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Greg Allen could be an October difference-maker

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Whether or not the Donaldson trade costs him playing time, Allen is a postseason asset.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The domino effect of the Josh Donaldson trade has been discussed in great detail here at Let’s Go Tribe, but one aspect of that addition that deserves a deeper look is where Greg Allen fits.

With Donaldson’s arrival shifting Jose Ramirez to second and Jason Kipnis to center, Allen appears to be on the short end of the transaction. However, his loss could be the team’s gain, because in the playoffs there’s always a place for a dude who can just mess things up on the basepaths.

Teams of all stripes, sabermetrically inclined or Luddite, love the speed sub. Recent postseason teams have featured speed subs such as Cameron Maybin for the 2017 Astros, Michael A. Taylor for the 2016 Nationals, and Terrance Gore for the 2015 Royals. Of course, the Cubs went out on August 15 and paid the Royals some cash to acquire Gore for their postseason roster — if only because they couldn’t get Allen.

As strictly a speedy pinch running option, Gore is the best option in all of baseball. He fails to crack any sprint speed leaderboards at Baseball Savant (for lack of opportunities), but he was recently tracked in-game hitting greater than the elite benchmark of 30 ft/s.

Gore is 25/29 in his career stealing bases (just better than Allen’s 16/19), but you have to consider that Gore has just 16 plate appearances to get the full picture of what he does for a team. Gore’s only job is to steal bases. He’s put into games simply because his team wants to disrupt the opposition with his speed. And he’s good at that one, individual thing. Before his trade, Patrick Brennan of Beyond the Box Score examined Gore’s impact on the game and concluded that no batter with a minimum of 14 plate appearances since 2014 has accumulated more WPA than Gore.

As a complete player, however, Allen is a much better option than Gore. Allen got his first taste of the majors last year, whereas Gore’s big league career dates back to 2014. In that time Allen has garnered nearly 19 times more plate appearances (16 vs. 298), and although his .237 career batting average is not superlative, it’s much better than Gore’s .077 (he got his first hit last week against Max Scherzer, naturally). Likewise, Gore has made a spectacular play or two in the outfield thanks to his speed, but he couldn’t even be counted on as a starting outfielder in the minor leagues. Allen may not be rated a superlative defender at the big league level (not yet, at least), but his ultimate zone rating per 150 chances (-12.1) rate is more than two times greater than Gore’s (-25.8) and he is firmly middle of the pack by Statcast’s Outs Above Average (-1, 170/247). Allen has his moments, too.

Last year, those with even an average memory will recall, young Mr. Allen’s September call-up was extended into October as Cleveland’s speed guy. However, it was a brief stint, just two appearances in the ALDS against the Yankees — as a defensive sub in the ninth inning of game one, a 4-0 Tribe win, and as a pinch runner in game three, a 1-0 loss, in which he had little impact thanks to consecutive strikeouts by Yan Gomes and Gio Urshela. This season, Allen can and should be used more extensively, both for managerial reasons and, hopefully, because more games will be played.

Allen has been a streaky hitter this year, batting .360/.407/.440 from August 1 to 24 but just .146/.239/.220 from August 24 to September 8. All season Allen has been fairly awful against lefties (.175/.175/.175, -16 wRC+); in the second half of the season, however, Allen is crushing righties to the tune of .325/.373/.403 with 110 wRC+. That said, Kipnis’s splits also favor righties, and while you could argue his line against lefties overall (.230/.301/.361, 78 wRC+) is a kind of half-logic in favor of a platoon, it would not be a strong argument. These dichotomies among Allen’s game as well as Kipnis’s general level of play this year leave plenty of room for doubt about how the Indians should deploy their center fielders in the playoffs.

If he comes in with a cold bat or the Indians just feel more comfortable with Kipnis starting in center, however, Allen as the team’s late inning running specialist still makes sense. His sprint speed, 29.0 ft/s, is third on the team this year, trailing only injured Bradley Zimmer (29.4) and Rajai Davis (29.2), whose place on the playoff roster is questionable at best. As the speed sub, Allen can disrupt opposing pitchers and wreak havoc on the bases as well as anyone, Gore included.

The Indians carry a number of below-average runners on the roster (Yonder Alonso, Michael Brantley, Melky Cabrera, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, Jason Kipnis, and Roberto Perez) so having the flexibility to insert Allen as a runner and keep him in the outfield (2 games in left, 64 games in center, 13 games in right this season) and move Kipnis or Ramírez around the infield could make Terry Francona’s lineup chess moves more difficult to counter. And that’s the kind of advantage that goes a long way in October.