Browsing through the unqualified FanGraphs WAR leaders for 2016, one may come across what seems like an anomaly at No. 69. Just ahead of certified breakout stars such as Jonathan Villar and Trevor Story, grizzled veterans such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Troy Tulowitzki, and an All-Star catcher in Yasmani Grandal, sits Royals back-up outfielder Jarrod Dyson, at 3.1 fWAR in just 337 plate appearances. If a well-educated-baseball individual were asked to name this mystery outfielder who placed just above these solidly above-average everyday players, Jarrod Dyson wouldn’t be one of the first 30 outfielders most would name. How did Dyson make it so far up this list? And what is he doing rotting on the bench behind the likes of Paulo Orlando, or even the corpses of Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain for that matter?
Jarrod Dyson ended up being the most valuable Royal this year. Even more valuable than Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez, despite having the ninth-most plate appearances on the team. So what’s the problem? The problem is Dyson’s profile is far from sexy. He owns a career .325 OBP and only seven home runs in over 1500 plate appearances. His wRC+ is below average for an American League outfielder at 86. Where Dyson extracts his value is in his defense and baserunning, two ways of evaluating a player that are still slow to catch on.
Since Dyson starting seeing semi-regular playing time in 2012, he ranks fourth in FanGraphs BsR behind Mike Trout, Billy Hamilton, and Rajai Davis, all of whom had more plate appearances than Dyson. If stolen bases are your cup of tea, Dyson ranks sixth since 2012, behind five guys who all had more plate appearances. The numbers are there to show how great of a baserunner Dyson is; the problem is getting front offices to realize just how valuable baserunning can be, especially when it comes to a player like Dyson who owns a decent, but not great career OBP.
It doesn’t stop at Mr. Dyson’s baserunning. If the Royals don’t use him as a pinch-runner off the bench, he is used as a defensive replacement. Obviously the Royals think highly of Dyson’s defense, and the numbers agree. Of the outfielders with at least 1000 innings, Dyson ranks fourth since 2012 in FanGraphs’ UZR/150. Even in limited playing time, competing against some who have played twice as many innings, Jarrod ranks 15th in FanGraphs’ defensive value. Jason Heyward, the man who just signed an eight-year, $184-million contract last offseason, is the only other player who ranks in the top 15 in both baserunning and outfield defense according to FanGraphs. What’s perplexing about this is that it’s not as if Heyward is a slugger on top of his outstanding defense and baserunning; he would only be considered a slightly above-average hitter by most measurements. So why isn’t Dyson considered in the same vein as Heyward? Sure, Jason Heyward, former first-round pick and All-Star, has more of a track record, but Jarrod Dyson should at least have been given a chance to start by this point.
Jarrod Dyson shows there is still progress to be made on the analytics front. The inexplicable handling of Dyson can be attributed to a mistrust in advanced statistics. If we are going to consider Mike Trout to be the best player in baseball based on metrics such as WAR, then players such as Dyson need to be given the same consideration. What separates Mike Trout from David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, and Josh Donaldson is what makes Jarrod Dyson at least an above-average starting outfielder, if given the chance.
History student at American River College. http://dylansvobodabaseball.blogspot.com @svodylan