We would like to welcome Joe Pawlikowski to the FanGraphs team. We don’t hold his Yankee fandom against him, and neither should you.
When Jermaine Dye finally decides to call it a career, his post-baseball life will likely not include a job in sales. In a recent Ken Rosenthal article he stated his case for 2010 employment: “It’s only been [4 1/2] years since I was the World Series MVP. I’m a winner. Hopefully some teams out there can see that.” Teams, of course, care little about what Dye did in 2005 when he was a prime-aged, power-hitting right fielder. They’re more worried about his performance in 2009, as an age-35 right fielder.
Dye’s defense has been nothing short of atrocious over the past four years. Bob Bry, Dye’s agent, believes that the recent focus on defense “has reached the level of absurdity.” Of course, when one of his clients ranks among the most defensively deficient outfielders over the past half decade, his job is to say things like that. But since Bry wants to place the emphasis on offensive skills, let’s look at four reasons why Dye’s 2009 numbers at the plate warrant a red flag or two.
1. He dropped off significantly in the second half
Players streak and players slump. It’s part of any baseball season, so it’s usually best to take a bad month as just that. As players age, though, a prolonged slump starts to raise questions. Since Dye’s slump came in the second half of the season, his raises even more. He hit .179/.293/.297 after the All-Star Break, after hitting .302/.375/.567 prior. Did he wear down as the season got into the later stages?
We can’t answer that with any degree of certainty. Maybe he battled through an injury. Maybe something was just off and it had nothing to do with his age. His second half numbers present an awfully small sample, just 246 plate appearances, so maybe we shouldn’t take his drop-off so seriously. But, just because I think it’s interesting, in his 83 September plate appearances he posted his highest fly ball rate of the year and his lowest HR/FB. Again, probably meaningless in the long run, but when we see this from an aging player it causes concern.
2. He was horrible going the opposite way
Looking back to 2002, as far back as FanGraphs splits go, Dye has posted two standout years, 2005 and 2006, with wOBAs of .361 and .417. Part of his success that year came on balls hit to right field. He was particularly excellent on those pitches in his 2006 career year. In 2009, however, he was horrendous — and I’m not sure that word adequately describes his opposite field prowess.
His rate stats are poor enough, but Dye’s problem went deeper. He it .184 on balls to right, with a .223 SLG, for a puny .039 ISO. Making matters worse, of the 370 balls Dye put into play, 104 of them were to right field, or 28 percent overall. When a dead pull hitter fares this poorly hitting to the opposite field it’s usually not a huge deal, because he’s not hitting many balls that way in the first place. But with numbers that bad on 28 percent of balls in play, it becomes a much larger issue.
Furthermore, of the 105 balls he hit to right field, two-thirds were put in the air. For Dye, whose game centers on power, that might seem like a good thing, but as we saw above his power was almost nonexistent. Part of that is that many of those fly balls never left the infield. His infield fly ball rate to right was 20 percent. He hit 70 fly balls to right, so the second or first baseman shagged 14 of them.
3. He posted the lowest line drive rate of his career
Leaving out his shortened 2003 season, Dye’s 16.9 percent line drive rate marked the lowest of his career, by over two percent. Even in his sub-par 2007 season he hit a line drive 19 percent of the time. This included a 17.9 percent line drive rate to left field, his lowest mark since 2005, and a 15.7 rate to center, the lowest of his career since 2002.
By itself, this might not mean much. Maybe Dye was just having trouble seeing the ball and he got over or under pitches he normally would have hit on the nose. But, again, Dye is not a player in the prime of his career. If this were the only factor, maybe we could chalk it up to a bad year, maybe even a bad few months. But when combined with other factors, it appears to be a larger issue.
4. His defense
Grammarians claim that the most important aspect of a sentence should appear at the end. Consistent with this, the most important point about Dye rounds out this list. His defense isn’t just bad. Bad is Bobby Abreu. Bad is Michael Cuddyer. Jermaine Dye stands with rare company over the past four years, posting a UZR/150 of worse than -20 each year. If Johnny Damon is having trouble finding work because of one poor defensive season in the outfield, it’s tough to imagine Dye getting any serious offers, especially from an NL team.
Looking at the past three years of UZR data, only Brad Hawpe ranks worse than Dye in terms of UZR and UZR/150 among right fielders with more than 2,800 innings at the position. The next worse, Cuddyer, is far out ahead at -13 UZR/150, to Dye’s -22.4. Dye says he’s willing to play left field, but that should only further deter clubs from signing him. Given that Dye’s futility covers four years — he was at -21.5 UZR/150 in 2006 — there is no reason why any team should sign him with the thought of giving him even one inning in the outfield.
Dye does understand that the market isn’t as robust as it was when he signed a two-year, $22 million extension late in the 2007 season. Yet he doesn’t think it devalues him too much. “But there are still guys getting money that I feel I’m better than,” he said. The market, however, does not care how Jermaine Dye feels. With about three weeks left until position players officially report to spring training, there’s little to no chance Dye receives an offer anywhere near what he’s seeking. His best chance, in fact, might be to see how things develop in March and catch on with a team short a player or two due to injury. As it stands now, there doesn’t appear to be much room for another DH on many rosters.