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Questions about Sam Dyson’s shoulder and future

The Twins have confronted the Giants about the reliever’s health prior to the July 31st trade.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve been Online at all today, then you’ve no doubt seen the news that the Twins have asked the Giants about Sam Dyson’s health prior to the July 31st trade. As La Velle Neal of the Star Tribune tells it:

As standard procedure before trades are finalized, Dyson’s medical information was examined by the Twins. There were no red flags on the records they examined.

Dyson, however, informed the Twins shortly after joining them on July 31 that he has been pitching with some discomfort, dating to a July 15-17 series against Colorado. He said he’s had aches before and had pitched through them.

“It’s something pitchers always have,” he said in August. “I think everyone is always working through something … Just been grinding on it.”

Dyson spent this afternoon in LA seeing Dr. Neal El-Attrache, whom you might remember as the doctor who performed Johnny Cueto’s Tommy John surgery last year. The problem doesn’t appear to be in his elbow but in his shoulder, an equally serious injury in terms of minimum time he’ll be out, but a potentially greater injury in the grand scheme of “Will Sam Dyson ever pitch again.”

Going back to Dyson’s self-reporting, though. He pitched twice in that Colorado series, with four strikeouts in two innings of work. From July 15th until the trade deadline, he appeared in seven games, struck out seven, allowed two hits and a walk with a 0.00 ERA. He was as dominant as ever. At the time of the deal, he was the 19th-best reliever in baseball.

What’s interesting to me, though probably not as important to the situation, is that just before the Colorado series and his impressive run before the deadline, he blew a hold against the Brewers in Milwaukee — in spectacular fashion, in fact. Three runs and four hits without recording an out.

I got a little Jim Garrison-y and rewatched that fateful 8th inning. Dyson was chucking 93-94 mph sinkers. He looked like he had nothing. He threw 11 total pitches — 10 “sinkers” and a changeup.

Every pitch was in the middle of the plate. He couldn’t locate his sinkers up or down. Everything was belt high until he threw a changeup, that simply hung in the middle part of the zone long enough for Eric Thames to whack it into right field for a single. He didn’t have it and that’s the fate of relief pitchers: some nights, you just don’t have it.

Still, it’s not completely out of the realm of reason for the Twins to suspect the Giants might’ve been a bit underhanded here. There’s no actual evidence of that — as Neal’s article notes — but the coincidence is . . . too coincidental? On the other hand, he’s a relief pitcher, man, and relief pitchers break down all the time. Pitchers break down, too. Pitching is an unnatural act. The human body can do amazing things, and chucking a baseball 93-94 mph 10 times in an inning would be amazing if it didn’t happen almost every time we spoiled viewers watched a baseball game.

For a moment I thought maybe there was something to that Brewers outing. I thought maybe Dyson had misremembered when he didn’t feel quite right. I almost had a case just based off of the data! Here’s a five-game sampling of his release point. Here’s where he released the ball this past April against the Nationals (2 IP, 0 R, 3 K):

Here it is on July 7th against the Cardinals (2 IP, 0 R, 2 K):

Those are pretty close, but clumped just a hair closer to that -2 mark, or maybe a 4-6 inch difference. That would seem to be remarkable . . .

. . . and yet it’s the exact same release point. as that Brewers beatdown. Okay, so, this is when he was feeling discomfort. Maybe the slight change in release point is indicative of something going on under the hood (or shoulder). Well, here he is in that first dominant relief appearance in Colorado (1 IP, 0 R, 3 K):

Ah, now it looks like the release point is drifting in a bit more. But the results (the aforementioned 7-game stretch) and the lack of pain (which you’d assume would’ve come from whatever discomfort he felt in Colorado — maybe being at altitude made him uncomfortable?) and the clean medicals that the Twins saw and came away with from their own look suggests that whatever we’re seeing on these charts aren’t revelatory.

There’s nothing vertically or horizontally that tells us anything here.

Look. Here’s a 1.2 IP, 0 R, 1 K performance he had with the Twins last month after coming off the IL for right biceps tendinitis:

Well, that’s about the same as where it’s been since the Brewers incident, so maybe I am wrong and this does show something? Nah. Here are two random release point graphs from last year:

This one is literally a year to the date before the 2019 Brewers game. That looks the same. So does this August chart:

Brooks Baseball also gives us spin rate graphs per game. Spin rate is a great measure of stuff and Dyson’s fastball spin rates are well above league average. We’re talking 2,200+ rpm. Here are those 2019 games again, with just the highest measured spin indicated:

4/16/2019: ~2,300 rpm
7/7/2019: ~2,300 rpm
7/13/2019: ~2,300 rpm
7/15/2019: ~1,275 rpm
8/24/2019: ~2,300 rpm

Yeah, I see the dip for Colorado. That continued into the next game, with the highest rpm coming in around 1,650, but the majority of his pitches below 1,100. That could very well be the effect of pitching at altitude. On the other hand, charting it through the next series (at home against the Mets), he’s maxing out around 1,900 in his first appearance, but in his second appearance — the series finale — he ‘s back up to 2,200 rpm.

So, he’s a relief pitcher. I’m sure if we go back and do the same sort of tracking for his Giants career, we’ll find similar stretches of low rpm and a slight variance in release point. That would seem to be the fate of every relief pitcher. I can’t remember who said it, but there’s the idea that a pitcher’s arm and shoulder only has so many pitches in them before they give out. After so many ups and downs, the Twins would seem to have caught the bad luck of getting him at the end of his current elbow ligament’s useful life.

The key for Dyson’s future and health is the result of that shoulder examination. A pitcher with a bad shoulder might not be a pitcher anymore.