We are now roughly a third-of-the-way through this historic
season half-season flirtation, and some trends are emerging. I mean, non-COVID related trends, lest we forget the Cardinals hotspot emerging at the Ozarks, where rusted El Camino’s run free in the wilderness. But as the season continues on and players keep actually playing (sorta?) some of these players have started to enjoy this new lease on baseball life (such as Wil Myers, covered previously) there of course will be an opposite end of the spectrum. And who is the yang to Myers’ yin? Right now that appears to be David Dahl, who’s jumped out of the gate by immediately face-planting, something that’s an everyday occurrence for me when doing normal cardio. Exercise allergies, you understand. Hitting a 203/253/261 slash, we’ll explore what we can gather from these past 17 games (as of this writing) and see if Goliath will edge out David or vica versa. Goliath here being the oppressive weight of hitting near the Mendoza line. And that was a biblical reference for those of you that just went “Who the ef is Goliath and why is he edging David?” Give and take relationship folks.
So it’s no secret that there were a lot of positives for David Dahl heading into the 2020 season. Coming off a pretty solid year batting 302/353/524 with 15 homeruns in just 413 plate appearances, his potential left plenty of space in our heads to dream the dreams of many who have seen good baseball players take advantage of their home park in Coors Field and a full season of at-bats. While not the robust launching pad it once was, there is still a meaningful difference that can be applied. And I bring that up mainly because looking at the past several years of his young career, these last 17 games stand apart in several different ways, but also mirror certain aspects muddying the waters as well.
While Dahl’s K% and BB% have remained stable the past four seasons, generally hanging out in the 25ish and 7ish area respectfully-ish, these past 75 PA’s have actually seen his K-rate stay stable and there’s a slight uptick in his walk rate, something you don’t normally see in a struggling hitter. While you want to see a player’s K/BB stay stable or improve, it doesn’t do much good if his ability to drive the ball starts to suffer. In this case, his Hard Hit % in 2019 was 39.5%, right in line with 2018 when it was 38%. So far in 2020? The percentage stands at 23.5. His Exit Velocity? 88.7 to 86.6 from 2019 to now. Barrel % in the same time frame? 10.3 to 3.9. Sweet Spot % too, going from 40.6 to 33.3. Okay, so we’ve established that comparatively to previous seasons, and despite seeing the ball at the same level, and the contact percentage still stable, he just kinda sucks. Granted, you probably could have come to the same conclusions without reading the past 400 words, but maybe real treasure is the friends we made along the way.
Still, now that we know what’s going on, what would cause such a thing? The easiest and least-analytic thing that could be affecting his swing like this could be injury, which based on his history wouldn’t be surprising, but since I’m not a doctor and you’re most likely not a doctor, we’ll have to leave that one in the background. The only other tangible issues could be mechanical, or just plain old bad luck.
Some food for thought though, I’m curious how have pitchers been handling him as opposed to previous seasons. So far, the only difference appears to be with non-fastballs. While he’s seeing 56% of those and saw 57.1% of them last year, there’s been a small but noticeable uptick in the amount of breaking pitches he’s seeing. 28.2 to 31.1. Is that enough to shake the proverbial boat (is there even a boat proverb?)… eh, probably not, but I would add that his Whiff % on offspeed pitches have actually jumped to 37.5% from 2019’s 26.5% number. Perhaps a small sign that he’s being pitched to a certain way during this cold streak.
And look, I could waste another paragraph showing you micro-differences between the past two seasons and you’d see there really isn’t a huge difference in his batting profile. Even his plate discipline numbers are fairly stable… Contact %, Zone %, Chase %, all of his Swing %’s are all in line with what he’s done. Granted, there are some troubling signs with his higher-than normal fly ball percentage (23.6 in 2019 to 31.4 now) and lowering line drive percentage, but at the end of the day, we again have the caveat to deal with: just not enough time has taken place to get a real conclusive take. But since all my takes are hot, we’re just going to roll with it.
Yes, there are concerns right now. Beyond the numbers, Dahl is already getting dropped in the batting order and sitting against lefties at a higher clip because of his struggles. Even Garrett Hampson is beginning to get a longer look in the leadoff spot, even against right-handed starters. And the fact of the matter is, there are plenty of names at his position that you might rather roll with right now too; Shin-Soo Choo immediately comes to mind, even a Todd Frazier or Jacoby Jones. Even Hampson himself could be looked at right now as a better piece. I’d honestly say the line is around Austin Slater if he doesn’t mind being used as a line.
I guess what I’m trying to convey is that if this was a normal season with a full slate of games, I would try and ride this thing out. To be quite honest, all the analytical work above just tells me Dahl is in a cold streak and it may very well be temporary. Now granted, he’s a player that has held a certain amount of promise, but almost yearly it seems we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop and watch him become an everyday starter that contributes in all categories while enjoying playing half his games in Coors, not just a platoon bit-player that we sometimes pick up because of a hot streak.
But I’m sorry to say that none of us have time to wait-and-see here. The halfway mark of the season is right around the corner, and with the Rangers and Astros incoming, I just don’t see the upside in holding on.
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him @jaywrong, or read his rarely (like never) updated blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow.