First Pitch: What Can Jarrod Dyson Do For the Pirates?

It’s hard to see the Pirates having any kind of shot at contending this year. I don’t think the expected signing of Jarrod Dyson is going to change that.

The Pirates will get their center fielder in Dyson, which will likely put Guillermo Heredia on the bench as a fourth outfielder, and removes one of the position battles for the upcoming camp.

If the Pirates don’t have a shot in 2020, what does Dyson do for them?

First, I’ll point out that Dyson could have some value. He’s been worth 1+ WAR in seven of the last eight seasons (2018 was the exception) and has been worth 2+ WAR in three of the last six seasons. The last such event was 2017. He was worth 1.3 WAR in 2019.

Dyson doesn’t bring much to the table offensively. He has a career .291 wOBA and an 80 wRC+. His numbers were lower for both stats in 2019. His value comes from speed and defense.

In 34 attempts last year, Dyson stole 30 bases. He also had better defensive value in center field than Starling Marte, being worth almost a full win more. Obviously Marte has higher overall value from his offense, but the Pirates are getting everything else with Dyson.

They’re not going to win with Dyson. They’ll get speed and defense, which will help the pitching staff the most.

The Pirates insist they’re not “rebuilding” and instead building to a winning team. They’re still going to need to trade players for younger talent, but it would help if they could improve the value of those pitchers before the trades.

Most of the pitchers in Pittsburgh are only under control through 2022 or 2023. It’s unlikely that the majority of the pitching staff will be a big part of the next winning team in Pittsburgh. Their biggest role will be the trade returns they land for that future winning team.

Unfortunately, the value of the Pirates pitching staff isn’t high right now. There is room for improvement. The Pirates will be focusing on that in a big way with new pitching coach Oscar Marin. It also would help the cause if they can get strong defense to support that pitching staff.

The age-old belief is that you need strong defense up the middle to win. The Pirates are set up well for that. Their big outside additions to the position player group have been Dyson and Luke Maile — both weak offensively but strong defensively at key up-the-middle positions. Those two are paired with Kevin Newman and Adam Frazier, who both provide positive value. Frazier has even looked like one of the better defensive second basemen in the game, according to newer metrics.

The Pirates are now set up well for strong defense up the middle. That won’t lead to them winning, as they’ll need strong offense. I’m not sure they’ve made up enough ground in that department to support anything the current pitching staff could do. The defensive boost, though, could lead to them having better results on the pitching side, which leads to the pitchers raising their value.

I don’t think we’re talking about turning the 2019 pitching staff into a group of 3.00 ERA guys. But look at it this way: The Pirates had nothing behind the plate, and nothing for center field after the Marte trade. There were no options to give them both offense and defense. They’re not winning regardless of the quality of their catcher or center fielder. If the positions don’t matter in 2020, then the best approach is adding guys who can raise the values of others and help the team somehow in the long-term.

I’m not saying this is the plan by Ben Cherington. I’m just saying that the biggest meaningful value I see out of Dyson is the impact his defense will have on the pitching staff, and their values. The same goes for Luke Maile. I think we’re “Erik Gonzalez starting at third base” away from wondering if this might actually be part of the plan.





By John Dreker

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, starting with the most recent one first.

Chris Snyder, catcher for the 2010-11 Pirates. He came over in a five-player deal the Pirates made at the 2010 trading deadline with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Pirates gave up DJ Carrasco, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby in the deal and received Snyder and Pedro Ciriaco. Snyder played 40 games with Pittsburgh after the trade, hitting just .169 with five homers. He played in only 34 games in 2011 before he was sidelined with a back injury that required surgery. He was hitting .271 with 17 RBIs at the time of his injury. He was let go after the season and signed with the Astros. Snyder finished his career in 2013 with the Orioles, ending with a .224 average in 715 games over ten seasons.

Argenis Diaz, infielder for the Pirates in 2010. He came to the Pirates from the Red Sox in the Adam LaRoche deal in 2009. He played 22 games for the Pirates in his only season in Pittsburgh, 15 of those games came as a shortstop. He hit .242 in 36 plate appearances with two RBIs and no runs scored. He was released following the 2010 season and then spent the next three seasons at Triple-A as a member of the Detroit Tigers organization. Diaz retired as a player in 2017 and he is currently a minor league coach for the Pirates.

Stan Fansler, pitcher for the 1986 Pirates. He was a second round draft pick of the Pirates out of high school in 1983. Fansler had a disastrous beginning to his career, going 0-10, 8.05 in 14 starts in the NYPL. Returning to the level a year later, he again made 14 starts, this time with a 5-1, 2.01 record. In 1985, the Pirates jumped him over two levels to Double-A and in 24 starts he posted a 3.01 ERA, earning a late season promotion to Triple-A. He started the 1986 season back in Triple-A and went 8-9, 3.63 in 156 innings, earning a September call-up to the majors. The Pirates put him in the rotation and in five starts he went 0-3, 3.75, walking 15 batters in 24 innings. Fansler put up decent overall numbers in 1987 in Triple-A, but his control was very poor. By 1988 he was pitching down in Double-A, and even though the Pirates kept him around for four more seasons, he never pitched above Double-A during that time. He pitched briefly in the Rangers farm system before retiring in 1994.

Joe Garagiola, catcher for the 1951-53 Pirates. He had played for the Cardinals since 1946 when the Pirates acquired him on June 15, 1951 in a seven-player deal that saw star outfielder Wally Westlake and pitcher Cliff Chambers (who had just thrown a no-hitter) both go to the Cardinals. Garagiola hit .255 with nine homers and 35 RBIs in the last 72 games of the 1951 season. In 1952 he hit .273 with 54 RBIs in 118 games for the last place Pirates. He began the 1953 season with the Pirates, but he would be included in the Ralph Kiner trade to the Chicago Cubs in early June. That was a ten-player deal that also saw the Cubs send $150k to the Pirates. Garagiola finished his nine-season Major League career in 1954 with the Giants. He was a .257 career hitter in 676 games. He remained active in baseball, mainly broadcasting, until his passing in 2016.

Woody Main, pitcher for the Pirates in 1948-49 and 1952-53. He had signed to play minor league ball in 1941, but after two seasons of pro ball he would spend the next three years serving in the military during WWII. The Pirates drafted him out of the Yankees system in December 1947 in the Rule 5 draft. He was used infrequently that year, pitching 17 games for a total of 27 innings with an 8.33 ERA. He returned to the minors for 1949 and struggled with a 5.04 ERA, but turned it around in the minors in 1950 by posting a 1.90 ERA. He had begun the year with the Pirates, but after a month they sent him back to Triple-A, where he also spent all of the 1951 season. He had his best year in 1952 playing for a Pirates team that lost 112 games. His record was poor at 2-12, but he had a career low 4.46 ERA and he threw 153.1 innings. In 1953 he pitched poorly in two early season games before the Pirates sent him to the minors, where he would finish his career the following season.

Dutch Dietz, pitcher for the Pirates from 1940 until 1943. He went 9-13, 5.01 in the minors for Syracuse of the International League in 1940, one season after going 3-17, 5.89 for Toledo of the American Association, both high levels of the minor leagues at the time. Despite the poor pitching stats, the Pirates called him up in September and he pitched four games, started two, with a 0-1, 5.87 record in 15.1 innings. Dietz had actually made his Major League debut earlier in the season as a pinch-runner before he was sent to the minors. He pitched well for the Pirates in 1941, going 7-2, 2.33 in 100.1 innings. He pitched 33 games that year, six as a starter. He got more work and more starts in 1942, pitching 40 games total (13 as a starter) and 134.1 innings. Dietz went 6-9, 3.95, the highest ERA among any Pirates pitcher who made ten starts that season. He pitched just nine innings over the first 40 games of the 1943 season, when the Pirates traded him to the Phillies for pitcher Johnny Podgajny. Neither pitcher did well for their new team and Dietz’s big league career was done after that 1943 season. He served two years in the army during WWII, then played another four minor league seasons before retiring.

Earl Sheely, first baseman for the 1929 Pirates. He was a star player in the Pacific Coast League prior to making his MLB debut in 1921. In Sheely’s first six seasons in the majors he hit at least .296 every year and drove in 80+ runs each season while playing for the White Sox. He struggled through the 1927 season and decided to return to the PCL where he hit .381 with 21 homers in 1928. The Pirates picked him up in the Rule 5 draft and in his only season with the Pirates he hit .293 with 75 walks and 88 RBIs. The Pirates picked up slugger Gus Suhr in the off-season to play first base and sent Sheely back to the PCL. Suhr went on to play ten seasons with the Pirates and is considered by some to be the best first baseman in team history. Sheely hit .403 in the PCL in 1930 with 29 homers. He played one more season in the majors with the Braves in 1931 before finishing his career in the PCL in 1934. Under the current system of baseball a player like Sheely would’ve had a long productive, possibly Hall of Fame career, but back then players could make a good living in the PCL and some chose to stay there instead of playing in the majors away from home. Sheely was a .324 minor league hitter in 1,935 games and a .300 hitter in 1,234 major league games. He had over 3,600 hits between the two levels and he accumulated 670 doubles and over 200 homers. His son Bud Sheely played three seasons in the majors with the White Sox.

Ray Miller, first baseman for the 1917 Pirates. He played minor league ball for ten seasons before he got his first chance at the majors in 1917. He was acquired early in that season by the Cleveland Indians who used him in 19 games, mostly off the bench in a pinch-hitting role. He batted .190 with eight walks in 29 plate appearances. He was picked up by the Pirates, who gave him six starts at first base, but after hitting .148 they sent him to the minors. He was sent by the Pirates to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in February 1918 to complete an earlier trade between the two teams. Miller never played in the majors again and he played just two seasons of pro ball after the trade, 1920 and 1925.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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