It’s Anyone’s Guess What Sam Dyson Has Left

Not very long ago, Sam Dyson was a revelation. He was acquired quietly, but deliberately, and he played a major role in turning around what had been an unstable 2015 Rangers bullpen. Down the stretch in 2015, and then again throughout the year in 2016, Dyson pitched like one of the more valuable relievers around, providing the Rangers the luxury of riding his sinker to one- and two-run victorious margins. When one would try to explain the Rangers’ success, you’d have to talk about the relievers, and you couldn’t talk about all of them without talking about one of them in particular.

Not very long ago, Sam Dyson was designated for assignment. The Rangers ran out of patience, and although Dyson’s going to get another opportunity, it won’t be with Texas. The team won’t be getting much back. By WPA, already, Dyson has been worth what he was a season ago, only this time with a minus sign in front of it. At -3.45, Dyson owns the lowest WPA in the game. He’s been worse even than Francisco Rodriguez. WPA usually is not a very good analytical tool. It doesn’t always reflect the true totality of a player’s worth. Yet it’s sure had Dyson figured out.

The weird thing is how little has changed. I know that Dyson’s going to be moved any minute now, but the industry doesn’t know all that much more than we do. When it comes to trying to see Sam Dyson’s future, it’s simply a whole lot of guesswork.

Say you want to focus on the negatives here. It’s easily the obvious case. Why won’t Sam Dyson be good again? Point number one is probably that the Rangers are giving up on him. No team has had a better look at what Sam Dyson is like at his best, but the Rangers are cutting the cord. They already tried the fake-injury thing, but they just can’t hide him anymore, and they can’t get him fixed. Do you have tips for Dyson, to get him straightened out? I bet the Rangers tried that. No matter what you have on your mind, I bet the Rangers tried that. The fixes didn’t take. At least publicly, no one has questioned Dyson’s health, but enough of the pitches have been bad. It’s not like this comes down to a BABIP problem.

The numbers are terrible. The numbers are terrible. The ERA’s over 10. The FIP’s over 9. Dyson’s a pitcher with 12 walks and seven strikeouts, and oh, by the way, righties have slugged .520, but lefties have slugged .966. It’s as if the Rangers chose their closer from a group of second basemen. No one could powerfully disagree with the Rangers’ choice. Everything sucks, and teams have to win. You can’t just hide a reliever like this these days.

Is there precedent? Is this one of those cases where the numbers are only easier to notice because they’re the first numbers of the year? Dyson this year has pitched 17 times, so let’s examine his career in 17-game chunks:

See, that’s interesting. There was an extended stretch just last summer when Dyson couldn’t get hitters to whiff. While that was happening, it’s not like he avoided issuing any walks. You could say that, hey, Dyson bounced back once before, so he can do it again. On the other hand, that would make two such extended stretches in a matter of just a few months of regular-season baseball. At some point, lousy stretches stop being slumps, and start more closely representing the norm.

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about Dyson in 2017. This isn’t the first time I’ve spent an hour or two analyzing video. I haven’t included any video because I haven’t been able to spot anything that I think is significant. He still seems to be throwing in basically the same way. Clearly, he hasn’t hit his same spots. Too many sinkers have drifted up. Too many changeups have gone by, un-offered at. The stuff itself isn’t too terribly different. Dyson still has his sinker, and he’s still kept more than 60% of batted balls on the ground. There is, at least, this one fact:

Rate of fastballs thrown at 95+ miles per hour

2014: 80%
2015: 84%
2016: 77%
2017: 48%

Dyson’s average velocity is a little down, and his peak velocity is a little down. Maybe, behind the scenes, he is kind of hurt. Maybe it’s a mechanical flaw I just haven’t spotted. Maybe it’s confidence, or maybe it’s nothing. There are an awful lot of similarities between this Sam Dyson and the really good Sam Dyson. That’s where baseball gets the most complicated.

From the Rangers’ perspective, they’ve seen too much. They’ve seen too much, and they’ve put in work for too few positive results. As far as they stand, it would be silly to want to keep using Dyson, because he seems so completely unfixable. From another team’s perspective, they’ve perhaps deliberately seen little. They haven’t had to experience Dyson every day, and so zero frustration has built. Each side could consider the other to be irrational. The Rangers could think it’s irrational to think Dyson could be saved. Other teams could think it’s irrational to give up on someone with Dyson’s arm after two months. This is why a trade will get made. No one could really be all that sure.

Mechanical quirks are fixable. Health issues sometimes are not. And it hardly seems like a stretch to imagine that, perhaps, Dyson has just gotten too down. Perhaps he got off to a lousy start and then everything just psychologically snowballed. We don’t have a great understanding of how a lack of confidence manifests, or how it could be corrected. What we do know is that players slump all the time, and then they often climb out. It’s something.

Seemingly broken relievers have bounced back in the past. Jim Johnson had a nightmare of a 2014, and now he’s closing again, as a fairly similar sinker-baller. For Dyson, Johnson could be an inspiration. The worst-ever single-season WPA for a pitcher was posted by 2009 Brad Lidge, of all people, and the next year he had a sub-3 ERA. And who could forget about 2016 Daniel Hudson, who had one of the most unusual seasons I can recall? Between the end of June and the start of August, Hudson allowed an improbable 31 runs in 9.2 innings. And then, the rest of the way, he allowed just four runs over 21.2 innings, with peripherals to match. Hudson got as low as any player could. He was practically fixed between games. Even the worst slumps imaginable can be nothing but blips.

For the Rangers, this isn’t a blip. For Dyson’s next team, well, what if it is? Who wouldn’t want to cheaply pick up a guy who was an effective closer as recently as a summer ago? I know it’s not altogether satisfying to encounter a baseball post that comes down to a shrug of the shoulders, but it’s important to understand this isn’t just me shrugging, as a guy at his computer. The league doesn’t know. The teams involved don’t know. Sam Dyson is a complete and utter mystery. As such, two teams are about to take chances. In some way or another, games are going to turn on this.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joe Joemember
6 years ago

I’m going to guess Dyson ends up on a bad team. They give low leverage situations to pitch until trade deadline. He pitches well and is traded to someone desperate for more than Rangers got.

It is either that or he slowly fades like the Polaroid in Back to the Future.

6 years ago
Reply to  Joe Joe

It won’t be the twins, they already have a right-handed version of Sam Dyson in Kam Mickolio.