The Orioles outfielders have been somewhat underwhelming over the past several seasons, and as it stands they are on pace to begin the year with some combination of Adam Jones/Trey Mancini/Joey Rickard/and Austin Hays. But there are serious questions that exist with this group. While Adam Jones has been a linchpin of the Orioles roster for the past decade and Mancini proved that he can hit at the Major League level, the defensive metrics suggest that neither one is more than average. Jones in particular has become a borderline liability in center, costing his team -22 DRS over the past two seasons and putting up negative marks for his arm, his range, and his UZR. If that sounds bad to you, that's because it was: of the 45 players who accumulated more than 300 innings in center, Jones ended up dead last in UZR, next to last in UZR/150, and tied for the fourth worst DRS. It's the elephant in the room for the Orioles defensively. The Ballpark at Camden Yards is not a spacious park, but as they are currently designed the Orioles staff is right about middle of the road in terms of GB% and GB/FB...but that's in large part because of their bullpen. When you separate out the starters they fall to 23rd in GB% and 22nd in GB/FB.
Dyson would instantly shore up the outfield situation in Baltimore. Despite the fact that he has not played more than 879 innings in any individual season, his defensive metrics have been sensational. Over the past four years he has been worth +58 DRS despite limited innings. His UZR and UZR/150 numbers have been equally exceptional, and he has earned above average marks for his arm as well. He has accomplished all of this while playing in two of the more spacious ballparks in the league in Kaufman Stadium and Safeco Field. And while his hitting has always been on the marginal side – between 85-95 wRC+ - his ability to be a burner on the base paths alongside his defense more than compensate for it. Having a speedster in the lineup could also help to provide an additional spark and, dare I say some Orioles Magic, to a team that is going to need to score runs at a high rate if they have any hope of competing. Over the past six seasons, Dyson has the 5th most stolen bases despite accumulating over 350 less plate appearance than anyone else in the top ten.
The arguments against bringing Dyson on board begin with the fact that as a hitter he does not match the stereotype of what you want in Camden Yards. It's a park that's on the cozier side, which favors long ball hitters and is a little less friendly towards doubles and triples. While speed and slap hitting are skills that are less dependent on ball park conditions, a good chunk of the offensive struggles that beset Dyson in 2017 can be partially attributed to launch angle. It's a trendy line of analysis and there are some out there who question it's merit, but the truth of the matter is that in three years this information has been commonly available Dyson put up his lowest average launch angle, falling from 5.3 degrees on base hits in 2016 to 2.3 in 2017. Meanwhile his average launch angle on outs increased from 0.8 degrees to 7.9 degrees.
Meanwhile Adam Jones was for many years an incredibly consistent contributor to the Orioles lineup for the better part of a decade in which he has generally been a 10-15% above average hitter with averages and OBP within earshot of .275/.320 year in and year out. Even his BABIP lines have been almost startling steady during this stretch. But he is also heading into a contract year at an awkward time, heading into a season during which he will turn 34 years old and coming off his two worst offensive seasons since 2011. And while Dyson has not measured up to Adam Jones in terms of output over the past several years, he does not sit terribly far behind him either. Over the past two seasons Dyson has been worth 5.2 WAR: Adam Jones on the other hand has been worth 3.2 WAR despite having accumulated almost twice the plate appearances. When you factor in each of their total run contributions, taking into account both their offensive and defensive production, Jones still came out ahead of Dyson in 2017...at least at first glance. But Dyson's numbers were accumulated in about 35% less time, which is perhaps the most eye opening aspect of all.
If the answer is to sign Jarrod Dyson, the complications emerge in the form of Adam Jones himself. Jones is at the end of a 6-year, $85.5MM contract he signed prior to the 2013 season. The speed that he once displayed has mostly faded away, and his defensive shortcomings have hampered his WAR value the last two years. As this is going on, the team has Austin Hays waiting in the wings as the possible heir-apparent in CF. The 2016 3rd Rounder had a breakout season in the Minors in 2017, but other than a cup of coffee last season he has yet to play above AA and has an aggressive approach at the plate. While he may be ready to nail down a full time spot in the Orioles outfield, he also has not had an opportunity to experience failure – or at least lack of success – during his brief time in the Minors. I have heard many folks say that unless you do, you may not fully develop the ability to make the necessary adjustments to succeed as a Major League player.
So what do you do with Adam Jones? Do you try to resign him and hope that he will be amendable to moving to one of the corners (preferably LF)? Although that would require moving Trey Mancini to right. Do you let him walk and threaten to further alienate a fanbase that may be ready to riot whenever and however Manny Machado leaves town? Or do you try to move him mid-season to a contender, putting him in position to win while trying to get something back in exchange? That leads to another question: how much value does he really have? I think that the best you can hope for if you ship him to a contender mid-season is something along the lines of a High-A or AA arm, or a prospect who falls somewhere in the #20-30 range on an organizations prospect ranking. It depends on the caliber of season Jones is having when the trade deadline comes around.
You could also argue that signing Dyson doesn't move the needle enough to make it worthwhile. According to Fangraphs, the Orioles are currently projected to go 71-91 in 2018, which is a full nine games behind the next closest team in the division. Adding an extra two to three wins may not make much difference in the AL East when you could instead spend a seeming lost season developing Austin Hays at the Major League level. All of this aside, adding Jarrod Dyson to the Orioles outfield is a big upgrade over the current alignment they are prepared to start the season with. And when you consider that he could be a relative bargain to bring in, the only question that remains is why the Orioles have not yet pulled the trigger.
Spanning an entire continent, lifelong fans Chris Kubak and Tom Baird take you on a magical, sabermetrically enhanced journey through Major League Baseball.