CLEVELAND – In some ways, the ninth spot in a batting order operates as a second leadoff hitter, mainly because they set the table for the top of the lineup.
Bradley Zimmer exemplified this theory to perfection on Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field.
The Indians took a 2-1 lead when Zimmer raced home on a wild pitch that skipped away from the catcher.
“[Mike Sarbaugh] was saying, ‘Make sure you’re alert on a ball in the dirt.’ I was ready,” said Zimmer. “Runs are hard to come by sometimes. Any opportunity you can get to score is huge. It was a big run for us, got us on top, and then [Corey Kluber] did his thing as he always has. He shoved and then let us get a couple more runs and that was it.”
While most baserunners would have played it safe and retreated to third, the 25-year-old rookie took the risk, made an elusive slide and scored the go-ahead run in a jaw-dropping spectacle.
“As I was approaching I knew it was going to be close,” Zimmer said. “So my first thing was I tried to get my front foot to hit the base before anything. So I was just kind of reaching and then stuck my toe out and got in there just in time.”
About five minutes before the game-changing run crossed the plate, Zimmer sprinted hard to earn an infield single on a high chopper toward second base.
According to Statcast, 86% of big league players would have been retired on the play…
Result: Infield single on a 3-2 four-seam fastball
Pitch Velocity: 95.9-mph
Exit Velocity: 48-mph
Launch Angle: -44 degrees
Hit Probability: 14%
In looking at the above numbers, it would be easy to assume a routine out for just about every player on the Cleveland roster.
Zimmer is an exception.
With the new baserunning sprint speed function installed into the Baseball Savant database this past week, it is easy to determine the fastest and slowest players in the game.
Zimmer’s hustle on the base hit above logged a mark of 30.8 feet/sec, making him one of the fastest players in all of Major League Baseball.
Here are the top five averages as of Thursday…
#1 Billy Hamilton: 30.1 feet/sec.
#2 Byron Buxton: 29.9 feet/sec.
#3 Bradley Zimmer: 29.8 feet/sec
#4 Raimel Tapia: 29.8 feet/sec.
#5 Franchy Cordero: 29.6 feet/sec.
In a small sample size of 40 contests, Zimmer has already established himself as an elite runner. Once he defied odds and reached base, he was able to further his athletic effort and use it to advance past Andrew Cashner on a bang-bang play at home plate.
“Talk about manufacturing with his legs,” Francona said. “I don’t know how many guys are able to beat that ball out. I don’t know how many guys can score. All the way around, that was just his speed. At the time of the game, that’s a huge run for us.”
The 21st overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft leads the Tribe in weighted stolen bases (wSB: 0.9), the estimated total of runs a player contributes to his team compared to the average player.
While this particular scenario did not involve a stolen base, it still showed Zimmer’s ability to create runs without the use of a bat.
“Anything I can do to impact the game,” said Zimmer. “Offense, defense, baserunning. I’m happy with it because I’m here to win and however I can contribute is what I’m here for.”
Unknowingly, Zimmer has placed himself among the best speedsters this season.
“I did not. It’s pretty cool. I’ll try to get number 1,” Zimmer said. “Still got plenty of season left. I’ll try to get up on that leaderboard.”
The value for such a young player is already making a difference.
“He pretty much created a run that inning by not only beating out the ball to first, but being aggressive and getting a good read on that wild pitch and scoring on a play that probably most guys don’t,” said Kluber. “I think aside from all the tools that he has, I think he’s done a really good job and been impressed by how he handles himself. He does a really going about his work every day, and I think that’s why he puts himself in a good position to go out there and let his skills take over.”
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.