In Praise Of Jarrod Dyson

You know how I know the Royals are just going through a rough patch and haven’t suddenly completely forgotten how to play baseball? It’s because Jarrod Dyson is still starting, and when Dyson starts, the Royals win.

Now you may be looking at your screen quizzically. But Darin, you say, Dyson isn’t a super-important piece to this team. He’s a nice piece to have, and I’m glad we have him, but he’s not Eric Hosmer/Lorenzo Cain/Salvador Perez/Mike Moustakas/pick a reliever. Or worse: you say he doesn’t hit for power or play good defense. I’ll get to you skeptics in a bit.

All I know is this: last year, the Royals went 39-16 when Dyson started. The year before, they were 38-28 in his starts. In 2013, they were 31-30 when he started. In 2012, they were 40-41 when he started. Sure, those were good teams. But that 2013 season was the only time the Royals had a worse winning percentage with Dyson starting than without. There’s some evidence that Dyson makes a team better.

OK, a team’s record with a specific player in the lineup isn’t the best way to gauge a player’s worth. After all, the Royals were 73-51 with Omar Infante and 66-39 with Alex Rios in the lineup last year.

So let’s discuss actual reasons why I love Jarrod Dyson. And why he is better than you might give him credit for.

The first one is the obvious one: that speed (and what it do). Lots of guys are fast. Dyson’s speed, even at age 31, can be game-changing. In his career, he ranks eighth in Royals history with 150 stolen bases. Everybody ahead of him on the list has played in roughly three times as many games, at least. His stolen base success rate (86%) is second in team history, just a bit behind Carlos Beltran. By Baseball Prospectus’ accounting, Dyson was worth 4.7 Baserunning Runs last year, tied for 16th in MLB with Brett Gardner. Dyson played in 90 games while Gardner played in 151. Had Dyson played in 150 or so games, he likely would have been the second-most valuable runner in baseball, behind Billy Hamilton.

As for hitting…I admit, I had my doubts about Dyson playing every day this year, or most days anyway. And yes, it’s only 41 plate appearances, but I’ll take Dyson’s .278/.350/.333 over Rios’ .255/.287/.353. Especially when you consider that when Dyson is on first, he’s a good bet to be on second soon. Heck, Dyson’s career .256/.321/.343 line is better than what Rios did last year. And the Royals aren’t paying Dyson $11 million for that this year. Dyson’s bat might not be great, but it’s solid enough for now. In my view, the Royals could upgrade offensively (with the added bonus of improving the bench), but if they don’t find a good fit, they can live with it.

Now, Dyson’s defense. Our subject sometimes gets a bit of hate for his defense. Tuesday night’s misadventures will only fuel the fire for the skeptics. Maybe people think that because he’s fast he should catch everything. It is true that he sometimes takes an odd route (like on Tuesday), but his speed usually allows him to make up for it. His arm is better than you think, as evidenced by this play the other day.

And BP credited him with 9.9 Fielding Runs Above Average last year. That was tied with some dude named Mike Trout. By comparison, Cain was at 17.2. So yes, Dyson’s defense is good.

Total it up and you have a player who’s been worth 7.4 WARP in his Royals career, a very respectable number for a guy who’s only played in 454 games.

But I also respect Dyson a lot for what he represents to this team. You probably know that he was picked in the 50th round of the 2006 draft. That would be the last round of the 2006 draft, if you’re scoring at home. It’s hard to put into words the odds that a 50th-round pick would not only make the majors, but be a useful player on a world champion. That takes some doing. It takes a lot of work, probably more than we can fathom. It also takes a lot of confidence.

Clubhouse chemistry is something we’ll never be able to define or understand properly. But consider a team full of youngsters reaching the majors in 2010 or 2011. Consider that, among the highly-drafted, highly-regarded studs, there is a player who, despite lacking that pedigree, is absolutely, positively certain he belongs in the majors.  If he is a vocal, but enjoyable, guy, consider how he might galvanize a team. Especially a team that hears from all the experts how they aren’t that good, how their playoff run was a fluke, and so on. Dyson strikes me as the perfect symbol of the 2014-2015 (and hopefully 2016) Royals: underrated yet utterly confident in their abilities. And successful. Dyson adds a splash of swagger to a team that is full of quiet pros like Gordon and Moustakas. That can be a very useful thing. And it gives me confidence in this team going forward, even as they are struggling now.

Photo by Peter Aiken, USA Today Sports

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