There have been a number of surprises this off-season, but barring one more, the rightfield job for the Kansas City Royals is Jarrod Dyson’s to lose.
Now, that very sentence is quite possibly not accurate. Most of us assume Dyson will be part of a platoon due to his noted inability to hit left-handers and there exists the very real possibility that when Dyson starts it will be in center with Lorenzo Cain sliding to right. We can debate the exact outfield alignment as the spring progresses (frankly it is hard to go wrong when your tools are Gordon, Cain and Dyson), but without question Jarrod Dyson can go and get it with anyone in the league….including Lorenzo Cain.
In 2015, Cain ranked fourth among all outfielders with 18 defensive runs saved. Kevin Kiermaier led all outfielders (and everyone else) with 42 runs saved. Dyson? He was credited with 11 DRS, which would have tied him for ninth in baseball with Gregory Polanco. Of course, if you are thinking ahead, you have already noted that all of those nine outfielders tied with or above Dyson all played well over 1,000 innings. Jarrod logged just 560 innings in 2015. Pick your metric, do the math and you come up with what your eyes already told you: Dyson can play defense on par with any outfielder in the game.
And 2015 was not an outlier, either. Pick any year and conduct the same exercise and Dyson still comes out among the best in defense. Of course, most of those numbers come playing center. He has logged less than 200 major league innings in either left or right. This inexperience would seem a minor concern as it is hard to envision a centerfielder with Dyson’s speed having too much trouble adapting to right and his UZR ratings in limited action would seem to at least start to confirm that observation.
Defense was not your concern though, was it?
Offensively, the question has always been – or maybe skepticism is the better phrase – how would Dyson hold up over a full season at the plate or at least a full season on the big half of a platoon.
For his career, Dyson is a .250/.320/.343 hitter. If you take his 243 plate appearances and the accompanying .211 batting average out of the equation, Dyson is a .266/.329/.367 hitter. Couple a line like that with Dyson’s defense and speed and you have, well, you have a player who might well be worth 2.5 WAR (as he was in 2013) or even 3.1 WAR (as in 2015). Your worst case is something on par with what Dyson gave the Royals last season: 1.8 fWAR.
While those Wins Above Replacement values came with Dyson working in a part time role and aided by his frequent use as a pinch-runner, twice as many innings on defense will go a long ways towards making up for offensive shortcomings that may become apparent as the plate appearances pile up.
Will there be shortcomings?
There are some indications to support that, not the least of which that Dyson’s walk rate has declined each year since 2012. Last year, Dyson also bunted for a hit just twice as opposed to 14 times the year before and 10 times in 2013 (in just 13 more plate appearances than in 2015). For a speedster with a problematic bat, less walks and less bunt hits is not a great approach to up one’s on-base percentage. If Dyson is not on-base, his best offensive tool helps no one.
On the flip-side however, while Jarrod is swinging more, he is increasing his contact percentage – both in and outside of the zone. In the process of making more contact, he has also managed to keep his ground ball to fly ball ratio (well over 2 to 1) the same and, in 2014, actually hit even more ground balls. If you are not going to walk and, be it by your own doing or the opposing defenses, not going to bunt for hits, all the better to swing, make contact and run like hell.
That is really it, isn’t it? Sure, we could delve into Dyson’s value against pitches. I could show you pictures or more data that proves what you already knew: Dyson is an elite defender. How much value is lost from the 12 games Dyson was strategically inserted into a game as a pinch runner versus having him on defense for an extra 500 innings?
All things being equal, the Royals (like me) seem prepared to see just what Dyson can do if given regular work. The million dollar question is will Ned Yost truly platoon Dyson with a right-handed bat or do something not so traditional? It may well turn out that the best platoon partner for Jarrod Dyson is having Dyson playing defense and hoping he eeks out a hit or two here and there against left-handed pitching.
No matter the scenario, we will see a lot more of Jarrod Dyson this season. By and large, I think that is a good thing.