Sam Dyson Using a Lost Season to Find his Form Again

Jun 13, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Sam Dyson (49) pitches against the Kansas City Royals in the ninth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Sam Dyson (49) pitches against the Kansas City Royals in the ninth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco Giants’ season has been a bust, but that has given reliever Sam Dyson an opportunity to find himself again.

The San Francisco Giants took a flyer on beleaguered former Texas Rangers’ closer Sam Dyson earlier this month, hoping that a rough two months to open the 2017 season could be overcome. Dyson was one of the game’s top relievers over the past few seasons, but the Rangers decided they were ready to part ways with him. The Giants were the team that took the chance, and it has worked well for both parties in the early going of their new relationship.

In Texas, Dyson had a lot of problems. He had plenty of trouble finding the strike zone, handing out 12 walks in 16.2 innings for a walk-rate (6.2 per nine innings) well over twice as high as his rate from the previous three seasons (2.8). When he did find the zone, he couldn’t keep the ball in the park. He allowed six home runs, more than one every three innings, after giving up five in all of 2016. All of his problems equaled a 10.80 ERA, a 2.580 WHIP, and a pink slip from the Rangers.

Dyson’s Giant career didn’t start much better. In his debut with the team on June 11th, he didn’t retire any of the four batters he faced in the ninth inning of a blowout victory. He gave up a line-drive double, a single, and a walk, which eventually translated to three runs (two earned), but he still showed signs of making breaking through this mental barrier.

Though there was no defense for the double and the walk, the single he gave up was a groundball that would have been a fairly easy out had the ball not gotten stuck in Brandon Crawford‘s glove. Dyson got another groundball later in the inning, but that wouldn’t translate to an out either. Buster Posey kicked the ball at first, allowing the first of Dyson’s runs to score and effectively ending his day.

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It should have been encouraging that Dyson, always a groundball pitcher in the past, was able to get groundballs despite the fact they didn’t turn into outs.

He was back on the mound a few days later, when he would take a big step forward. Dyson allowed a leadoff double to Royals’ catcher Salvador Perez, but buckled down and retired the next three batters in order to strand him, including striking out his first batter with the team. Dyson froze Alex Gordon with a hard, moving fastball on the inside corner to get out of the frame with no damage done.

Another low-leverage situation came, and Dyson worked around a groundball single to get out of another inning while lowering his ERA. He even struck out Nolan Arenado, which makes him an honorary Giant for life.

After three low-pressure outings to start his Giant career, Dyson has been given a bit more on his plate in recent days. With the team’s top two right-handed setup pitchers not available against the Atlanta Braves (Hunter Strickland suspended, and Derek Law optioned to Sacramento), Dyson has been a beneficiary.

On Tuesday in Atlanta, Dyson entered in the eighth inning with a two-run lead, two outs, and two runners in scoring position. Braves’ catcher Kurt Suzuki gave him a battle, but Dyson eventually won the war by continually attacking the strike zone and getting Suzuki to fly out harmlessly to right field.

It was another large step forward for Dyson. Not only was he called upon during a tight spot, he responded with flying colors while showing marked improvements from the pitcher who debuted with the team on June 11th. That pitcher was all over the place, missing the strike zone by huge margins on occasion, but all of Dyson’s six pitches to Suzuki on Tuesday were strikes. He pounded the zone, and threw pitches close enough to the zone to entice the catcher into swinging.

Dyson was given another big spot on Wednesday, being called upon in the eighth inning with the Giants down just a run. Again, Dyson passed the test with flying colors. He got through the inning cleanly, retiring all three batters he faced. When San Francisco tied the game in the top of the ninth, Dyson stayed in. He got two more quick outs, and didn’t let another error and a stolen base ruin his good vibes. He got the third out, forcing extra innings and completing another big step on his road back to normalcy.

Dyson’s last four appearances with the Giants have all been scoreless, and he has allowed just two singles. He has struck out five batters in 4.1 innings, but more importantly, he hasn’t walked anyone. After all of his control issues in Texas, Dyson has thrown over 70 percent of his pitches for strikes since joining the Giants. He’s found a release point, and whatever pitching coach Dave Righetti has said to Dyson has worked.

The righty is still just 29 years old, and won’t turn 30 until next May. He is also still has three years of arbitration left, so if he can continue to build off these outings and regain his form, he can become a big part of the Giants’ rebuild. If they decide to keep him, he has the kind of stuff that would make him a key piece in the bullpen. If they decide to trade him at some point down the line, a reliever of Dyson’s caliber can bring back a nice return.

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If this wasn’t a lost season for the Giants, they might not have been so willing to take a chance on a pitcher that had struggled so badly, even with Dyson’s track record. But because things have gone downhill so quickly, they can take that chance with little to no negative repercussions.

Either way, Dyson becoming a shutdown reliever again is a good thing for the Giants. This may be a lost season for the team, but Dyson finding himself again is a reason for optimism.