What on Earth are the Royals going to do in right field in 2013? It’s gnawing at me. I look at this team and see all its potential, and then I see this gaping hole in right field. If that hole doesn’t get filled, it could keep the Royals from contending. It could make the trade of Wil Myers worthless.
The hard truth is there are no reasonable and good answers to the right field problem. There are pipe dream answers—trade for Giancarlo Stanton. There are insufficient answers—maybe Jeff Francoeurwill play like he did in 2011. But there aren’t any realistically hopeful solutions.
Previously, I’ve posited the notion of platooning Francoeur and Jarrod Dyson. Presumably, Dyson would play center field and Lorenzo Cain would move over to right field. The idea being that Francoeur can kind of hit lefties, Dyson can kind of hit righties so maybe together they could be slightly above replacement level. That solutions sounds fairly reasonable and more hopeful than simply allowing Francoeur to enact that seizure like thing he calls a swing at the plate 600 times this season.
Of course none of this would be an issue if Dyson would simply fulfill his potential as a ball player. If he became the player he could be, he would play center, Cain could take right field and Francoeur could start his own lawn care service or something. It’s interesting because by signing Willy Taveras, the Royals have brought in a model to show Dyson what type of ball player he could and should be.
Whenever I see Dyson play I think to myself If this guy knew how to bunt, he’d be an every day centerfielder. Dyson had five bunt hits in 2012 in what amounts to a half-season’s worth of plate appearances. So, project him out to a full season of everyday action, and he’d have roughly 10 bunt hits in a season. That may seem like a lot, but it really isn’t.
Now, let’s look at Taveras. If you ever watched him play in his prime—2005-2007 roughly—then you know he was just as fast as Dyson and bunted a lot. In those four seasons, he had batting averages of .291, .278, and .320 (in 97 games) respectively. In those seasons he also had 31, 21, and 38 bunt hits. This led to really high BABIPs, which Taveras really needed because he never walked and struck out a lot.
Something that really set Taveras apart was how successful he was at bunting for a hit. In 2007, he successfully bunted for a hit 64.4 percent of the time, which is why he hit .320. Over his career, he has been successful 46.3 percent of the time when attempting to bunt for a hit. In comparison, Dyson was only successful 26.3 percent of the time last season. So, it’s safe to say that Dyson doesn’t get many bunt hits because he’s not very good at it, which also makes him try it less.
There are differences, of course, between Taveras and Dyson, and they’re virtually all in Dyson’s favor (except for the fact that Taveras is a much better bunter). Dyson has more plate discipline than Taveras ever has. Taveras has walked only 5.1 percent of the time throughout his career (9.6 percent for Dyson). Taveras hits right handed, which is actually a disadvantage when bunting for hits. Dyson, so far, has been a fairly unambiguously good center fielder while Taveras has had a couple of negative fielding seasons.
Let’s imagine that Dyson could bunt like Taveras in his prime. We’ll take Dyson’s numbers from 2012 and project them for a full season of everyday work in center field and adjust them for a more successful bunter. If we extrapolate Dyson’s numbers from 2012, we get this: 660 PA, 584 AB, 10 BUH, 38 BUH attempts with a success rate of roughly 26 percent. That keeps his season numbers exactly where they were in 2012—.260 BA, .328 OBP. Now, let’s exchange some numbers to make Dyson a good bunter. Let’s say his success rate is 40 percent (six percent below Taveras’ but equal to Alcides Escobar’s success rate in 2012). That would give him 15 BUH. With that simple change, his BA goes up to .268, and his OBP goes up to .332.
Those numbers are miles ahead of Francoeur’s .235 BA and .287 OBP from 2012 (though I don’t believe Francoeur will be quite that bad in 2013).
Now, let’s think about a scenario in which Dyson, because he’s a more successful bunter, bunts more often. Starting from the same numbers as before, let’s say he attempts to bunt for a hit 70 times in a season. At a 40 percent success rate, he would collect 28 BUH. That would leave 590 PA and 514 AB. Add Dyson’s usual performance to his increase in bunting ability and frequency, and his batting average rises to .277. If Dyson could get to .277 and roughly .335-.340 OBP, he could be an everyday centerfielder with his excellent defense and baserunning ability.
What are the odds of this occurring? Maybe 5 percent. People need to give Dyson a lot of credit for how much he’s improved over his time in the Royals organization. But he’s 28 years old, and developing a significant new skill is tough with such limited time.
Still, he should try. He should spend time talking with Taveras in Spring Training and working to develop his overall hitting approach to take advantage of his skill set. In fact, the conspiracy theorist in me believes the Royals signed Taveras with the intent of having him mentor Dyson a little bit. Part of Dyson’s problem is that he seems to slip out of the mindset he needs to always have—one of a speed oriented Juan Pierre type player. By the way, Pierre’s career BUH success rate is 34.3 percent. Kenny Lofton’s was 45.1 percent.
I think there’s something to this idea.