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RCG Mailbag: Did the Rays Find a Gem in Allan Dykstra?

By Robbie Knopf
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Welcome back to the RCG Mailbag, where we take some of those burning Tampa Bay Rays questions on your mind and attempt to give you some answers. To submit a question, comment on any of our posts here or on Facebook, email us at rayscoloredglasses at gmail dot com, or tweet me @RobbieKnopf.

Michael M. asks: Can you expand on Allan Dykstra, and his prognosis as to his ever achieving his potential, especially as a impact player for the Rays? He seems like possibly a James Loney backup who could be used as a DH. His line at Las Vegas last year makes me wonder how he could have been available on just a minor league contract. 

Michael brought it up, so we should start by talking about Dykstra’s numbers last year at the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate. They truly are outstanding–he hit to a .280/.426/.504 line with 23 doubles, 16 homers, and 74 RBI in 439 plate appearances. He even walked 84 times versus 97 strikeouts.

Of course, we need to mention that Las Vegas’ park is extremely hitter-friendly. The team average was a .283/.372/.460 line, and it has been around that level for years, even as players have come and gone. Nevertheless, Dykstra was clearly a step above that, with his OPS+ being 124 (24% above-average) if we apply the stat’s formula to Dykstra’s team as opposed to the league.

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In any event, now we have to tear apart those numbers and explain why they don’t mean much. The first thing to note is that Dykstra will turn 28 in May. He certainly isn’t young, and teams would rather give chances to players with more room to develop. In addition, Dysktra is a big guy at 6’5″, 215, and is limited to first base defensively. If being a first baseman doesn’t put enough pressure on his bat, he is a poor defender and has always been.

Of course, if Dykstra had truly broken through, someone would give a chance despite those factors. However, Dykstra’s flaws did not go away in 2014. What is especially interesting about Dykstra’s numbers is his combination of his power and plate discipline. Unfortunately for him, though, he was much better at taking pitches than recognizing them.

Dykstra’s strikeout rate of 22.0% of his plate appearances was perfectly reasonable given his walk rate, but how those strikeouts happened is a bigger concern. Dykstra has a good knowledge of the strike zone when he sees fastballs, but too many of his strikeouts came when he chased out of the zone on secondary pitches.

Curveballs, sliders, and changeups only get better in the major leagues, and MLB pitchers would be more comfortable attacking Dykstra with a steady diet of those offerings. They would smell blood knowing that they were facing a hitter with poor pitch recognition, and we know how badly that can turn out.

Wil Myers has significantly better bat speed than Dykstra, yet pitchers exploited his weakness for breaking balls in 2014 and his final numbers looked terrible. That was Wil Myers at his worst–at least the San Diego Padres think so–but Dykstra would have a tough time putting up better numbers than that.

Patience is nice, but it is rendered almost entirely meaningless at the major league level without good pitch recognition. Pitchers will throw you strikes and even quality strikes with not just their fastball, but all of their other offerings, so simply taking pitches out of the zone is not enough.

As a hitter, can you identify which pitch is coming out of the pitcher’s hand and hit it with authority when you decide to swing? Dykstra’s deficiency in pitch recognition is a major concern, and he doesn’t even have the Myers-esque bat speed that gives him a chance to make up for it.

If you want the two word answer as to why Allan Dykstra still has a long way to go to be a big league player, it’s “pitch recognition.” That being said, we can also talk about his weakness on inside fastballs, his pull-heavy approach, and his weakness against lefties in 2014. Adding in Dykstra’s age, position, and poor defense, he is a Quad-A slugger and not a player with a high likelihood of achieving success for an extend period in the major leagues.

The Tampa Bay Rays gave Allan Dykstra a minor league contract because he deserves a chance to show that he has moved past the issues that have plagued him in his career to this point. The Rays are risking nothing by giving him the opportunity, and they do hypothetically have something to gain. It is quite clear, though, that the odds are long that Dykstra will make an impact for the Rays in 2015.

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