Tim Tebow does not have a Major League future, at least one based on merit. This is not breaking news, nor is it meant to be an insult. For the record, Tebow has done better in his 35 games with the Single-A Columbia Fireflies than most expected. He has not embarrassed himself, hitting a competent .230 with three homers.
But the Wall Street Journal has unearthed the most damning Tebow stat — one that’s even more concerning than his 37 strikeouts in 122 official at-bats.
Entering Monday, Tebow led the minor leagues with a 4.73 ground-ball to fly-ball ratio. Which means on his balls in play, he’s nearly five times as likely to dribble it on the ground than he is to hit it in the air. His rate is by far the highest of any of the 993 qualified minor leaguers at any level, according to FanGraphs.
Now, hitting the ball on the ground with great frequency is not in itself an inherently bad thing for a hitter, especially a left-handed one. A speedy table-setter can make a career out of it. It is a problem, however, when the hitter is 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds and has zero stolen bases, suggesting they aren’t blazing up and down the basepaths. It is a bigger problem when the batter is a corner outfielder who is also not providing reliable power.
Tebow’s power numbers do not make up for his high strikeout rate. His third homer came after a 31-game drought. All told he has 10 extra-base hits. To state the obvious, it’s harder to get doubles and triples when hitting ground balls and it’s impossible to hit the ball over the fence. Tebow’s inability to get lift on the baseball is a giant red flag screaming that this trend will likely continue.
Even if Tebow wanted to hang his hat on being a singles hitter, which isn’t a marketable skill as a gigantic corner outfielder, his habit of hitting the ball portends future trouble. Infield shifts are being employed more than ever and hitting the ball in the air has never been more important. Lefties capable of capitalizing on their natural uppercuts — like Chris Davis and Brandon Belt — have been able to combat against these shifts.
The good news is that Tebow has found something in the game he’s undeniably skilled at. The bad news is that it’s directly detrimental to his advancement.