Speed is one of the most exciting tools a baseball player can have. While it doesn’t have a huge impact on a slash line or in fielding percentage, it has a large impact on the value that a player can provide on the baseball field. Even in an age where numbers have refined views on stolen bases and bunts, speed still excites us and can seemingly ignite an offense into action and production while saving runs in the outfield.
Delino Deshields has used his speed, among other things, to make the most of his limited playing time in 2017. Coming into the season after a disappointing 2016 campaign, Delino emphasized that utilizing his legs was going to be a priority and it has seemingly paid off. While splitting time between LF and CF, Deshields has put up a wRC+ right around 100 over 358 PA’s with 28 stolen bases in 35 attempts and seemingly improved defense in both spots in the outfield. Overall he’s been significantly more valuable in his slice of playing time than most MLB outfielders in 2017.
It’s very possible that with his production thus far the Rangers might decide to forgo spending a large amount of cash on a free agent center fielder and instead roll with Deshields full time in 2018. This brings up a few major questions though. Can Delino replicate this production long term? What is the potential value that a profile like Deshields can provide over the course of a full season?
In regards to the first question, the first red flag I saw and the one I stuck on for a long time was Delino’s BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls In Play. BABIP is simply how often guys get hits when they put the ball into play. Depending on how often a player hits grounders, line drives, flyballs, how fast a guy is, or how hard he hits the ball, we can expect his BABIP to be higher or lower.
Single season BABIP can be volatile, but usually even the outlier players stay between .250-.350 over a longer period of time and we should probably expect Deshields’ BABIP to regress towards that. When adjusting his season totals for the inflated BABIP, the picture started to look much more concerning.
Delino was hitting the ball on the ground at a 50% clip while striking out 28% of the time. As a result, Delino was maintaining a high average in large part due to his ground balls finding holes, which isn’t a reliable avenue for long term success. His power numbers were all but non-existent and I expressed multiple times that unless he improved, he was going to crash down to Earth.
Then Delino did something that young talented athletes have a habit of doing, he improved. Since July 1st (135 PA’s), Lino has seemingly undergone a profile transformation. His K rate dropped from 28% to 18.5%, his walk rate jumped from 8.5% to 11%, and ISO (isolated slugging) doubled, and his ground ball rate dropped to 38%; all while his BABIP fell from .400 to .357. In addition to using his speed, Delino Is now hitting the ball hard in the air consistently and showing something he wasn’t showing early in the season.
This type of production might not last, but there’s nothing to suggest that he can’t at least keep up something similar. Deshields has always had an advanced approach at the plate with plenty of quickness and speed to spare and currently it’s all coming together as a well above average hitter. If Deshields can keep hitting the ball hard on a line or in the air 62% of the time he makes contact, then there’s no reason to think he can’t keep up solid offensive production.
Delino Deshields has made a mid-season shift and it’s for the better. While he still has to replicate this production long term, he’s now showing a profile that is sustainable long term, even after his speed starts to decline. The young outfielder could very well play his way into being a vital piece to the Rangers’ future.
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