Aaaaaand the M’s Also Traded Nate Karns for Jarrod Dyson
After creating an opening for a platoon OF, the M’s filled that position quickly by trading for ex-Royals CF Jarrod Dyson. Dyson’s been one of the league’s best defenders, but he’s not much of a hitter, as he’s got both very little power and serious platoon problems that have limited him to part-time duty in KC. The cost: Nate Karns, one of the few SP options in Seattle that had some upside potential. After an inconsistent season and injury woes (he was on the 60-day DL last year), I can understand the M’s desire to move on, but this feels like selling very low.
Dyson is coming off a 3-fWAR season according to Fangraphs, but he’s also 32. As a result, Karns is projected to be more valuable in 2017, despite the injury concerns. More problematic is how to deploy Dyson in a line-up that already has a solid defender in CF, Leonys Martin. A platoon perhaps? Well, Dyson and Martin are both left-handed bats (who both throw righty, oddly), so that may not work. Putting Dyson (or Martin) in a corner saps their value. With an OF now of Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger, Martin, and now Dyson, the M’s have four potential CFs. Despite getting more athletic in 2016, the M’s were still a disastrous defensive OF unit – 27.9 runs worse than average by UZR and 22 runs worse than average by DRS. Getting up to average or better is a great, mostly hidden way to add some production, but again, all of the players who put up league average or better seasons last year are now gone. It’s not as useful to gain 25 runs on defense if you just give it away again at the plate.
Dyson also adds value on the basepaths, another area the M’s struggled with last year. He’s become a better and better hitter too, in large part by making more contact – his 11% K rate last year ranked 27th out of 353 players with at least 200 PAs in 2016. His speed helps him post consistently decent BABIPs despite not hitting the ball all that hard. All told, he made himself something like an average offensive player, which, combined with his defense, is pretty useful – especially given the relative pittance he earns in salary.
Still, he’s 32, and will turn 33 before the 2017’s over. It’s hard to assume that his batting trend line keeps climbing, especially at an age when injuries become a bit more common; he missed 6 weeks with an oblique strain last year. More troubling is his batted ball authority. In 2015, Dyson’s average exit velocity was 3rd lowest in MLB according to Statcast. In 2016, it was just slightly better, but still ranking him hear the bottom with Ichiro, Billy Hamilton and a bunch of guys who’ve sinced been DFA’d (Max Muncy, JB Shuck). Statcast is still so new, it’s hard to know what to make of the new metrics, and despite its simplicity, *average* exit velocity won’t tell the whole story with some hitters. But it’s a pretty clean measure, and troublingly, it may actually OVERstate Dyson’s authority. Quite a few balls aren’t actually tracked by Statcast; those that are hit extremely softly or popped up are often missed by the system. That wouldn’t be a problem if Dyson just hit a ton of grounders, but he now hits more infield fly balls than average. Jeff Zimmermann adds average exit velocities for the batted-ball types that Statcast misses, and comes up with “corrected” exit velocities. That pushes Dyson’s average down, and it shows that the slight improvement in authority from 2015 to 2016 may be an illusion – all of those pop-ups mean that Dyson’s EV may have actually declined.
There’s a way to deploy Dyson optimally – a way to extract the maximum value from his exceptional speed and glove, while minimizing his exposure to left-handed pitchers. I’m just not sure that the M’s are well-positioned to do so. He can’t easily platoon with either Martin or Ben Gamel, and while Mitch Haniger hit lefties much better in the minors, it seems a waste to take at-bats from him in 2017. That leaves Guillermo Heredia, who saw most of his big league time in LF. Getting Jarrod Dyson to be a platoon LF seems sub-optimal to me.
This is a lot of negativity around a trade involving a 3 win player who’ll make $2.5M next year. There’s some actual upside in Dyson; the man’s proven that he can add better-than-league-average-production in part time duty, which is no small thing. But for a number of reasons, I was pretty high on Nate Karns – who, let’s remember, is still a pre-arb player. That said, Karns didn’t pitch all that well, and suffered a serious injury – his 2nd in a short MLB career. Whatever it was that caused the M’s coaching staff to sour on the guy (remember, he was demoted to the bullpen and just not used for a while) may have been a factor here, and maybe the M’s know some things that would change my view of this move. I know the M’s were thin at BOTH OF and SP, but this pair of trades doesn’t add a lot of value to the rotation while replacing their most consistent OF bat with a glove-first player without a glove-first place to play. Jerry Dipoto’s apparently told Bob Dutton that this is essentially it as far as position player additions go, so, uh, save us, Mitch Haniger. By Steamer projections, the M’s have just lost a win going from Karns+Seth Smith to Gallardo+Dyson. By ZiPS, it’s not quite as bad, but it’s still hard to see exactly how the M’s are better as a result of the two trades they made today.