By Jay Blue
Dalton Pompey was practically handed the Blue Jays’ center field job going into 2015 and he’s done nothing to show that he doesn’t deserve it.
There’s a reason that I’ve come to think that Dalton Pompey is probably one of the best options to man center field for the Blue Jays but I don’t think anyone else is really talking about it all that much.
Offense in MLB is falling. The chart included here illustrates this point perfectly. I’ve gathered fairly indicative stats from the past 10 seasons that all point to the same thing. Runs are down. Home runs are down. Walks are down. Overall production is down. Strikeouts are up (if you’re buying stock in strikeouts, now’s a good time to buy). I took a quick look and discovered that average velocity of pitches is up about 1 mph over all of MLB. Pitchers are throwing harder, and they’re missing more bats (The chart shows yearly offensive numbers from homers to wOBA.)
Batting average is down 13 points and OBP is down 16 (which can be explained by the drop in batting average as well as the drop in walk rate). What is really somewhat shocking is that slugging percentage is down 33 points. This means that power is dropping all throughout major league baseball. When the Blue Jays signed Dayan Viciedo, it was a sign of how much teams are putting a premium on power. Here is a guy who has had trouble getting on base at even a .300 rate but has shown above average power. The Blue Jays were able to pick him up for little risk and, if OBP rates keep falling the way they have, Viciedo could even be considered to get on base at an average rate within a couple of years.
While I don’t think that Viciedo will ever get on base at an average rate, Dalton Pompey has the potential to be extremely valuable in the depressed offensive environment of the major leagues today. There are really three years of stats for Pompey in the minor leagues that we can look to for indicators of what he’s going to be in the major leagues: 2011, 2013 and 2014. In 2011, Pompey was still just 18 years old and split the year between the GCL and Bluefield. While he hit just .239 overall, he posted an OBP of .358, walking at a rate of 14.1%. Pompey also stole 23 bases and was caught just once.
Pompey spent most of 2012 injured and only played in 20 games. In 2013, Pompey spent the entire year in Lansing and we can probably read more into those numbers than we can the ones from 2011 in Rookie ball. Pompey hit .261/.358/.394 with a 12.3% walk rate and stole 38 bases in 48 attempts (79.2% success rate). I have it on good authority that Pompey was playing through some injuries and some of those unsuccessful stolen base attempts were from when he was slowed a bit.
In 2014, Pompey took his hitting to another level altogether, combining for a .317/.392/.469 slash line with 43 stolen bases in 50 attempts (86%) while walking at a 10.4% rate between High-A Dunedin, Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo. While his walk rate was down, I tend to believe that it was because he was so confident in his hitting that he was a little less patient at the plate but he still managed a rate that was well above average, considering that he was playing at levels that he had never reached before. While his small number of big league plate appearances limits our ability to project what he can do in 2015, Pompey still walked 9.3% of the time in the majors.
There are two pieces of information here that, to me, indicate that Pompey is going to be an extremely valuable player for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015. The first is his sustained, high walk rate at every level he’s played at. As you can see from the chart, the major league walk rate in 2014 was 7.6% and Pompey was clearly above that, even when he was in the major leagues. The other piece of information is that Pompey is extremely successful stealing bases. In fact, if it weren’t for a few periods of time that he was dealing with nagging leg injuries (including his time in New Hampshire when he was five out of 13 times), his success rate would be much higher. Dalton was 29 for 31 in Dunedin last year and six for six in attempts in Buffalo (and one for one in Toronto).
If he stays healthy, Pompey could easily be a guy who is successful on 85% of his steal attempts and if we look at some of the complicated statistical crunching that’s been done out there, you need to be successful about 75% of the time to produce positive results for your team. Pompey is already there and should be able to contribute the big league team by stealing efficiently.
I interviewed Tim Raines a couple of year ago and one of the things that he said stuck in my mind. Being a speedy player who could hit for extra-bases meant that it was harder for teams to defend him. You couldn’t really pitch around a guy with speed because he would then wreak havoc on the bases. He said:
“Guys like myself, we can get on base and doesn’t even take a hit to score a run. And the name of the game is scoring runs . . . we got ourselves in position more often than anyone else to score runs and that’s what the game is all about.”
A walk or a single by a player like Dalton Pompey has the potential to get him into scoring position just as much as a double or triple does. This ability becomes even more valuable in today’s offensive environment where extra-base hits are dropping league wide.
If Pompey can be close to as good as Raines was (and he’s been able to benefit from him tutelage in the Jays’ system), then the Jays are going to have an explosive force at the top of their lineup. Pompey has some power but is very mature at the plate on the bases, taking a high percentage of walks and stealing bases efficiently. While he may go through some growing pains at the plate in his first year as a major league regular, as long as he gets on base at a league average or higher rate and steals bases with above-average efficiency, he’s going to be a positive contributor to the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays.
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