There is a player that was non-tendered and is now a free agent, who might just prove to be the most productive player over the next 3-5 seasons of anyone in this free agent class. He will be 27 years old in April, thus in the prime years of his career. He was once considered one of the top prospects in the sport. He slugged .500 or better from 2016-2019. He was elected to be a 2019 All-Star. The player described is David Dahl, and the question is, should the Milwaukee Brewers bid for his services, or should they steer clear because of the substantial risks surrounding him?
While there is a lot to like about Dahl, the Rockies, obviously, fatigued of those issues. Specifically David Dahl is one of those players that has extreme difficulty staying on the field. Dahl played 100 games in 2019, which was by far the most of his career.
Dahl has sustained an injury of some sort in almost every year of his major league career. His latest injury came to his right shoulder, which shut him down in September of this past season with just 24 games played. Breaking out in All-Star fashion in 2019, Dahl ended his season with an ankle injury in August of that year. In 2018, he broke his right foot and missed two months. In 2017, he had a rib cage injury that kept him out of the Rockies lineup for significant time. In 2015, Dahl had his spleen removed after a fluke injury resulting from a collision in the outfield during a minor league game.
Because of injuries, Dahl has never reached his potential as a perennial All-Star. There are other concerns regarding the former Rockies outfielder beyond injury. Even if Dahl was slugging .500, how much of it is the result of the effects of Coors Field? His wRC+ measures suggest there may be something to that. In 2018 and 2019, Dahl slugged well over .500, but only put up a wRC+ of 110 in each season.
One last concern about Dahl is the poor 2020 showing he put up. Coming into camp tried to play through the shoulder pain that would eventually end in surgery. As mentioned, he played in just 24 games. In 99 plate appearances, he slashed .183/.222/.247. Had the injuries caught up to him to the point of affecting his overall performance?
The likelihood is that David Dahl is going to put up really good numbers if he is able to avoid injury and play. In his breakout 2019, Dahl had 413 plate appearances. He slashed .302/.353/.524. Again, was that the result of Coors Field? The answer is likely yes and no.
There was a Coors effect in those numbers. He slashed just .254/.302/.449 in games outside of Colorado. The argument that Coors Field inflates numbers is nothing new, but there is a counter argument that there is a reverse Coors effect stemming from the different ways Rockies hitters are pitched at home and away thus impacting their ability to hit effectively. In essence Rockies players have to prepare to be pitched in two different ways based on being in Coors versus on the road. Other players on other teams only have to do this when they come to Coors. Rockies players have to do this for 81 games Coors and 81 games away. The argument is that Rockies hitters are inversely impacted on the road beyond just their hitting abilities.
This seems to play out once players leave Colorado. Mike Petriello found that players that played part of their career in Colorado and then moved on rebounded and became better hitters on the road.
Looking at the numbers of Dahl’s former teammate, D.J. LeMahieu, the phenomena seems to have relevance in an extreme way. In 2018, there was a 95 point variance in LeMahieu’s OPS at home and away. There was a 237 point variance in 2017 and a 317 point variance in 2016. We all know what LeMahieu has become in New York. Might something similar be the case for Dahl? It has happened for other hitters as well, why not David?
David Dahl is in the prime years of his career, and he has the hit tool in a big way. When he is on the field, he is a very good to elite baseball player. The Colorado Rockies, in an attempt to cut costs and give outfield prospects an opportunity, decided to cut ties with the former top prospect. There might not be a player in this free agent market with more upside with age on his side more than David Dahl. There is certainly risk in a potential signing, but this is a player, maybe *the* player, the Milwaukee Brewers should be thinking long and hard about going after aggressively.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs