Cleveland Indians: Why Bradley Zimmer’s bar is set at peak Grady Sizemore

DETROIT, MI - JULY 1: Center fielder Bradley Zimmer
DETROIT, MI - JULY 1: Center fielder Bradley Zimmer /

For Cleveland Indians CF Bradley Zimmer, the bar of success has been set at the peak years of former All-Star Grady Sizemore.

In 2005, Grady Sizemore became a full-time player in Cleveland at the ripe old age of 22 years old. He had appeared in a little over 40 games in 2004 and showed some potential, but 2005 saw Sizemore earn MVP votes for the first time.

Sizemore would finish in the top 12 three more times, earned two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and three All Star appearances. Sizemore was one of the best players of the 2000’s for the Tribe after the glorious seasons of the 1990s.

Injuries and ineffectiveness paved the way for another young center fielder in 2017. Bradley Zimmer wasn’t supposed to be in Cleveland without the exact set of circumstances that brought him to town. It seemed as if every outfielder was hurt at one point. Even Erik Gonzalez had to play in the outfield for a stretch.  I’m on the record saying that things would have to go wrong for Zimmer to be in Cleveland. They did, but the team now is better for it.

So far in 71 games, Zimmer is hitting .272 / .333 / .447 with a .780 OPS. He’s added  8 home runs, 37 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. Over the course of a full season, that projects out to 18 homes runs, 84 RBI, and 30 stolen bases. Zimmer’s offensive pace would also have him hitting 27 doubles at the expense of 151 strikeouts. Zimmer is only 24 and has flashed some serious potential.

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Sizemore’s 2005 season, the first full season in Cleveland. In 158 games that season, Sizemore hit .289 / .348 / .484 with a .832 OPS, 22 home runs, 81 RBI, 22 stolen bases, and 37 doubles. Sizemore also struck out 132 times that season. We all know exactly how the rest of Sizemore’s story goes.

So what does it matter in regards to Bradley Zimmer? Expectations are high for Zimmer as he was the highest rated Indians prospect heading into the year and has been a steadying force in center. His glove has flashed, including numerous full speed charges towards the wall in ways we haven’t seen since Sizemore. For better or worse, the bar for Zimmer has been set at peak Sizemore.

So how can Zimmer get there? For starters, he has to cut down on the strikeouts. Grady Sizemore struck out 18.7% of the time in 2005, 20.4% in 2006, 20.7% in 2007, and 17.5% in 2008. He averages a 20.2% rate over his career.  Zimmer is striking out 27.5% of the time. While that isn’t totally unexpected given in minor league stats and adjustment to big league pitching, it is difficult to provide value at the plate when you don’t hit the ball.

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Zimmer would also benefit from stealing more bases. Aside from striking out less, Zimmer could walk more to get more opportunities to create havoc on the base paths. He’s currently successful on 93% of his steal attempts. Sizemore was only swiping bases at a 75% rate during his career. Sizemore’s best season was an 88% rate in 2008 when he stole 38 bases. Zimmer just needs to keep doing what he’s doing as a base stealer to clear this hurdle.

Zimmer also needs to keep hitting left handed pitching. Yes, you read that right. It’s true for a guy who is being platooned at times against lefty starters. In only 53 plate appearances against southpaws, Zimmer is hitting .280, albeit with little power as evidences by a .360 slugging and .681 OPS. As a young hitter, I can live with this so long as his at bats aren’t a total waste in those match ups. For comparison, Grady Sizemore was a career .224 hitter against left handed pitching.

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The expectations are sky high. Couple Zimmer’s draft pedigree and early impact, Tribe fans will keep their standard high for what could be the best center fielder Progressive Field has seen since Kenny Lofton. The defense is already there and his bat will only continue to improve. So keep the expectations high, because Zimmer certainly does.