Free Brandon Allen!

If there’s one reason baseball analysts (and Baseball Analysts) were put on this Earth, it’s to stump for worthy, but ignored Hall of Fame candidates.

If there’s a second reason, it’s to stump for worthy, but ignored minor league stars to get a shot in the big leagues. Bill James once said that minor league equivalencies were his most important creation. The ability to project a top minor league performer’s performance in the majors has triggered a series of quixotic quests. Some of these quests prove successful: Free Erubiel Durazo! Some don’t: Free Roberto Petagine! But the desire to see the best possible talent on the major league stage burns strong, decades after Bill James first started the movement.

With all that established…Free Brandon Allen!

Grabbed in the 5th round of the 2004 draft by the White Sox, Allen struggled early in his minor league career. In his first four professional seasons, spread over rookie ball and the Sally League, he showed decent-but-not-great power, struck out nearly four times as often as he walked, and posted OBPs of .337 or lower in three of those four years. Heading into his age-22 season, ticketed for the wrong end of the defensive spectrum, with an iffy track record, a lukewarm pedigree, and his first crack at high-A-ball imminent, Allen’s future didn’t look all that bright.

Then, something clicked. Starting the 2008 season at Winston-Salem of the Carolina League, Allen hit .279/.372/.527, by far the best effort of his career to that point. Winston-Salem did play as a hitter’s park that year, but this wasn’t the Lancaster jet stream inflating numbers to preposterously unreliable levels; this was, ostensibly, legit. Allen kept building on that performance. He ended the 2008 season at Double-A Birmingham, where he hit .275/.358/.614 in 173 plate appearances. The next season, he posted a less impressive .825 OPS in half a season back at Birmingham, then hit a wall in a brief stint at Triple-A. The White Sox needed relief help, and Allen was deemed expendable; off he went to the Diamondbacks in a July 2009 trade for reliever Tony Pena.

Then, Allen went bonkers. Playing at hitter-friendly Reno in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Allen hit .324/.413/.624 in 167 PA. He finally earned his first cup of coffee in the big leagues…and threw up a stinker, hitting .202 with a 38.5% strikeout rate. The DBacks shipped Allen back to Triple-A, where he raked again, launching 25 homers and posting a .933 OPS in 107 games, before landing another brief major league audition.

Three days shy of his 25th birthday, Allen heads into this season sitting second on Arizona’s depth chart at both first base and left field, trailing Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady. This is, in a word, crizazlebeans.

Miranda is nearly three years older, with a less impressive track record than Allen’s. At least there’s some modicum of potential, given Miranda’s never had a clean shot at a job. Nady, on the other hand, defines mediocrity. He sports a career line of .277/.331/.445 as a corner outfielder, and a below-average defender. Actually, at age 32, likely on the downside of his career, he’s worse than mediocre. The only possible positive outcome from Nady playing every day would be if he posts another below-replacement-level season like he did in 2010, hurting an already weak DBacks team and potentially netting the number-one pick in the 2012 draft.

Brandon Allen is entering what should be the prime years of his career. He’s got power, can take a walk, and offers up to six years of team control. He’s the most logical candidate to start at not one, but two different positions in the Diamondbacks lineup. Paraphrasing Ivan Drago, if he fails, he fails. But he has to get a shot.

Free Brandon Allen!

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Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.

32 Responses to “Free Brandon Allen!”

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  1. JH says:


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  2. James says:

    I wonder if their reluctance to play him is some residual disappointment from Mark Reynolds? While Allen doesn’t K as often as Reynolds does, are they shy about playing another 3 True Outcomes type of player?

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  3. Jimmy the Greek says:

    Maybe if he was so amazing and undervalued, the Rays would have traded for him by now, am I right?

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  4. jay says:

    Would it be fair to say that Juan Miranda is the worst starting 1B in the big leagues?

    And as far as Nady, look at all the other ex-Padre retreads that Kevin Towers has brought on board.

    Geoff Blum (on a disgusting, inexplicable, 2 year deal)
    Henry Blanco
    Even Sean Burroughs was given a minor league contract

    Maybe Towers is adept at building a ‘pen, but that’s about it.

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    • JH says:

      Miranda’s not bad. I’m actually pretty happy he’s getting a solid look. Allen just has much more upside.

      I think Brett Wallace has a much better shot at the title of worst 1B-man in MLB this year. I’ve never been a fan.

