Is Delino DeShields’ Hot Start Legit?

Texas Rangers left fielder Delino DeShields (7) attempts to make a catch on a ball hit by New York Yankees John Ryan Murphy during the eighth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, May 23, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Rangers Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields has gotten off to an unexpected start to the 2015 season and has pushed himself into a starting spot. Thirty-eight games into his big league career the outfielder is slashing .286/.380/.381 and has stolen 12 bases. Coming into Spring Training, the general consensus was that a player without a great defensive reputation coming off a season in which he hit .236 in Double-A ball would not crack the big league roster and would simply be returned to his former organization – the Houston Astros.

It is important to note that even through his 2014 struggles, DeShields never actually looked bad. As he struggled through the Texas League, I still put a low 5 grade – future second division starter – on him when he came through Frisco.

At the time I noted his advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition at the plate. This is something that has been evident during his time in Texas as well, as the right-handed hitter boasts a 13.1% BB-rate. DeShields’ O-swing percentage (the percentage of pitches he swings at outside of the strike zone) is a beautiful 18.4%. If he were qualified, this number would be the fourth best in all of baseball.

A large part of the 2010 1st-rounder’s Double-A struggles was a BABIP out of line from his career numbers. With numbers typically closer to the .400 mark than the .300 one in this statistic, a .293 average on balls in play was partially bad luck. Another factor in this number was that DeShields speed regressed from the 80-grade, which had allowed him to steal over 100 bags in 2012 to just a plus tool. This hampered his ability to beat out ground balls, a big part of his game given his 63.8% GB-rate so far this year. This spray chart courtesy of baseballsavant.com shows two things: his high groundball rate and his ability to use the entire field:

Delino DeShields (1)

Delino DeShields once again has 80-grade speed this year, a big development for a player so dependent on the tool. This has allowed him to raise his BABIP back up to where it had been during his time in A-ball (.385 so far in 2015) and while this number may not be completely sustainable, it is not too far off. He leads all of baseball in bunt hits with five. He has stolen 12 bases already and has been thrown out only once – a 92% rate (league average is about 70-75%).

Defensively, the profile is very similar to what I saw a year ago. DeShields struggles a bit with tracking the ball, holding back to an extent the range his speed can create. Questions persist whether the 22-year-old can effectively man center field, making it difficult to give DeShields everyday at-bats with Josh Hamilton manning left and Shin-Soo Choo in right. Leonys Martin will continue to receive playing time for this reason despite his .230/.269/.342 slashline. UZR has not shown positive results on this question, as the number for DeShields sits at -19.5 runs per 150 games. However, more reliable defensive numbers available haven’t been quite so pessimistic. According to Inside Edge’s data, Delino DeShields has had 67 playable balls come his way. Here is what he has done with them:

deshields fielding

According to these numbers, DeShields has made all but one play he would be expected to make. Keep in mind the arm is not factored into these numbers and is a tool I put a below average number on when I saw him play last season. It is also just the second full professional season of outfield play for DeShields as he was a second baseman through the 2013 season.

In 2015, Delino DeShields possesses an OPS+ of 115. He has already been worth 3.8 runs on the basepaths and has an overall bWAR of 0.9. There are a few factors in Delino DeShields performance this year. His 13.1% BB-rate and returned speed are definitely real. His .286 batting average and possibly improved defense may or may not be. Regardless of the answers to whether the latter two will hold, the former will keep him a valuable piece on a major league roster.

Thus far, DeShields has been a starting caliber player – and at just 22-years-old, I am very interested to see if he can sustain his performance. Most likely his 2015 role will end up being in a platoon given his .324 batting average vs southpaws and .250 average vs righties, a trend which is also seen in his minor league numbers. Whether he winds up a 4th outfielder, the righty part of a platoon, or an everyday player, Delino DeShields looks to be a valuable asset and a very successful Rule 5 pick.

Grant Schiller
Grant is currently a student at the University of North Texas and long-term hopes to get into the world of scouting. He will spend many nights over the summer checking out the prospects around the Texas League in Frisco. When not around baseball, Grant will probably be dropping threes at the rec with no remorse.

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