San Francisco Giants: Why Sam Dyson Has Made Such Rapid Improvements

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: Sam Dyson /

Sam Dyson has only been with the San Francisco Giants for a short time, but he’s made some huge improvements and the numbers back it up.

Since coming to the San Francisco Giants, Sam Dyson has been a completely different pitcher from the one that took the mound for the Texas Rangers over the first two months of the season. His numbers have improved rapidly since a trade brought him over, to the point that when Mark Melancon was placed on the disabled list because of a recurrence of a pronator strain, Dyson was named the interim closer.

Dyson came through in his first two save opportunities, shutting the door twice in the team’s previous series against the Pittsburgh Pirates for his first saves of the season. His ERA and WHIP are both incredibly different from his time in Texas. After posting a 10.80 ERA and 2.580 WHIP in 17 appearances with the Rangers, he owns a much more palatable 3.86 ERA and 1.179 WHIP in 10 appearances with the orange and black. A deeper dive into other numbers shows why Dyson is throwing so well in his new surroundings.

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First and foremost, Dyson is throwing more strikes now. In Texas, 61.8 percent of his pitches were strikes. Since joining the Giants, that number has risen by four percent, up to 65.8. But, Dyson is actually throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone itself. Only 40.5 percent of Dyson’s pitches with the Giants have been in the strike zone, compared to 43.2 percent in Texas.

When Dyson does throw those pitches outside the zone, hitters are chasing them at a great clip, causing the higher strike rate. Batters only swung at those pitches 31.1 percent of the time in Texas, but that number has skyrocketed to 39.4 percent since joining San Francisco. When they do chase, they are whiffing 37.8 percent of the time compared to only 25 percent while he was a Ranger. That ties into an overall swing-and-miss percentage that has risen from six percent in Texas to 10.8 percent in San Francisco.

Probably the biggest change in Dyson as a pitcher since moving teams has been his pitch usage. In Texas, Dyson mainly lived off his hard, sinking fastball by throwing it 73.5 percent of the time, and complemented it with a hard changeup (18.3 percent) and frisbee slider (8.2 percent). Those numbers have changed drastically as a Giant. His fastball usage is down to just 51.3 percent, while he is using his slider 36.7 percent of the time, over twice as much as any point in his career previously. He is also throwing the changeup less, down to 12 percent. The usage difference hasn’t changed the results much, as his 62.5 percent groundball rate is just a tad higher than where it has been throughout his career.

While his fastball and changeup velocities have remained mostly the same (Texas fastball 94.9 miles per hour; Texas changeup 89 mph; San Francisco fastball 95 mph; San Francisco changeup 88.5 mph), his slider is coming in a lot harder. Previously, his best full season average velocity on the slider was 86.1 in 2015, but he is averaging 89 mph on the pitch with San Francisco. This could be because of a different grip, possibly with more of a cutter grip than that of a typical slider.

All of this has lead to a dramatic difference in the kind of contact that Dyson has generated. While with the Rangers, 30.6 percent of the balls put in play against Dyson were classified as “hard hit” and only 19.4 percent were classified as “softly hit”. Since the move, the “hard hit” percentage has dropped to 25 percent while the “soft hit” number has ballooned to 45. 8 percent. For reference, Chicago Cubs’ closer Wade Davis leads all pitchers (20 or more innings pitched) with a 35.6 percent soft-contact rate.

Those numbers are great to look at, but the simplest numbers have improved overall as a result. Dyson is striking batters out at a much greater rate since joining the Giants. He only punched out 7.6 percent of the batters he faced in Texas this season, but that has soared to an astounding 30.7 percent strikeout rate with the Giants. If he can continue to punch out 11.6 batters per nine innings as he has done over the past month, it will be the best rate of his career. His walks are also down to 2.9 per nine innings, which is right in line with his 2014-to-2016 total.

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Dyson has only thrown 9.2 innings with the Giants, but all these remarkable improvements in just about every category are certainly cause for optimism. His refinements, as well as his experience in high-leverage situations, makes Dyson a great choice to close, which allows Melancon to heal up and not need to rush back. With three more years of team control beyond this season, Dyson can be a key piece for the Giants as they attempt to retool and compete again in the near future.