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There’s still hope for Greg Allen

Whatever it might be, the speedy young outfielder could be a valuable player for the Indians

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Allen is going to have some kind of role with the Indians in 2019. If only because of a lack of talent and some kind of attrition, the young outfielder is going to get a good chance at playing time throughout the year. It’s not to discount his talent, but the best quality of the Indians outfield as a whole is assorted levels of unrealized potential. He probably won’t be the leadoff hitter, as one question asker of the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes suggested, but fourth outfielder has a good ring to it. We only got a taste of Allen in 2018, so it’s hard to judge just what kind of player he really is.

Even with that taste, though, Allen’s 2018 was really a tale of two seasons. They actually divide pretty nicely around the All-Star Break, as he appeared in 40 games beforehand with 139 plate appearances, and 45 games with 128 PA’s afterward. And the difference was pretty stark:

Greg Allen 2018 Splits

Pre-Break 139 .533 39.0 24.0 4.0 .272
Post-Break 126 .783 114.0 15.6 5.7 .369

He went from Chris Davis 2018 to Edwin Encarnacion 2018, a titanic leap to say the least. There are holes to poke here, because he’s still not a great hitter with a great approach. Still, it’s heartening to see the walk rate elevate as the strikeout rate plummeted. The most glaring one is that BABIP.

We harp on it all the time — a low BABIP comparative to league average is lack of luck, a high one means we all expect regression. In 2018 the league average was .296, so whatever Allen was in the first half had to be understood to be a bit unlucky. But that .369 is more troubling if anything, punching a big hole in the solid performance he posted in the latter half of the season.

The big caveat on that, the thing that makes me feel a bit better about how he’ll perform in the majors, is actually a bit counter-intuitive. Allen lifted his ground ball rate to 50 percent in the second half while dropping his fly ball rate from 33 to 24 percent. This is a trend we usually hope to be doing the opposite.

Modern hitting data has generally proven that ground balls are a bad thing because infielders exist, and with shifting there’s a lot fewer seeing eye singles. It’s not to say that having a 50+ percent grounder rate is a mark of doom. Christian Yelich won an MVP and beat the hell out of the ball last year with a 51.8 percent grounder rate. His teammate Lorenzo Cain was likewise excellent and probably the best free agent signing of last winter with a 54.6 percent grounder rate.

This can be a problem if you have a narrow spread of batted balls. That’s not Allen, though, and hasn’t been since he was in the minors. And over his last two years in the majors he’s maintained that approach:

For someone who can’t get it out of the park with any real consistency, this is what Allen needs. More important is avoiding defensive shifts by spraying specifically ground balls around the diamond as much as possible. Which he does. Very well:

For a ground ball spray chart this is basically ideal. There’s simply no hot zone that defenses are able to pile towards to rob hits from Allen. Between that and his speed, he’s primed for an above average BABIP going forward.

What’s interesting about Allen’s minor league career is how he’s been such a good on-base guy prior to getting to Celveland, but how that kind of fell by the wayside to this point. Across the levels he held a 264/200 strikeout to walk ratio, which you’d think would represent itself better in the Majors. He did better in the second half, but 5.7 percent is hardly ideal. He was between 10 and 13 percent throughout his minor league career, and while it’s not likely to get that high when he’s facing the best pitching on the planet, there’s some kind of hope to be had.

He’ll likely never be a great lead-off hitter. It’s not impossible, but it’s not something you can be sure will happen. Having said that, all his scouting reports suggest a guy who exceeds expectations and makes the most of all his gifts. He’s going to have ebbs and flows of offense if he does maintain this batted ball profile as the vagaries of grounder fate wax and wane. But it’s not wrong to think he’ll have a positive impact, especially if he continues to work on his walk rate and get it closer to his minors numbers. That’s where he can become a vital player for the Indians. He’ll get chances this year, that’s for sure.