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Searching for starters: American League Central edition

Trying to find players that could provide value in the right situation


As much as we would all like our favourite clubs to employ multiple star sluggers and a handful of true aces, this is more of a fantasy than a realistic situation. I can't even pull this off in fantasy ball, now that I think about it. In any case, filling roster weaknesses is both tricky and a necessity. The trick is simply to identify value where others do not; that is what I will be attempting to do here. This post will take a look across teams in the American League Central.

Alejandro De Aza, White Sox OF

By many accounts, the White Sox did very well in their off-season acquisition of Adam Eaton. Eaton is an exciting 25-year-old center fielder, and should provide the Sox with solid, long-term productivity in the middle of their outfield. Alejandro De Aza appears to be the odd man out after spending the majority of his days in center field the past two seasons.

The White Sox right field position belongs to Avisail Garcia, while left field will almost certainly feature Dayan Viciedo, barring a trade. De Aza, a left-handed bat, would seem to present a nice platoon option with the right-handed swinging options of Garcia and Viciedo. However, I have my doubts that a natural platoon will form, as the rebuilding Sox should be looking to find as many at bats as possible for the younger options. A platoon would result in the majority of at bats going to De Aza, while Viciedo and Garcia fight over the remaining outfield spot on a regular basis. The logjam of outfielders is compounded by a lack of DH flexibility, as they still employ the trio of Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, and Jose Abreu.

FanGraphs' projected depth charts tell a similar story. De Aza is slated for a few-hundred plate appearances backing up both Viciedo and Eaton. Unfortunately for him, this means he is a fourth-outfielder on what should be a non-competitive team. De Aza, soon to be 30 years old, is under contract for this year and also has a third year of arbitration-eligibility for 2015. With the acquisition of Eaton, De Aza does not seem to be in the White Sox long-term plans.

Any team in need of an everyday center fielder capable of producing two or three wins would certainly be a fitting home for De Aza. In his last two seasons as the starting CF, he has produced 4.9 WAR over 1260 plate appearances. The following table shows a quick look at some of his numbers:

2011 54 171 4 12 9.90% 19.90% 0.191 0.404 0.329 0.4 0.52 0.399 150 1.2 11.1 7.7 2.6
2012 131 585 9 26 8.00% 18.60% 0.13 0.339 0.281 0.349 0.41 0.333 106 2 6.3 0.2 2.7
2013 153 675 17 20 7.40% 21.80% 0.142 0.318 0.264 0.323 0.405 0.32 97 3.5 1.6 -3.2 2.2

As you can see, I've included his 2011 season, in which he dominated over the small sample size, thanks to that inflated BABIP. His combination of power and speed is nicely complimented by roughly league average defense, in terms of UZR/150. He has a career -0.4 UZR/150 in CF, proving to be more than capable as he covers a good amount of ground with his wheels. He also collects a lot of line drives, with a career LD% of 24.4. With no discernible platoon split in his career numbers, and respectable defense in center, he deserves more than a fourth-outfielder designation.

Jarrod Dyson, Kansas City CF

Dyson, like De Aza, is a 29-year-old lefty-swinging center fielder. Dyson has accumulated a total of 687 plate appearances over his career, and is the first one off the bench in a pinch-run situation. His value is found primarily in his legs, as his 14.7 BsR (via FanGraphs) is fifth best among all hitters over the last two seasons. He is also a defensive wizard according to his 14.5 UZR/150 over almost 1500 innings in center field.

The Royals' outfield has shaken out nicely this offseason, if you aren't Jarrod Dyson. Alex Gordon has owned left field for the last three years, not appearing in just 18 games over that span. The Royals shipped pitcher Will Smith to Milwaukee for Norichika Aoki, who slots into the everyday right field role. He too has missed only 18 games in his two-year MLB career with the Brewers. Both Gordon and Aoki are left-handers, like Dyson. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain is not nearly as durable as the two outfielders he will play in between, but is definitely the starter for now.

The fourth-outfielder battle is clearly between Dyson and the more powerful Justin Maxwell. Maxwell will pick up some at-bats against left-handed pitching and has graded out as a good fielder with a career 7.7 runs above average, in terms of UZR/150. Maxwell is probably a better fit as the fourth outfielder on the Royals, given that his right-handed swing compliments both Gordon and Aoki. Dyson, on the other hand, will continue to find himself in a pinch run, defensive replacement role, while sparingly collecting at bats and providing injury-depth.

To force a comparison, I think Dyson is very similar to two-time all-star Michael Bourn. Take a peek at the career numbers for each:

1001 3941 28 299 8.50% 20.60% 0.094 0.342 0.271 0.335 0.364 0.312 92 53.4 15 66.5 21.7
233 687 3 84 9.30% 19.10% 0.087 0.312 0.251 0.322 0.338 0.295 81 18.1 3.2 18.6 4.7

Bourn has a better collection of offensive numbers, thanks mainly to the higher BABIP. However, Dyson's contact rates are much more impressive than Bourn's, and they each put the ball on the ground roughly 55-60% of the time. The major difference between the two is that Bourn almost never hits infield fly balls, while Dyson's IFFB% is 7.5% in his small sample size, which could explain the difference in BABIP. Against right-handed pitching only, Dyson's offensive numbers are almost identical to Bourn's, as his BABIP bumps up to .330. Furthermore, he only has 145 plate appearances against lefties, so it isn't completely out of the question that he could adequately hit southpaws.

Few players have the raw talents that Dyson holds. In a world where Rajai Davis' legs can earn him $5 million a year, Dyson should be given more of a chance. As a left-handed bat, he would be a very viable option to hold down the meaty side of a platoon. While he has yet to establish himself as fully competent with the bat, his defense and base running more than compensate. If he proves that can hit, then he could be one of the most explosive players in the game.

Both Alejandro De Aza and Jarrod Dyson seem like perfectly reasonable starting center fielders, and could absolutely help a team if given more of a workload. Their current clubs are not tapping into their potential and getting the value that they could. For any team looking for an extra win or two from their centerfield spot, they should look no further than to these toolsy outfielders.

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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Bryan Robinson is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @ProProjections.