A month ago, the Royals were not sure whether to buyers or sellers at the deadline. Many thought it was time to sell, with the team far out of it. Dayton Moore thought they had another run in them (and he was right!) but was not so certain enough that he was a buyer at the deadline. However the team did make one deal, acquiring outfielder Billy Burns from the Athletics in exchange for outfielder Brett Eibner.
In a vacuum, it was a deal that made sense as Burns had been a pretty valuable player in 2015 with the A’s, while Eibner was 27 years old with very little Major League experience. Since then, Eibner has done little to make the Royals regret the trade, while Burns’ only contribution to the Royals seems to be as caretaker for the Rally Mantis.
When looking a the Royals’ roster, however, it was a mystifying deal. Burns’ best weapon is speed, something the Royals have more than enough of. The only explanation was that Burns would be a younger, cheaper version of Jarrod Dyson, who could become expendable and shopped this winter to save the Royals some money.
Jarrod Dyson is showing why that would be a terrible idea.
First of all, marvel again in his catch in Miami last week. Look at the ground he covers.
Sorry, but Billy Burns ain’t doing that.
The catch is just one out, but it exemplifies how amazing Dyson has been at converting fly balls into outs. Ultimate Zone Rating is a simple tool to help measure how much better or worse a player is compared to an average player at converting balls into outs, and we can even use UZR/150 to pro-rate playing time to 150 games, to account for the fact Dyson is a part-timer. Since he became a Major League semi-regular in 2012, Dyson is fifth among all centerfielders in baseball in UZR/150, according to Fangraphs, ahead of even Lorenzo Cain. Billy Burns is 58th, behind guys like Andre Ethier and Marcell Ozuna.
By Defensive Runs Saved, Dyson is sixth over that time, despite playing in half the innings of the seventh-place centerfielder, Carlos Gomez. By Range Runs, measuring how much ground he covers in centerfield, he is third behind only Lorenzo Cain and Billy Hamilton. You get the point, Dyson is one of the best defensive players in baseball, and downgrading from him to Burns, a simply average defender, is a huge drop-off.
Then there is what speed do. Dyson can be known for a baserunning blunder or two, but that is because he is so aggressive on the bases. Overall, he is one of the best baserunners in the game. Baserunning Runs is a way to quantify a player’s contributions on the bases, from stealing bases, to taking an extra base. Since 2012, only three players have more Baserunning Runs than Dyson - Mike Trout, Rajai Davis, and Billy Hamilton.
As a basestealer, he is extraordinarily efficient. Since World War II, only six baserunners with at least 100 career steals have had a more successful rate at stealing bases than Dyson’s 84.8%, according to Baseball-Reference. In terms of success rate, he has been a better base stealer than Tim Raines, Willie Wilson, or Rickey Henderson. Billy Burns has great speed, but is a pretty average base-stealer, swiping at a rate of 76.7%. Burns has also been knocked for being poor at deciding when to steal, although perhaps working with Rusty Kuntz could improve that.
Then there is offense. We all know that Dyson isn’t exactly a power hitter, but neither is Burns. Burns actually has a slightly lower career ISO (.089 to Dyson’s .086) and Burns has the highest rate of “soft-contact” in baseball over the last two years (Dyson is fifth). We get it, power is not their skillset.
But to steal second, a hitter must reach first. Dyson gets on base 31.9% of the time, Burns gets on base 30.9% of the time. Dyson uses walks to get on base, drawing walks at a rate of 8.4%, twice the rate of Burns at 4.2%. Burns gets on base by making contact, which he is good at, but relying on contact puts you at the mercy of the opposing defense. Batting averages can fluctuate randomly, as we have seen with Burns’ career. He hit .294 in 2015, and is hitting just .230 this year. When you live by contact, you die by contact.
Jarrod Dyson will be eligible for arbitration this winter and should expect a salary around $3-4 million, a very reasonable price for a player that has consistently been around a 2 WAR player the past four seasons. Now Burns is younger (26) and was a 2.8 WAR player in 2015. But we can see how his skillset is heavily dependent on him hitting for average, something he cannot be counted on to do consistently.
Meanwhile, Jarrod Dyson continues to be a quietly brilliant player. If the Royals are serious about contending in 2017, as they should be, platooning Dyson with Paulo Orlando would maximize both players’ talents and give the Royals a very valuable outfield combo to go with Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. Trying to save money by dealing Dyson and going with Burns would only be penny-wise and pound-foolish.