The Royals entered the offseason with three positions to fill. Fans and the front office agreed the team needed to find a right fielder (to replace the departing Nori Aoki), a designated hitter (to replace the departing Billy Butler), and a starting pitcher (to replace the departing James Shields). It was generally accepted that the voids would need to be filled with individuals outside the organization and thus far Kansas City has checked two of the items off their list.
I'm not going to spend time in this post analyzing the Alex Rios or Kendrys Morales additions, but instead I am going to ask a simple question. Why couldn't the team have filled right field with an in-house option? No, I'm not talking about Carlos Peguero. I'm talking about Jarrod Dyson.
Unlike Peguero there has been absolutely zero buzz about the possibility of breaking camp with Jarrod Dyson starting in the outfield. Why not?
The simple answer is that Dyson looks like a fourth outfielder. He is an excellent defensive replacement and an enormous weapon off the bench as a pinch runner. The former 50th round pick is so good in the fourth outfielder role that narrative dictates that is all he is. Never mind the fact that despite only receiving 290 plate appearances and playing in just 120 games, Dyson ranked 36th among outfielders in fWAR in 2014 and 5th on the team.
At this point many people tend to point out that Dyson's numbers were inflated due to the fact that he faced predominately right handed pitching last season. This is true. In 2014, Dyson faced right handed pitching in 81% of his plate appearances. Given that the typical regular sees right handed pitching approximately 70% of the time, we should adjust our expectations to reflect that number.
In order to get a more accurate feel on what Dyson's production would be over the course of the season, I broke out The Spitter. If you are unfamiliar with The Spitter or new to this blog, it is a projection system that weights batted ball data and is able to "spit" out a projection. The Spitter can then take these numbers and provide a wOBA and a WAR total for the player. I've added 2014 park factors to the Spitter, so the numbers are even more accurate now than they have been in the past. Like any projection system, The Spitter occasionally whiffs, but a vast majority of last season's projections were extremely accurate.
Since we aren't actually creating a projection for Dyson, I have adjusted The Spitter to give us full season results had Dyson maintained his contact rates against lefties and faced them in 30% of 600 plate appearances, as well as maintaining his contact rates against righties in the same plate appearance size.
Enough with the technical mumbo-jumbo. Had our hero been able to keep up his performance over a 600 plate appearance sample his season line should have ended up looking like this:
Jarrod Dyson 2014: .270/.329/.330, .297 wOBA and 1.34 WAR.
This might not seem like a very impressive player, but this fails to consider Dyson's defense. When we plug in a positional adjustment and factor in Dyson's UZR from 2014, The Spitter increases Dyson's WAR to 5.23. This tally would have ranked 22nd in baseball among all players and 10th among outfielders. Again, those results are not fudged. They are simply an extrapolation of the numbers that Dyson posted in 2014.
By the way, we still haven't accounted for baserunning. According to Fangraphs, Dyson was worth approximately 4.5 runs on the bases in 2014. When you consider that he would be on the bases 196 times in our extrapolated sample, compared to just 92 in reality, all of the sudden Dyson's legs add in another 9.6 runs in value. This would increase Dyson's WAR to approximately 6.28, ranking him as the 6th most valuable outfielder in baseball.
What we have to realize is that Dyson doesn't look like a starting player, because his value comes in things that are more difficult to see. He isn't bopping home runs. He isn't hitting .320. He isn't posting 100 RBI seasons. He is a world class runner, He does get on base at a decent clip. He did post the highest UZR/150 out of all players with over 600 innings in the field.
For those of you that know me, you know that I have long been a Jarrod Dyson fan. I've defended him when few others would and I would loudly proclaim that his arm was vastly underrated until finally it wasn't. But do I think that Jarrod Dyson is a top ten outfielder in the Major Leagues? No. I do not.
I do think that given a full time job, it would be safe to project Dyson as a 3.5 win player in 2015. He might have a skill set that will cause his value to drop off quicker than the average outfielder, but he isn't going to become an average runner between now and April 6.
The Royals just paid Alex Rios $11 million hoping that he will turn back into the 3 win player that he was in 2013. Jarrod Dyson will make a fraction of that cost as a first time arbitration eligible player this year and he was worth 3 Wins Above Replacement in a part time role last season. Not to mention, Dyson won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season.
For guys like Jarrod Dyson sometimes it is impossible to overcome the narrative and get the shot they deserve. Regardless, I'll be in Kansas City on Opening Day sitting in section 118, wearing my Mr.Zoombiya jersey. If you can find me, we'll get a drink and and dream about what Dyson could be have been as the Royals' everyday centerfielder.
Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!