David Dahl came to the media session after Saturday’s Colorado Rockies RockiesFest ready to talk about the subject he knew was coming: His health.
Dahl proclaimed himself fully healthy after a right ankle injury in his 100th game of the 2019 season cost him the rest of the campaign. The 100 games were the most he has played in his three seasons with the Colorado Rockies and provided the 25-year-old Dahl with his first All-Star Game experience.
There were plenty of good things to see at the plate from Dahl last season, including a barrel percentage of 10.3 that put him in the same category as Mookie Betts and Joc Pederson. That’s also a barrel rate that has risen steadily in each of his three seasons, jumping from 4.9% to 9.3% to last season’s 10.3%.
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But it wasn’t offensive statistics that were one of the key questions asked of Dahl on Saturday. It was about his desire to take over the center field position for the Rockies in 2020.
"“Yeah, I would like that. I know I can do it,” Dahl told Rox Pile and other media members when asked about his quest to “stick” in center field this season. “I know I can play center field and be good out there, but whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do.”"
What the Rockies need is for Dahl to become the dependable, defensive-oriented center fielder the team has lacked in recent years (sorry, Charlie Blackmon). And there are signs that Dahl can be just that in 2020.
As our contributor @SABRskeptic pointed out, Statcast has Dahl as “above average” in terms of their new “outfield jump” metric as well as his UZR/150 in center field was 9.7 last season compared to negative numbers in the corner spots. As a comparison, Kevin Kiermaier put up 9.8 last year.
However, as our friends at Purple Row pointed out in this article, there were plenty of defensive stats that weren’t kind to Dahl overall last season. Center field at Coors Field is a beast and there are plenty of indications that Dahl is getting better but still has plenty of room to grow.
Of course, there are options for the Rockies in center as spring training draws near. Dahl was one of six players to spend 13 or more games manning center field, with Ian Desmond leading the way with 74 games there (including 67 starts). However, after Dah’s injury last season, manager Bud Black turned primarily to a rotation of Yonathan Daza, Garrett Hampson and Raimel Tapia in center while Desmond shifted to left.
Desmond is expected to see plenty of time in left field this season, potentially platooning with Tapia and seeing action against left-handers.
Despite the history of injuries, Dahl has produced when he’s been on the field over the last three seasons, including wRC+ metrics of 110 or more all three years. If Dahl can lock down the center field slot in spring training and provide solid defense throughout the year, it provides an answer to a questions that has been looming over the franchise in recent years.