In my younger days there are many beliefs I held that now seem foolish. Some, like “Habits are bad learned behaviors while Hobbits are good learned behaviors” are forgivable for coming at such a young age (maybe). Other, more foolish beliefs are so embarrassing that regardless of the timeline the belief-holder should wear their shame like an albatross.
Dear reader, I once thought that Greg Allen might become Kenny Lofton Lite.
This isn’t to suggest that Greg Allen is not a valuable member of the Cleveland Indians franchise, just that his career WAR will be closer to 7.0 than 70. It isn’t to say that Greg Allen is a bad baseball player, but more that I am a bad evaluator of talent; one who is too prone to project what I want to see over what there is to see in a young player.
The tools all seemed to be there: speed, defensive instincts, a fine arm, baserunning skills, and enough contact potential to play above-average at center field. He even posted an OBP greater than .400 in 2016 between High-A and Double-A. He’s shown all of these at the same time in the majors on occasion. For example, any time the Indians play the Red Sox.
These might very well all be chalked up to hot streaks. The reality is that Greg Allen is a career .243/.299/.345 hitter across three seasons and 586 PAs. His defense in that sample size grades out as average to somewhat above-average given his opportunities.
Those two skillsets, when combined, do not a starting center fielder make.
It might add up to a perfectly serviceable journeyman fourth outfielder.
Allen hit .229/.290/.346 while playing all three OF positions across 256 PAs. Fangraphs rated him as just above replacement level: 0.1. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Reference also evaluated him as worth between zero and 0.5 wins.
It would help Allen’s case quite a lot if he could figure out how to hit left-handed pitching. Forget hitting — just get on base more often. Here are his career splits in the majors:
Vs. RHP: .253/.314/.370
Vs. LHP: .211/.252/.266
One of these represents a reasonable option for a Major League lineup card given the speed and defensive abilities that come with it. The other is atrocious.
For reference, Michael Martinez hit .194/.243/.261 for his career. If the Mendoza Line represents the lack of offensive production you can withstand from an elite defender, then maybe we need to start using the Martinez Line as a measure of when a player is so bad at the plate that their usage becomes indefensible in any circumstance. Greg Allen against left-handed pitching is awfully close.
I suppose there is a world in which he and Jordan Luplow make up part of an odd three-man corner outfield platoon depending on the handedness and it all ends up working out. This is nowhere near as fun as the world in which Greg Allen becomes a career .299 hitter who can rob home runs with a single bound.
So it goes. Even if Allen takes a huge step forward in the next couple of season — he will be 27 next year — I will acknowledge that I was irrationally exuberant in regards to his future. It turns out there is a very good reason why not many athletic switch-hitting speedsters end up being borderline Hall-of-Famers: baseball is really hard, you guys.