2016 Hitter Review: Corey Dickerson
In an effort to give you a fair and balanced look at how important Rays players fared in 2016 I’ve created something of an agnostic template that will be light on the emotion, and heavy on the rational. I’d like to look at each of the players that profile as useful for 2017 through this same lens that will start similar before taking a deeper look at something I feel is important to that individual at the end. Let’s start with Corey Dickerson.
Big Swingin’ was the trade return, along with Kevin Padlo, for Jake McGee and German Marquez. McGee went on to typically get hurt, and put up a sub-replacement season in the unfairly thin air of Colorado. Marquez holds much promise as a future mid-rotation starter, but you have to give to get. In Dickerson’s first season he was able to show some positive growth after an initial rough stretch as he acclimated to the league. Let’s start with how he compares to the 481 non-pitchers that received at least 60 plate appearances last year:
The majority of these metrics are color-coded from red, bad, to green, good, for the gamut of players. The exception are those that are highlighted in yellow, which run in reverse. Dickerson is a guy with definite strengths and weaknesses. He walks and strikes out quite a bit worse than average. His batting average is a little lighter than average, while his on-base percentage is quite a bit worse. He hits very few liners or grounders, and quite a few pop ups. He swings at everything, while having one of the worst in-zone contact rates in the game.
The thing is, though, dude can flat out mash the ball when he makes contact. He had one of the highest extra bases per hit rates in the league driven by elite rates for doubles, a great rate for homers and a good rate for triples. His slugging percentage is strong, but his ISO goes even higher once you take into account his subpar batting average. The reason for the lower BABIP comes exclusively from his propensity to hit the ball in the air. It would be dramatically worse if he didn’t also approach league leaders in hitting the ball to the opposite field, but you’d probably also see his power spike even higher if he did pull more fly balls.
Big Swingin’ Dickerson has his flaws, but he’s one of the best power threats in the game with a swing-happy approach that allows him to really get into a pitch. We’ve seen the snapshot of how he compares to all players for the entirety of 2016, but I’m a firm believer that guys go through ups and downs as they adjust and are adjusted upon. Dickerson was tasked with moving from one of the most hitter friendly ballparks to one of the least while switching leagues, and being asked to hit without playing the field for the first time with regularity. In short, a lot was demanded of him, and as you’d expect things started slowly. That didn’t last long:
I like to start by looking at how the swing decision alters as pitchers enter and exit the zone throughout the season for all pitches. To measure production I calculate run values using Ian Malinowki’s excellent research that is well worth your time. We’ve already seen that Dickerson has one of the most aggressive approaches in the game. It looks like early on he was feeling out the league starting out swinging often before dialing it back for a stretch. This worked well in conjunction with pitchers offering fewer and fewer pitches in the zone, which allowed him to get a little more swing happy throughout the rest of the season. You can see a drastic dropoff in his production around the 1,300 pitch mark, which I believe has a lot to do with a thumb injury that never pushed him to the disabled list, but did plenty to hurt his numbers. You can see it didn’t take him long to get back on track to finish very strongly.
After looking at the swing decision on all pitches I like to move along to just those that were offered upon using in play percentage and whiff percentage as examples of the good and bad outcomes to be had. Note that foul balls are not included, but would be the missing percentage that adds up to 100%. You can see that the early struggles manifested in an extremely high swing-and-miss percentage that was basically in line with a poor in play percentage. Things improved from there. The percent of whiffs per swing settled in mostly around 25% other than a late climb to finish off the year. Whiffing less often allowed him to put more balls in play, and that’s a good thing for a guy with this kind of power profile. You can see a pretty nice stretch in the middle before he hurt his thumb, and then an incredible stretch to close out the year.
After looking at all swings I then like to refine even further to just focus on all of those pitches that were contacted upon, or put in play. The power (SLGCON) was ever present early on, though did take a small dip in the middle third before stepping up to incredible levels to close out the year. While his power production does a good job of steering his run values you can see that they also do follow a similar shape as his batting average on contact (BACON). His worst stretch came to start the year before he got up to more reasonable levels. You can see the dip that coincided with his power production before the unsustainably strong finish.
Looking at this stuff I get the impression that Dickerson faced an adjustment period early on then once he started to get rolling a hand injury took away from some of his ability. Perhaps in a year where every single other outfielder doesn’t get hurt he takes a quick trip to the disabled list leaving his numbers looking the better for it, but that isn’t what happened. The incredible finish was certainly unsustainable, and perhaps owed some thanks to the somewhat weaker competition typically seen in September, but altogether you see a powerful hitter that has another gear for stretches that makes him one of the best sluggers in the game. I’d expect more of the good and less of the bad in 2017.
So far, I haven’t delved into one of his other great weaknesses. There is no shame in the fact that as a lefty he struggles with lefties, most do, but since he’s more of an average defender than a good one then you’re likely to see him get platooned with regularity. Here’s why:
When facing lefties he really only has two hot spots that should be fairly easy for pitchers to avoid. He mashes mistakes middle-middle, but also down-and-in. Other than that he’ll show a good eye on the most obvious of balls, and struggle to produce much within the zone. He did hit a couple balls out to center and right-center, but the majority of his hits were singles in front of the outfield and over the infield. That’s really ok, because dude can mash a righty:
Other than a preponderance to expand the zone a bit you can see that Dickerson flat out crushes righties wherever he is pitched. The aggressive approach cuts both ways as pitchers cannot simply take him out of the zone without coming into it first. When they do he’s ready to pounce with power to all fields. Look at how many of his doubles landed on the warning track and start to salivate at the idea that at least some of those will carry out in the future. You can look around the league, but you will be hard-pressed to find another player that has this high of a distribution to all fields. Recall the first chart that showed him as one of the league leaders in going to opposite field, and then see that he’s doing that with extreme power. It’s ok to lick your lips a bit. Otherwise it might turn into some drool.
Seeing where in the zone he does damage is one thing, but the downside to the power is how often he swings and misses as we have seen throughout this analysis. Let’s look at that as a heatmap:
When facing a lefty, on the left, he really struggles on the very outer edge into the unfair area that lefties must cover, because umpires have no idea what the word parallax means. He’ll miss a bit in the zone, but this is a big enough reason that you would like to go to the bench in a late and close situation when the opponent goes to their LOOGY. Against righties, on the right, there’s a weak spot up and away, but other than that he’s fairly typical for a major league batter, and most of those other guys cannot flex like Corey can. You can also get a sense for his ideal swing plane as it cuts through the heart of the zone, and is able to deal with an awful lot of stuff up-and-in.
Lastly, I wanted to present a breakdown of his pitch values versus both types of pitcher:
He was around league average against lefty breakers and heaters while struggling with the very rare change up that they offered to him. He stayed around league average against righty breaking balls, but was a bit better against their offspeed stuff, and destroyed the righty fastball. Seeing fewer lefties, while not getting dinged with the designated hitter penalty quite so often next year should set him up to do what he does best. Crush righties. Here’s to a whole lot more of it over his next three years as a Tampa Bay Ray.