t have the manners of a goat and smell like a dung heap at the plate.1
Note: The statistics depicted in the tables below are from the 2019 season for Greg Allen and Delino DeShields, while from the 2018 season for Bradley Zimmer due to his injury last year. Projected numbers are for the upcoming 2020 season.
Allen is the free-est swinger of the trio as his strikeout and walk rates are by far the lowest with the high swing rates inside and outside the strike zone. Thus, he is the most dependent upon batting average on balls in play (BABiP). With above-average contact rates, Allen gives himself a chance there though that style is more prone to variability.
DeShields is the most patient hitter with a strong walk and contact rates. He works counts as Deshields averaged 4.09 pitches per plate appearance.2 That patience does also include watching strikes at a higher rate than MLB average, which combined with working the counts has led to some strikeouts– though at a rate only minimally above the MLB average.
Zimmer makes contact the least– both on pitches in the strike zone and outside it. In fact, Luke Voit was the qualified hitter with the worst contact rate on balls outside the strike zone… and he was seven points better than Zimmer in 2018 at 37%. Zimmer was also well below the MLB average in 2017 (45%) and in limited at-bats in 2019 (30%). His contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone has also been consistently below average, which is why he appeared to be trying a more compact swing last season. It did not alleviate the issue though it was a small sample size and he has now had another offseason to get comfortable.
Allen, at first, appears to be a slap hitter dependent upon his speed to get on base. His exit velocities are not above 90 miles per hour against any type of pitch, and his only sustained line drive/flyball launch angles are up in the zone. However, when his splits are analyzed, it is seen the overall numbers are drug down by absolute wretchedness when batting right-handed. Keeping Allen on the fat side of a platoon turns him into a league average (or slightly above) hitter as his exit velocities and launch angles jump by double-digits in most zones. For simplicity here, Allen slashed .248/.322/.404 when batting left-handed and .186/.208/.214 when batting right-handed.
DeShields generates the worst velocity on his batted balls though does so with more lift, thus his relative decreased ground ball rate. He does not have pronounced splits as Allen, which does have some late-game benefits for a possible last-man off the bench. Diving through his profile though, there is not much upside with his batted-ball profile given the low hard-hit rate– despite 2019 being a season where he made small gains.
Zimmer is the power-hitter of the bunch. His overall exit velocity is near Allen, but there is so much more in his profile as seen by his hard-hit rate and how many times he barrels the ball. Of the 271 balls he has hit in his career, 91 have gone for over 100 miles per hour. Allen has hit 80 in 423 batted balls; DeShields a meager 33 in 1282. For a hitter who relies on his power, Zimmer does not hit the ball in the air enough nor does he use his pull-side– so, there might be more to unlock with adjustments. A big reason he is a former first-round pick and was ranked the No. 23 prospect in all of baseball at one point is this speed with power potential.
Each of these hitters are quite different in their profiles. There is a left-handed batter, right-handed batter, and switch hitter. One is a power hitter with poor contact rates, another a consistent and patient hitter with poor power numbers, and the last needs to be limited in a platoon. Each has strengths. Each has weaknesses. However, projection models cut through the differences and see three players who all should produce quite similar value with projected OPS of .672 (Allen), .653 (DeShields), and .684 (Zimmer).
With heart, faith, and a wooden bat one of these players will manage to not lose their head… errr, roster spot. Can the Indians afford to bet on the potential of the once super-prospect Zimmer? With a lineup that is right-handed-heavy,3 is there an opportunity to have Allen focus on the left-handed batter’s box? Will the Tribe decide that experience and consistency is important by putting DeShields on the bench?
Or will Daniel Johnson rise up to best them all?