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      • Undocorkscrew says:

        Wallace was a top 30 prospect before the 2010 season and he put up an .868 OPS with 18 HR in 95 games at the AAA level.

        The majority seem to think Freddie Freeman will be able to hold his own in his rookie season, so why not Wallace? Freeman is a .301, .363, .472 career hitter in 424 MiLB games. Wallace has a .304, .375, .487 line in 287 games. Neither player walks all that much, but Wallace has better power. I know Freeman is younger and better defensively, I just don’t get why Freeman is expected to produce and Wallace isn’t…..

        As a Braves fan, I hope it plays out like that though.

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  5. big league chew says:

    My favorite Diamondbacks-related “Free” campaign still has to be “Free Scott Hairston.”

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  6. Dash says:

    I thought this was where we could get Brandon Allen for free. I was sadly mistaken.

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  7. S.M. Jenkins says:

    The moves that the Snakes which have, in turn, muddied things in front of Brandon Allen have been confounding indeed. I would also add the complicated depth charts ahead of Michael Taylor & Desmond Jennings as particularly peplexing situations also. I’m not saying necessarily that all 3 are ‘get out of the way’ types (although I think Jennings pretty much is), but the lack of obviously superior options ahead of them would lead me to believe that journeymen shouldn’t be standing in the way of legitimate trials.

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    • blb says:

      I’d love to believe that Michael Taylor would be better than David DeJesus or Josh Willingham, but after a Taylor’s terrible AAA campaign in 2010, I’ll give DeJesus and Willingham dibs in the corner outfield spots in a winnable AL West.

      By the by, the A’s outfield depth chart isn’t at all complicated. In fact, it looks pretty great for a guy like Taylor. All three of the A’s starting outfielders are free agents after 2011, so even if Taylor doesn’t rebound to hit like he did in the Phillies system, he could still get his shot in 2012.

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      • brendan says:

        this. taylor was powerless at AAA last year, so it’s not like he is the obvious choice. Also, when the guys ahead of you are so injury prone: coco crisp, ryan sweeney on 2 bad knees, and willingham, he might be called up sooner rather than later.

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  8. Matt says:

    I think Juan Miranda deserves as much a shot as anyone. He has always been overlooked and never received a fair shot from the yankees. He had 6 extra base hits in 60+ ab’s last season. His avg OPS in the minors was around 850 but he was always blocked by a big name slugger at DH or 1b on the yankees. Doesn’t it say something that Kevin Towers worked for Yankees last year and one of his first moves was to trade for Miranda? He obviously liked what he saw.

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    • JH says:

      You say that as if an .850 OPS in the minors from a first baseman is something special. It isn’t.

      Both players deserve a shot to show what they can do in the majors, though I think it’s a no-brainer that Allen’s a superior option to Miranda at 1B. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: Nady to the bench, Allen to LF.

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      • Matt says:

        Nady to the bench is a good idea. I didnt say an 850 OPS is an amazing prospect and miranda is going to be an mvp. But he also should be getting his chance to see what he can. When I watched Miranda in his limited time with Yankees his ab’s were excellent and he hit routinely hit the ball hard. I always wanted him to get his shot but it never worked out.

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  9. ... says:

    Crizazlebeans indeed.

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  10. MikeS says:

    The White Sox seem to be exceptionally good at producing tradable prospects that don’t produce much at the major league level. I’m a Sox fan and when Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez (twice!), Brandon Allen, Royce Ring, Brandon McCarthy, Aaron Poreda and I don’t know how many others have been traded away I usually read about how KW overpayed for whatever he got back.

    Now granted, some of these guys are still young and could develop. They’d all be pretty cheap and maybe whatever they got back wasn’t much or was expensive but I’m hard pressed to name more than one guy where I say “Boy, if only we still had that guy.” Who are they really missing? Maybe Chris Young’s 3.0 WAR in CF (but 6.0 in 2500 PA). Who else? Clayton Richard’s or Jon Rauch’s 1.5 WAR?

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    • James says:

      They aren’t missing anyone – they are just overpaying for guys at positions they probably could’ve adequately filled internally. Right now, I’d rather have Getz than Teahen, and Hudson and Richard were two pretty solid ones (although Hudson for Jackson may turn out to be a pretty fair deal). As much as I like Peavy, I think Richard is going to end up providing more value over the length of his controllable period than Peavy will over the remainder of his deal.

