Nothing’s simple or easy about the obvious problem that is Sam Dyson

“A sense of humor and a good bullpen.” – Whitey Herzog, on the requirements to be a good manager

It can’t be as easy as it looks. It just can’t be; if it were, everyone would do it, and far more men are fired every year than win the World Series.

About the only two things I know for sure, right now, are 1) Sam Dyson should not be in the game when it’s on the line and 2) Jeff Banister must have a sense of humor. Because the “good bullpen” thing is not working out.

Loyalty

Why? Well, that’s the million-dollar answer there. But I don’t have it. And despite what you think, you don’t either, I expect. Banister is a very smart baseball man, and he’s respected by his players. That’s why the questions are hard. If he wasn’t both of those things, the answer would be obvious. But he is both, so the answer is myriad and complex, and there may not be a good one.

If the worst thing you can say about a manager is that he’s too loyal to his players, well, I can’t see that being all that bad; Jeff Banister is loyal to his players.

That loyalty will win you hearts, but it’ll cost you ballgames, sure as it rains in Seattle. It cost the Rangers one Sunday, and it cost them Wednesday, and mark me, it’ll cost them the next time Dyson comes in with the game on the line.

Dyson’s mentally beat right now, and knowing how to handle that is why Banister is in that dugout and you and I aren’t. But he’s not perfect, and today, he blew the save as much as Dyson did.

A shared loss

The blown save and loss will go down in Sam Dyson’s stat sheet, but this one is on Banny. I hate saying that, because I respect the hell out of the man. But Sam Dyson is not a high-leverage-situation pitcher right now. Period. I said as much the other day, and I’m doubling down.

Dyson gave up the runs, but everyone outside of the Rangers dugout knew he shouldn’t be out there. Pulling him is easy. Dealing with the repercussions is the reason Banister has one of 30 big league managerial jobs. They’re rife with scrutiny and 20/20 hindsight. And most people don’t realize how much of the job is managing heads, not shuffling hot hands.

Nails

The scary, confusing part is that, not two months ago, Dyson’s hand was plenty hot. In the WBC, facing major league, often All-Star-level competition, he was, as an SDI colleague puts it, “nails.”

He was 1-0 in five games. In six innings, he walked none, struck out 4, and never allowed a runner to reach base. What’s more, I liked the WAY his sinker was moving. Now, let me clarify that a bit. Directional movement, in my watching, seems to be pretty key with Dyson. When he’s struggled so far this year, the sinker seems to be drifting away from righties and into lefties. That’s not the typical movement for Dyson of 2016. Last year, on his way to 38 saves, in most outings, the sinker dove like a running fastball, into a right-handed hitter’s shins from the middle of the plate. He may not be getting on top of the ball, which would cause it to slide and drift, versus sink. Dyson admitted as much the other day to T.R. Sullivan.

“Same as last week, I’m working side to side instead of getting on top [of the ball] and over,” Dyson said, “It’s a small adjustment. I don’t feel myself doing anything different. Hopefully I can make an adjustment before the next time.”

That was April 13th. Sadly, the adjustment’s not there yet.

A mental balancing act

Sparky Anderson, of Big Red Machine and ’84 Tigers fame, was one of the best managers of his or any other generation. Of managing, he said, “Baseball is a simple game. If you have good players and if you keep them in the right frame of mind, then the manager is a success.”

Jeff Banister has to strike a delicate balance here. He’s at the tipping point of two edges. On one, he loses a player; on the other, perhaps, he loses the team. He doesn’t want to lose the first, but he can’t lose the second.

“Yeah, we’ll have those discussions,” Banister said of the closer situation. “The situation today was that, we felt like that, where we were at in the game, the score, (Tony) Barnette early to keep it kind of in check—well, we gave up a home run there—and then we were matching up the rest of the way there with (Alex) Claudio and (Jeremy) Jeffress, and then the situation with (Matt) Bush, coming back off of the injection, we were only going to go one inning with him,” he continued, “ Just we wanted to keep it right there and give ourselves the opportunity. And Sam was the next available guy with the most experience in that position. (Jose) Leclerc coming off of a heavy workload, and then (Mike) Hauschild a heavy workload, and the matchups for Dario (Alvarez) we just felt like the best spot was to go with Sam in that situation.”

No simple answer

Sorry, but I disagree. Dyson shouldn’t have been out there. That’s easy to say. Who should have been? That’s a harder question. Bush had just struck out the side, but he’d also just returned from getting his shoulder checked out in North Texas, so the last thing you want to do is overextend him.

