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A closer look at Sam Dyson, newest Giants reliever

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Boy, has Sam Dyson been bad this year. What the Giants are presupposing, then, is, “What if he’s good?”

Texas Rangers v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

There’s a fancy stat called Win Probability Added (WPA) that attempts to measure each player’s contributions to a team’s wins and losses. Everything the player does — from allowing a walk to striking someone out — affects his team’s chances of winning. WPA adds these events up and slaps a number on them.

If you’ve ever seen a graph that indicates something like, “The Cubs have a 98-percent chance of winning this game,” WPA is concerned with what happened to give them that 98-percent chance. If they had a 95-percent chance of winning, and then there was a strikeout to put them at 98 percent, the reliever would get .03 WPA. The batter would get -.03 WPA.

When the numbers are added up, they’re supposed to represent wins and losses. A hitter with 1.00 WPA has added a win, in theory. A reliever with a -1.00 WPA has cost a win, in theory.

In the history of baseball, no pitcher has had a worse WPA in fewer than 20 innings than Sam Dyson did this season.

Part of that has to do with specialized relievers being more common in the modern era, sure, but there are relievers from the ‘60s and ‘80s in the top 10, too, so it’s not just a function of era. It’s nearly impossible to combine high-leverage situations with failure quite like Dyson has done this year. He has, in fact, been one of the best all-time in a small sample. Which is to say, one of the worst.

If you remove the 20-inning limit, he still has the 14th-worst season ever, according to WPA. That is extraordinary.

However! The reliever responsible for the 13th-worst season is in the Hall of Fame for relievering right nice. Two years after being responsible for all sorts of bullpen meltdowns, Rollie Fingers didn’t just win the Cy Young. He won the MVP. Which is ludicrous, I know, but the point is that he was good after being bad.

Dyson is not Rollie Fingers. But the Giants are taking a chance that the 199 career innings he threw before this season mean more than his last 16. Is there any reason not to think that?

We’ll start with the obvious gremlin in a situation like this: velocity. When a pitcher is hurt, maybe he’s throwing slower. Via FanGraphs:

It’s a downward trend, but he also seems to run a little cold at the start of every season. I’m going to ignore it. He’s still throwing 95 with sink. That’s not the problem.

His sinker is sinking less than it was when he was successful in the ninth inning last year, but it’s not sinking less than it was when he was excellent in 2015. Even if it’s sinking less, that might be a fixable problem. Consider that his release point is clearly different than it was last year. People in the Giants front office have computers, too, and they also have scouts. They might think, “Yeah. We can fix that.” I encourage that line of thought in a season like this.

While researching this, I realized that Jeff Sullivan already wrote the article I was trying to write, but he did it better than I was going to do it. My typical response in this situation would be “Oh, screw you, pal,” but it’s a relief in this case. And now I get to steal his words.

Dyson’s average velocity is a little down, and his peak velocity is a little down. Maybe, behind the scenes, he is kind of hurt. Maybe it’s a mechanical flaw I just haven’t spotted. Maybe it’s confidence, or maybe it’s nothing. There are an awful lot of similarities between this Sam Dyson and the really good Sam Dyson. That’s where baseball gets the most complicated.

His conclusion is about what I was shooting for:

For the Rangers, this isn’t a blip. For Dyson’s next team, well, what if it is? Who wouldn’t want to cheaply pick up a guy who was an effective closer as recently as a summer ago? I know it’s not altogether satisfying to encounter a baseball post that comes down to a shrug of the shoulders, but it’s important to understand this isn’t just me shrugging, as a guy at his computer. The league doesn’t know. The teams involved don’t know. Sam Dyson is a complete and utter mystery. As such, two teams are about to take chances. In some way or another, games are going to turn on this.

The Giants have lost so much this season that they can lose even more without affecting their postseason chances. A 10-game losing streak might move their odds of playing in the postseason from .2 percent to .1, which is to say, not enough to make any sort of a difference.

Though FanGraphs has them at about 6 percent, which is about 6 percent higher than expected. Oh, there still might be some magic left this year, after all.

Probably not, though, so the Giants might as well spend some time figuring out if they have anything that will help them win more in 2018. You’ll see at-bats for players like Austin Slater, Christian Arroyo, Jae-gyun Hwang, and Chris Shaw as the season continues. You’ll watch looksee innings from Tyler Beede, Joan Gregorio, Kyle Crick, and Reyes Moronta, perhaps. Their contributions to 2017, while appreciated, don’t have to be the point. Contributions to the cause after that are the point. The goals have shifted.

That’s where Dyson fits in. This is a chance for the Giants to have one less thing to worry about in the offseason. The money that would go to a rejuvenated Dyson would be money that wouldn’t go to a more expensive random reliever, which is money that could go to, oh, an outfielder. If we’re spitballing.

So while it’s gallows humor to look at Dyson’s season, look at the Giants’ season, and assume that they’re star-crossed, there’s some actual strategy going on here. The goal for the rest of the season should be “Dunno, let’s see.” They’ll know pretty quickly if it’s a plan to be abandoned.

Because it’s not like they’ve kept pitchers around for four years in the hopes that they can be fixed.

It’s not like that at all.

Okay, now I’m a little scared. But I’m okay with this gamble. Mostly because the Giants have already lost all of their money, so they’re, like, putting one shoe on the roulette table. They have other shoes. It was an old shoe, so they couldn’t have sold it. Here, take this shoe and spin the wheel, dealer.

Welcome to the rest of 2017.