As I write, exactly 50% of respondents to Monday’s poll on the amount of games Dahl plays in 2021 selected the 91 - 120 games range. Having never played more than 100 games in an MLB season, we would certainly love to see Dahl maintain his full health, and appear in 150+ games. For the purposes of the projections that will appear in this piece, I’ll be assuming Dahl plays 125 games.
Projected to that 125 games point, with the same performance as Dahl put up in reality, Dahl’s previously successful MLB seasons would look like the following:
2016: .315 / .359 / . 500 (.859 OPS), 14 HR, 48 RBI, 2.0 bWAR, 2.4 fWAR
2017: (Out All Year with Injury)
2018: .273 / .325 / .534 (.859 OPS), 24 HR, 68 RBI, 0.8 bWAR, 1.5 fWAR
2019: .302 / .353 / .524 (.877 OPS), 18 HR, 73 RBI, 0.5 bWAR, 1.7 fWAR
WAR (Wins Above Replacement) extensively considers a player’s defensive value. As we know from part 3 of this series, Dahl’s defensive value is largely negative, outside of his excellent throwing arm. Dahl’s defensive woes substantially limit his performance, in terms of WAR.
Regardless of Dahl’s WAR output, we’re looking at a Texas Rangers’ lineup that had a 76 wRC+ in 2020. Simply put, the lineup, as a whole, created 24% fewer runs than league-average in 2020. In the 2,580 statistical seasons compiled by every team since 1900, that 76 wRC+ places the 2020 iteration of the Texas Rangers as the 53rd worst offense of baseball’s modern era.
You’ll find the 2020 Texas Rangers neatly settled between the 1967 New York Mets (61 - 101) and the 1956 Kansas City Athletics (52 - 102), not exactly esteemed company.
This team desperately needs above-average hitters, and Dahl was able to post 113, 111, and 110 wRC+ marks in 2016, 2018, and 2019, respectively. If he puts up another 110 wRC+ in 2021, the Rangers, and the fanbase should be entirely satisfied with the 1/$2.7M contract Dahl signed this offseason. In that case, I’d fully expect the Rangers to use Dahl’s remaining arbitration years, which leave him under team control through the conclusion of the 2023 season.
Surely, the Rangers’ beat writers will pen plenty of “best shape of his life” stories at the beginning of Spring Training. A few such stories will undoubtedly focus on David Dahl. Based on his cleat selection, Dahl’s quite excited and prepared to be a Texas Ranger in 2021.
From that excitement, I’m projecting a positive season for David Dahl. Even with MLB deadening the ball, which could see home runs decline by as much as 5%, I remain confident Dahl’s quality of contact will rebound from what we evaluated in 2020.
If we believe Dahl’s shoulder surgery made that injury a thing of the past, as I do, we should anticipate a promising performance in 2021. However, several negatives remain in Dahl’s offensive profile. Namely, his plate discipline and exit velocities leave much to be desired.
In 2019, the only year of Dahl’s career with a large enough sample size to get a Statcast impression from, he posted exit velocities in the 36th percentile. Exit velocity is important because as exit velocity increases, the likelihood an out is recorded on that ball in play decreases. Also, for every one mph added to a ball’s exit velocity, a ball in play typically travels an additional 4 - 6 feet.
538 has an excellent graphic describing the relationship between exit velocity, launch angle, and offensive results:
As you can see, once you get above a 100 MPH exit velocity, paired with a launch angle between 19° and 30°, you’re entering home run territory. Dahl sees this territory sparingly, with below league-average marks in both exit velocity and launch angle.
To compound this problem, Dahl also struggles with plate discipline. Statistically, Dahl is in the 17th percentile in K%, 27th percentile in BB%, and 15th percentile in Whiff%.
While these statistics pose obstacles to Dahl performing well, we should also look at the positives. Dahl has posted a barrel rate in the 71st percentile, an xISO (expected ISO) in the 69th percentile, and a 70th percentile xSLG (expected Slugging %).
With these characteristics taken together, I’ll remain optimistic about Dahl’s 2021 season. I anticipate Dahl’s development arc rebounding from his 2020 woes, and predict the following statistical performance for Dahl in 2021:
.286 / .347 / .528 (.875 OPS), 22 HR, 76 RBI
For you old-timers, I was sure to include HRs and RBI. If Dahl were to post that .875 OPS, he’d likely either lead the Rangers, or finish second on the team behind Joey Gallo.
We have seen Dahl repeatedly push his boulder nearly to its peak, only to have it come tumbling down upon him. It appears he’s been consigned to a Sisyphean existence. Yet, in 2021, I expect Dahl to replicate his 2019 success. We are going to see David Dahl heave that infernal rock to new heights with each at-bat.
Walker Percy, the peak of Southern philosophy, wrote:
If I had the choice of knowing the truth or searching for the truth, I’d take the search.
As we continue to speculate on David Dahl’s future, in search for the truth, which only the natural passage of time may verify, we must appreciate his struggle towards the pinnacle of baseball as a devastatingly beautiful reflection of reality. The man is a case study in resilience, having been struck down numerous times, only to grind his way back to relevance. Let us continue the search for his truth, and if you may take only one lesson from this series, let it be to imagine Sisyphus happy.