Leclerc? Seems clear enough to me. He didn’t go Saturday, when Paxton and Nick Vincent combined to strike out 12 Rangers while allowing just three men to reach base. He got the loss Friday, but the Rangers were beat the minute Hernandez took the mound; they just didn’t know it. What he’s lost in velocity over the last few years, he’s made up for in command, control, and deception. They were lucky to get one off him, and even though the Mariners pounded out three hits and a run off Leclerc in the 6th, he still managed to fan the side in between.

So that would have solved Sunday, but it wouldn’t have fixed Dyson, or given us any better idea of the long-term implications of making clear the total fear of putting a ballgame in his hands right now. For this team to win, Dyson has to be Dyson. When he’s on, he has one of the three or four best sinkers in baseball. When he’s on, turn off the lights. He can be that good. As I said last week: “I don’t think Sam Dyson is a past-his-prime Tom Henke, or Mike Henneman, or Neftali Feliz, or (Shawn) Tolleson. But right now, if you squint, you wouldn’t know the difference.”

In short, a long weekend

Add it all up, and the Rangers got beat twice this series, by the masterful pitching of first Felix Hernandez and then James Paxton. They lost the third game; they weren’t beat. Flat out lost it.

They’ve lost a few this year. This one hurt—not as bad as those late slips to Cleveland, perhaps—but a lot, because early on, it looked like a Ranger rout was finally going to happen, and momentum was going to swing our way.

“Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher,” is how Earl Weaver put it. By that ledger, the Rangers had momentum coming into this game. Cole Hamels is a good bit better than Hisashi Iwakuma on most days. So far, Cole hasn’t quite been Cole, but Iwakuma has been far from Iwakuma, too.

I saw his last start in Spring Training. He struggled with velocity and location. The announcers speculated he was hurt, or possibly just holding back because of a lack of motivation so close to the start of the regular season. Perhaps he is hurt; but with his velocity down a good 4-5MPH off last year’s stuff, the separation between his fastball and offspeed stuff wasn’t what it needs to be.

A chance to win one

The Rangers took advantage, putting up 3 in the second and 3 in the third. Struggling guys like Shin-Soo Choo hit. Streaking guys like Nomar Mazara hit. Then, just as the game dared to break wide open in the Rangers favor, the hits stopped coming.

The Rangers worked the bases loaded in the 7th, only to see Rougned Odor fly out to the track in right. They did the same in the 8th, but Elvis Andrus struck out to end the inning.

 “We did have the opportunity to put some more runs on the board, and we didn’t,” Banister said at the game’s conclusion.

And despite that, they seized momentum thanks to a Mazara homer to right in the 9th off Seattle’s soon-to-be-stud-closer, Edwin Diaz.

We should have been celebrating salvaging one of three in Seattle. We should have toasted the rousting of slumbering lumber, which had been lulled into laziness by the suddenly-crafty Hernandez and the red-hot dealing by Paxton (21+ scoreless inning to start the season).

Those bases-loaded staggers were enough. They should have been the worry on which we could dwell. That situational squandering should have been the negative takeaway from a positive win. Instead, a flustered Dyson walked in a run, then gave up a bullet single to Nelson Cruz and, once again, he walked off the field with his head down.

And just like that, we’re grasping for positives after a sweep by a division rival.

Discussion

“As far as that is concerned, these guys have been in this spot before. They understand. They hurt. This one, I’m sure, we’ll chew on for a little bit,” Banister said, “But, the situation, that bullpen situation we’ll continue to have discussions and see where that takes us.”

It might be past time for discussion. There are a number of directions this discussion could take them. But regardless, Banister needs to get there by the time the plane lands in Oakland. And the answer isn’t “Stick with Dyson.” I agree with the idea of dancing with the one that brought you. I agree you don’t switch horses in mid-race. I get all the clichés. But the leg’s broken, plain and simple.

Keep riding Dyson, and he’s going to break down, above the shoulders. And that’s a much bigger problem than blown leads in April.

Chris Connor
As a lifelong DFW resident, Chris Connor is a diehard Rangers fan, and worships at the altar of Arlington. Along with John Manaloor, he co-owns Shutdown Inning, and serves as Editor in Chief for SDI.
He holds a Bachelors of Science in Management and an MBA, both from UT-Dallas.
As a writer, he acknowledges that he’s never had a brilliance for brevity, but tries to meander to a meaningful point as he channels Faulkner. He believes the only things more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing are Yosemite Valley at sunrise and his wife.
He lives with the latter, along with their beloved dog and quite tolerable cat, in Allen, Texas.

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