The Pittsburgh Pirates are known for getting the most out of pitchers that have flamed out elsewhere. Can newly DFA’ed Sam Dyson fit that same bill?
Former Pittsburgh Pirates coach Jeff Banister now resides over the Texas Rangers as manager. Those same Rangers designated right-handed reliever Sam Dyson for assignment yesterday.
In addition, Rosenthal reports that the Rangers are expected to explore trade possibilities for the 29 year-old reliever.
Dyson checks a great deal of boxes that might have the Pittsburgh Pirates interested in acquiring him. He is controllable through 2020, and will go through arbitration three more times. He has a solid – when working, more on that momentarily – sinking fastball that induces a great deal of ground balls. He served admirably as a closing option for the Rangers in 2016, saving 38 games that year with a stout 7.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
However, the wheels have completely fallen off of Dyson in 2017. A 10.80 ERA is backed by a 9.04 FIP, and his HR/9 – once Dyson’s calling card – has risen sharply to a 3.2 HR/9 rate as opposed to his career mark of 0.8. You could also say that he is a bit hittable, averaging 16.7 hits per nine.
Is he too far gone to fit with the Pirates?
We mentioned Dyson’s sinker, and surely that might catch the Pittsburgh Pirates’ eye. For as much as the club’s bullpen is seemingly trying to remake itself on the fly by aiming for more swings and misses, the Pirates were still committed to carrying a sinker and ground ball heavy pitcher into 2017 provided Jared Hughes was still capable.
Though he has been known to mix in some other offerings, Dyson and his slider are peas in a pod:
image courtesy of Brooks Baseball
To backtrack a moment: some pitch recognition systems see the pitch as more of a two-seam fastball with sinking action. Perhaps that is a catalyst for its effectiveness. In either event, that sinker was effective, and Dyson leaned on it a ton.
But there was just one problem. The sinker was not his preferred out pitch during 2016.
Keeping the two-seam classification in mind, we can see that the change up was actually Dyson’s preferred pitch on two-strike counts while also ahead in the count. If we look at how that pitch performed across all two strike counts, it was decidedly average.
For one, the change invoked a fair number of whiffs – 21 out of 86 change ups thrown in two-strike counts were swings and misses – but also resulted in an equal number of fouls at 21. It landed for a ball 33.7 percent of the time. Most alarming, the changeup had exactly one called strike on a two-strike count in 2016, showing a startling lack of deception. While it is true that the changeup was put into play just 14 times in two-strike counts, more often than not the at-bat was extended off of the pitch.
And once that happened, Dyson went right back to his favorite pitch. This becomes a severe problem as hitters clearly built a book on Dyson. By sitting on the changeup, or fouling it off, hitters were able to force Dyson back to using something they knew would be coming. The resulting scenario worked well for the right-hander in 2015 and 2016. But an entirely different story has taken form in 2017.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]But there was just one problem. The sinker was not his preferred out pitch during 2016.[/perfectpullquote]
In the current season, the approach has been the same, with Dyson favoring the changeup in two-strike counts (using it in 22.32 percent of those counts), but seeing far worse results. 39.7 percent of changeups thrown in this scenario result in balls; 32.9 percent are put in play, and only seven whiffs are seen to go along with zero called stikes.
So the question now becomes: What can the Pittsburgh Pirates and pitching coach Ray Searage do combat a firmly established trend?
There is some history to draw on, notably with J.A. Happ. Searage and company tinkered with Happ’s pitch mix, dropping what didn’t work while emphasizing the pitches that did. The results were legendary, and the lasting effects helped turned Happ into a Cy Young candidate in 2016.
In Dyson’s case, this might mean showcasing the fastball and its 95.42 mph average velocity more often. It could mean getting that slider going again, which carries great movement but has been discarded almost entirely.
It would require more heavy lifting than most, but if the answer to Dyson’s issues are simply tinkering with pitch sequencing, the Pittsburgh Pirates should have all the confidence in the world in “fixing” Dyson.
However, that comes before off-the-field concerns.
A Clear Roadmap?
We mentioned at the top that Dyson has three years of control remaining, but as a Super Two candidate, will go through a total of four rounds of arbitration. That could artificially drive up Dyson’s cost, and the Pittsburgh Pirates would have to factor in just how much a struggling year (or half of a year, if they acquire him and successfully rebuild his value) can offset that. Of course, the club can always non-tender him, but to do so would be giving up a controllable asset, something the team is loathe to do.
The Rangers certainly have the talent to make a run for a playoff spot in the American League. However, it would be hard to see them catching the Houston Astros for the division crown. If the Rangers’ internal baseball ops feels they can get to the one-game playoff while having the talent to go further, they may be willing to explore the mythical “change of scenery” trade.
Juan Nicasio comes to mind almost immediately in that scenario. Nicsaio is a free agent after 2017 and makes eerily similar money to Dyson. Both are right-handers. Nicasio has proven to be a very capable major-league reliever. If the Rangers truly envision themselves as contenders, they can easily plug Nicasio into the same slot as Dyson once occupied.
Of course, with Dyson’s control, the Rangers will push for a prospect to be included in any potential deal. The Pirates will likely scoff at that, causing a stalemate. Additionally, the truth is that there may be better offers out there for Nicasio if Neal Huntington is willing to wait at least a bit closer to the deadline.
If the Rangers know in their heart of hearts that 2017 will not end the way they want it to, they too might wait until the deadline and see what better offers are out there.
On the field, a potential trade for Dyson makes some modicum of sense.
Off the field, the picture gets much murkier, and, for that reason alone, the Pittsburgh Pirates might be better served waiting until the deadline is a bit closer before entertaining such ideas.
Photo Credit – Keith Allison – Flickr Creative Commons