Greg Allen is a better hitter than he showed in 2019. In a season that saw him shuffle back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus, the 26-year-old switch-hitting outfielder slashed a disappointing .229/290/.346 with a 66 wRC+ in 256 big-league plate appearances. Things were especially dismal early on. Battling the BABIP gods at every turn, Allen went four for his first 44.
Again, Allen is by no means abysmal with the bat — last year’s woes notwithstanding. The 2014 sixth-round pick was a plus hitter at San Diego State University, where he played for Tony Gwynn, and he’s slashed .282/.376/.415 at the Triple-A level. What Allen has lacked is consistency, and as evidenced by the aforementioned early-season swoon, a little bit of good fortune.
Allen — a business major during at SDSU — discussed his hitting philosophy, and his efforts to get better, during the 2019 season.
David Laurila: Is hitting more of an art or more of a science?
Greg Allen: “That’s a good question. I think it’s probably a mixture of both. A big part of hitting is getting in rhythm — being in touch with your movements and timing — but there’s definitely a science component to it as well. As we’ve seen with the emergence of launch angles, and all the different analytics, science definitely plays a part. So again, a mixture of both. And it depends on the individual.”
Laurila: What are your thoughts on launch angle?
Allen: “For a guy like myself, who is probably not going to hit for a ton of power, the launch angle may not be as important. But there are still some key aspects to that. Having your swing be in the zone as long as possible, getting on plane — different things like that — all play a part. It may impact a certain player, and what his swing is like, more than others. Overall, analytics are impacting every hitter in the game.
“A lot of times, people think launch angle and get all tied up into the homers and the fly balls, but there are other aspects to it as well. And even launch angle opposed to attack goal… the way your barrel is entering the zone. From my understanding, launch angle more so refers to the angle at which the ball is coming off the bat. In that respect, if you’re hitting a whole lot of line drives you may not have a crazy-skew launch angle, but if that’s what works best for you swing, then that’s what works best for you as an individual.”
Laurila: Is your swing natural, or would it be better descried as built?
Allen: “Probably a combination. Especially being a switch hitter. I’m naturally right-handed. I’ve developed my left side over time, and not really until I hit from 11 or 12 years old into high school. You’re probably always going to have your natural feel for your swing, but through time, through practice, through games and experience, you’ve definitely going to have some built-in skills as well.”
Laurila: Are you fairly ambidextrous?
Allen: “Hitting is the only thing I do left-handed. I throw a ball right-handed. I write right-handed. Basically, everything but hit. I do everything with my right foot, as well. Because of that, my left-handed swing requires a little more upkeep, as it’s not my dominant side.
“It’s funny. It goes back and forth. Throughout the year, I’m usually going to be seeing more at-bats from the left side, because I’m facing more right-handed pitching. There are times I’m feeling great from the left side, but then and there are other times where I’m feeling better from the right side.”
Laurila: Say I looked at film from when you first signed, and compared it with today. Would I see the same hitter?
Allen: “Parts of it, yeah. I think so. I think you can generally see who a hitter is at his core when you look at older videos. At the same time, there are aspects that have probably changed. And maybe they’re not anything mechanical, but rather things related to approach that you can recognize. The more you play, the more you understand the game, the more you understand yourself — your strengths and weaknesses.”
Laurila: With approach in mind, pitchers have become increasingly more vertical in recent years. How is that impacting your thought process?
Allen: “As hitters, we’re all looking at the same stuff. We’re see how pitchers are attacking us. And we see how they’re attacking us as individuals, the different spots where they might try to exploit us. You have to shore up those weaknesses.
“Some of that is plate discipline — making sure you get good pitches to hit — and some it might be making sure you can handle balls on the outer half of the plate. Or if they’re elevating. Like you said, pitchers are working more up and down. Some hitters are thinking launch angle and getting to those balls down. It’s an evolving thing. They’re making adjustments and we’re making adjustments. Like the cliché goes, it’s kind of a chess match.”
Laurila: I assume that having a good understanding the pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses is important to you?
Allen: “Yes. For instance, it’s good to know if a guy has a high spin rate. If his ball looks like it’s rising on you, you want to make an effort to stay on top of that. You never want to give away an at-bat due to disinformation, or no information. You want to be prepared. At the same time, nothing beats the real thing. It helps to have a general foundation for what you’re going to be seeing once you’re in the box — video helps a lot with that — but you’re going to get the most information by being in there yourself. Your own eyes tell you a lot.”
Laurila: You’ve had a disappointing season. How have you approached trying to turn things around?
Allen: “Finding out ways to maintain consistency. Balancing out that art and science that we mentioned — getting a feel for what to do, but also being able to maintain the mechanics of it all. Those are interrelated. When you’re in a situation, for one reason or another, where your mechanics are off and you’re not feeling what you should, it’s usually a case of just getting back to the basics.”
Laurila: Have your mechanics gotten out of whack this year? You had an especially bad stretch early on.
Allen: “I think that was more so … not really feeling comfortable. And with hitting, when one thing breaks down, a lot of times there tends to be a chain reaction. Things fall to wayside because of that. There isn’t one particular thing I can point to.”
Laurila: You did go through a stretch where you hit in a lot of bad luck.
Allen: “That’s just the game of baseball. You’re going to have balls that are hard hit [get] caught, but you’re also going to have balls that you didn’t hit well fall in. That’s the nature of the game. You don’t want to become solely reliant the balls that do fall in. The guys who are successful at this level focus on consistently making hard contact, which is ultimately going to lead to them being rewarded.”
Laurila: What was your mindset when you got sent down to Triple-A? Was it essentially to stay the course and earn another opportunity, or did you feel you needed to change something?
Allen: “It was probably a combination of both. There were subtle adjustments to make, but mostly I looked at it as an opportunity to continue to work, and progress. Trying to find a way to get better is something that never stops, regardless of the level you’re playing. That never changes.”
Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Joey Gallo, Mitch Haniger, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Trey Mancini, Daniel Murphy, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.