I don’t want to sound the all-clear too early, but according to the most trustworthy person I’ve never met—Bob Dutton—Ned Yost is considering making some changes to the lineup that include less of Jeff Francoeur and Chris Getz. (awkward white-guy dance in my office while no one is looking to celebrate).
I’ve been one of the most critical of the decision to play these two but most especially of the decision to play Francoeur (I was actually in favor of giving Getz the job out of Spring Training because he earned it and Giavotella did nothing to earn it). So, what I want to do with this post is make the argument I’ve made repeatedly across different posts but in one central location for those who have yet to read it. The argument is that Jarrod Dyson should be starting over Francoeur.
Francoeur and Dyson represent a somewhat difficult line of comparison for two reasons: 1) they are remarkably different players; 2) Francoeur has a lot of major league data to draw from while Dyson has relatively little. In order to accommodate these differences we’ll have to use that thing that allows statistics to come to life: intuition. This is closely related to reason and logic but is not exactly the “eye test” so beloved by Hawk Harrelson. It’s a way of seeing what is most important to the ultimate goal of winning baseball games within the context of what’s already in place.
So, here is the overarching reason Dyson should be playing instead of Francoeur: he’s more valuable. We’ll start with their WAR, a flawed but useful stat. In 2012, the only season in which Dyson saw significant playing time, he posted a 1.6 bWAR (that is WAR as it is measured by Baseball Reference). To be fair to Francoeur, I won’t use his 2012; it was the worst season of his career. Instead, I’ll look at 2011, arguably the best season of his career, in which he posted a 3.2 WAR. Dyson posted his 1.6 WAR in 330 PA and a few handfuls of pinch running appearances. Francoeur earned his 3.2 WAR in 656 PA.
If we simply ended the analysis there, Francoeur looks to have a case for starting over Dyson or at the very least, has a case that he is equally as valuable. If we extrapolate Dyson’s 2012 into a full season, it equals roughly Francoeur’s 2011. We can really keep this analysis extremely simple by asking ourselves one question at this juncture. Do we think Dyson’s 2012 was an anomalous career year? If it wasn’t, if Dyson can do better or at the very least consistently do that well, the answer is simple; Dyson should be starting over Francoeur. Because we know that Francoeur’s 2011 was a pretty anomalous career year. He hadn’t had a year like 2011 since 2007, and those two seasons represent his only full seasons over 3.0 bWAR. He has had a few seasons of negative bWAR, meaning he was worse than replacement level. This includes his 2012 season in which he was -2.3 WAR and the worst everyday player in baseball.
I feel confident saying that Dyson is either capable of maintaining his 2012 performance or improving on it. Here is why. Dyson only hit .260 in 2012, which isn’t great. That comes from a fairly good BABIP of .318, which is pretty typical of fast guys who can scrounge a few extra singles with their legs. The reason his batting average was so low was an unusually high strikeout percentage of 17 percent. It was usually high because in the minors his strikeout rate has been closer to the 12-14 range. However, he also had a fairly high walk rate of 9.1 percent. This gave him a .328 OBP. Dyson’s value is very tied to his ability to get on base and run. As he gets more acclimated to major league pitching, it seems reasonable to believe that he can cut down on strikeouts and put more balls in play, which with his speed should mean a higher average and thus, a higher on-base percentage.
But even if Dyson doesn’t improve at all, even if he only ever performs at the level he did in 2012, he would be a better starting option than Francoeur because the likelihood of Francoeur replicating his 2011 is very low. The inconsistency experienced over his career is remarkable, but if there was a safe bet on Francoeur’s WAR over a given season, it would lie in the .5-1.5 range, which is just below major league average. Nothing to write home about. Some argue that Francoeur has value because he has more power than Dyson and a better arm. This is partially true. Francoeur’s arm and power are better than Dyson’s but not nearly enough to make up the difference in range defensively or the wildly inconsistent offense. And really, Dyson has a pretty good arm as well.
The fact is Dyson is a better defender, and he’s the better base runner by a wide margin. Those are certainties, not open for debate among reasonable people (though I’m sure a few will chime in below to show just how “reasonable” they are). At the plate, Dyson has shown that he can hit at a level that is comparable to Francoeur in every area but power and probably exceeds Francoeur in on-base ability, especially once given a chance to get more plate appearances and see more major league pitching.
The only question people should really be asking is why did this take so long for Yost to see?.
P.S. Many favor a platoon split in this situation (Francoeur against lefties; Dyson against righties). While this is more appealing than seeing Francoeur all the time, I’d still start Dyson over Francoeur against most lefties. That’s how little faith I have in Francoeur’s ability to be a positive force at this point, regardless of his career numbers against lefties, which aren’t terrible. And while Dyson is worse against lefties, he hasn’t had enough big league plate appearances to tell us that the split will be significant enough to take the dire action of playing Francoeur.