Let’s start with a couple of facts, followed by an opinion.
1. In 2016, 38 big-league players hit 30 or more home runs.
2. In 2016, 14 big-league players stole 30 or more bases.
Baseball skills are rated from 20 to 80 — 80 being the best — and according to Royals coach Rusty Kuntz, there are more 30-home run guys than 80-speed guys.
I’m not sure this proves Rusty is right, but assuming I counted correctly, in the last decade there have been more 30-or-more home run seasons (236) than 30-or-more stolen base seasons (166). Speed does not always equal stolen bases, but if Rusty’s point is top-of-the-line speed is rare, he has a pretty good case.
And Jarrod Dyson had top-of-the-line speed.
That being the case, let’s look at what the Royals gave up when they traded Dyson to the Seattle Mariners.
A late-inning defensive replacement
The Royals’ new right fielder appears to be Jorge Soler, who has the reputation for being defensively challenged — not what you want in park the size of Kauffman Stadium. So the Royals will probably want to replace Soler in the later innings of a ballgame — especially when they’re winning — and if that’s the case the Royals need someone on the bench who’s an upgrade on defense.
In the past that was Dyson; in 2017 someone else has to fill that role.
A late-inning base stealer
They say a true base stealer is a guy who can come off the bench and swipe a bag when everyone in the stadium knows he’s going to do it. By that definition Dyson was a true base stealer.
Off the bench Dyson was a weapon; Ned Yost could use him to pinch run in late-inning situations and even if Dyson didn’t steal a base he forced pitchers to rush their deliveries and throw fastballs to the guy at the plate.
Now the Royals have one less weapon.
A base-stealing threat
Even when Dyson didn’t steal, he had a reputation that put pressure on the other team.
▪ Catchers would tend to call fastballs so they had some chance of throwing Dyson out and their pitch framing often got worse because they were coming out of their receiving stance more quickly.
▪ Pitchers would tend to slide step, which took a few miles per hour off a fastball. The slide step could also cause those fastballs to be up in the zone. (The front foot gets down more quickly and the arm never catches up.)
▪ Middle infielders would tend to hug second base to make sure they got there in time to receive the catcher’s throw and that positioning opened up holes on the infield.
Without a true base-stealing threat standing on first, the other team doesn’t have to do any of that; pitchers can throw any pitch they like and don’t have to slide step, catchers can concentrate on receiving the pitch and middle infielders can play back and give themselves more range.
A stolen base can change a game, but even the threat of a stolen base can make a difference.
A high-energy guy
Look up Dyson’s numbers and you won’t find one for “energy” but even though we don’t know how to measure it, energy is still extremely important. If you’ve never gone through a 162-game season you have no idea how tiring it can be. I’m only watching 162 games and by the end of August, I’m dragging. That’s what makes high-energy guys so important; high-energy guys pick everyone up — mopers bring everyone down.
Jarrod Dyson was a very high-energy guy.
It’s hard to be a team leader without being a starter, but Dyson pulled it off by force of personality; he was the funniest (and loudest) guy in the clubhouse. He kept his teammates laughing and over the course of a summer, that’s no small thing. When Dyson was out at the beginning of the 2016 season, Rusty said the team missed his energy both on the field and in the clubhouse.
And right now the Royals do not seem to have a guy who can fill that role.
OK, that’s what the Royals have lost; next I’ll look at pitcher Nathan Karns and what the Royals have gained.