In discussing the makeup of the roster with Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, Ned Yost pointed out an added benefit to rostering two utility infielders. The ability of Miguel Tejada and Elliot Johnson to cover any position on the field (at least in theory), frees up Jarrod Dyson to be a pinch runner in nearly any situation.
Dyson’s speed is unquestionably an asset. He’s stolen 50 bases in 57 opportunities, and he’s made plays most players can’t simply by being the fastest guy in the stadium. The play where he scored from third on a pop up to shortstop in 2011 comes to mind. After that play, he told Joel Goldberg “That’s what speed do”, a catchphrase that always resurfaces when he does something on the basepaths.
Having a player like that can be valuable as a pinch runner because he can be employed once at will. The phrase “you can’t steal first base” has been used before for speedy players who might be great once they’re on base, but have trouble getting that small detail of reaching in the first place. As a pinch runner, the Royals can guarantee that they can have Dyson on the basepaths if they want him to be. Having Tejada available for any infield spot and Johnson available to play the outfield does give them the opportunity to use Dyson more liberally as a pinch runner.
Done deal, right?
Maybe, maybe not.
I’ve been guilty of underrating Dyson’s offensive abilities before. To look at him, he looks like the typical speedster who gets the bat knocked out of his hands and otherwise tries to slap everything the other way. In some ways that’s true – he’s not going to have much power. The extra bases he gets will be due to his legs turning singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He doesn’t put the ball in the air often enough to get a lot of random home runs. He has one in his career during his September callup in 2011. Most of the time, though, he puts the ball on the ground (nearly 60% of the time as a big leaguer according to FanGraphs). Remember that scene in Major League where manager Lou Brown is admonishing Willie Mays Hayes for popping the ball up?
It’s just like that. Dyson should be hitting line drives and grounders that he can leg out. But he can also walk and reach base. In 448 big league plate appearances, Dyson has walked 9.6% of the time. Last year, Alex Gordon led the Royals by walking in 10.1% of his plate appearances.
This is why many call for Dyson to work within a platoon (or partial one) with Jeff Francoeur. He won’t provide much as far as driving in runs, but he can create them on his own. Marcus Meade was beating that drum late last December, noting that bunt hits could be an opportunity for Dyson to get more playing time. It’s surprising to say it (or maybe just to me), but Dyson’s value may be underestimated him on this team.
I doubt he’d be a strong everyday player – he still hasn’t hit lefties – but Dyson could do enough at the plate to be more than a second coming of Herb Washington. The Royals want to use him more, but perhaps they’re taking the wrong angle.