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      • MikeS says:

        I agree with everything you said 100%. But payroll flexibility is the biggest thing the White Sox have lost in any deal. They really are a big market team. Not the Yankees or Red Sox, but they are consistently in the upper third in payroll, especially since ’05 so they have a littlemore flexibility than most to start with.

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      • Sox27 says:

        @ James

        You took the words right out of my mouth

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    • Preston says:

      If you don’t already miss Daniel Hudson you probably will soon…

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    • snapper says:

      Um, Gio Gonzalez is really freaking good.

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  11. Bas says:

    It seems to me that the optimal scenario is to give Miranda a full time shot at first and have Allen and Nady platoon in left. That way Allen will be protected a little bit and Nady would be available off the bench most days where he has enough versatility to be part of a double switch with either corner outfielder or the first baseman.

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  12. Mr. Red says:

    How good is Allen’s defense in left field?

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    • Preston says:

      I went and saw him play last year and I was surprised how fluid he looked in the field. Usually when you take a guy and just throw him in LF it’s an adventure. He’s not a great athlete and his UZR will probably be negative but he’s not going to be an embarrassment out there. I’d start Allen in LF, Miranda at first and use Nady as a platoon or PH against Lefties.

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  13. Pitch1 says:

    I can’t see why Brandon Allen shouldn’t get a chance to start at 1st Base , that is where the DBacks need him .Parra should also start in left field, but I hope that the talent of Brandon Allen is not wasted in triple A. They have all ready mis-managed one great out fielder : Alex Romero. I hope that doesn’t happen again.

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  14. Brian Cartwright says:

    Jonah, you say up top about the importance of MLEs, but then you never quote any MLEs or projections in the rest of the article, instead quoting raw minor league stats, which for the last two seasons as a member of Reno include considerable play time at altitude in the western conference of the PCL.

    All MLB 1b have a mean wOBA of .355, those who start 81+ games in a season .371.

    Here’s what numbers from Bill James and myself have to say:

    Brandon Allen
    256/328/507 356 2008
    240/316/397 315 2009
    224/356/405 341 2010
    251/338/462 352 BJ
    244/338/440 341 Oliver

    Juan Miranda
    276/362/452 358 2008
    290/359/508 372 2009
    257/341/461 349 2010
    274/351/480 360 Oliver

    Oliver’s depth charts at THT rank Allen 27th best in MLB 1b, between Justin Smoak and Adam LaRoche.. Miranda is nine spots higher.

    Allen can be expected to struggle to put up even average numbers, well below those of a starting 1b in MLB. Miranda might be somewhat better, but still can’t crack the top 15 projections at the position.

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of spreadsheet work lately with THT forecasts. I’ll be honest, I’m using formulas to make player ratings for rosters for MLB The Show (PS3) … yeah, it’s important stuff.

    There are quite a few guys with better projections than Brandon Allen.

    I like Brandon Allen, but I think there may be too much “Brandon Wood” in him (oh man, insert joke here). In other words, he may be the next “great 4A player”. The guy that hits like a machine in AA/AAA, but not at the ML level.

    Certainly 172 PA is not enough to make any sort of basis on. But, I don;t think he projects like people would think that he does … as a low average, high home run type guy that walks a bunch and all that.

    I think he’s mostly high K and moderate power.

    The sad part about the Reynolds trade is seeing a corner combination possibly combine for 500K in a single season. They could be legendary.

    Over his short career, at the ML level, Allen is -0.2 WAR. That doesn’t mean much given his PA … but he has not shown much when he has been up and received playing time. Perhaps the expectations are too high.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I should have added, I combined THT (Oliver), ZiPS, Guru and Marcels … and Allen simply is not all that impressive.

      Andy Tracy, Miranda, (both 1B’s for ARZ) have better 2011 projections.

      If we’re going to make a case for Allen, I wouldn’t use projections. I’d focus on minor league home runs and act as if they were the most important thing since the bar code.

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  16. Tedfordfan says:

    Wait… so this article isn’t about the Giant’s 2010 18th round draft pick?

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  17. Brian Cartwright says:

    CC11 – do I get a royalty for that? (LOL) – but it would be cool to be cited as a source, get all those PS3 users over to THT.

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