Corey Dickerson: Sought Commodity
With rumors swirling around the Rays and Rockies potentially locking up in a tête-à-tête that might resemble an episode of Pinky and the Brain the name Corey “Big Swingin'” Dickerson has been bandied about as a potential return for Tampa Bay. The quick rundown is that he’s a gifted hitter that has struggled with injuries (plantar fasciitis, broken ribs in 2015), and is a minus even in the corner outfield due to a chicken wing and the thighs to match. Like most lefties he also struggles with same-handers to the point that he’s probably just a platoon guy. Oh yeah and he played for the Rockies so who knows what his numbers would look like playing in a neutral park, let alone the death valley that is the Trop. Here’s a look at his Ball in Play figures over his career:
The right-hand portion of the table shows the league average figures, while the left side focuses on Mr. Dickerson. The %x column shows his percentage as an indexed value compared to league average (100). Anything above happens more often and vice versa, such that, he hit 26% more line drives than league average last year and his percentage of those specifically to the opposite field was 52% higher than his peers. The RV figures get a little wonky when adjusting for Coors Field so keep that in mind. The BA/SLG on contact numbers are not park adjusted, either.
What we see is a guy that pops up a little more than average, but hits a ton of liners. He profiles as a guy that takes his liners the other way more often and shows league average production. Grounders are the least likely outcome and again we see that he’s going the other way a ton. It’s paying off for him as they’re leading to hits pretty often. He’s hitting fly balls at basically a league average rate, but he’s pulling a ton of them. Pull fly balls to the outfield lead to good things if it means that you can avoid the flies to the opposite field that are generally a can of corn. He’s doing that. He’s yoking his fly balls for power and still able to spray to the rest of the field with liners and hard grounders that are more likely to go for hits. There’s a lot to like here so far. I also wanted to take a look at his batted ball velocity:
On the left you have Dickerson’s batted ball velocities with a 50-BIP trend. On the right is the recently profiled Steve Pearce. The scales are the same. The immediate takeaway is that Pearce took all season to put injuries behind him enough that he could get up to 90 MPH off the bat. Dickerson never went below that level. This placed him 71st amongst all batters with at least 100 balls in play in 2015. If you clicked the link you saw him place right behind John Jaso at #69 and Brad Miller at #70. He was just ahead of Eric Hosmer and Daniel Murphy. A couple of good hitters you may have heard of.
If you acquire Corey Dickerson then you’re getting him for the next four years meaning that this next year he will play for league minimum. The three after that he will go through the arbitration process. There’s a ton of value here even if he’s not a superstar. Yeah, there’s all that stuff that he doesn’t do well. Some of it is a known weakness, like hitting lefties. I ran the names of everyone that saw at least 200 PA last year through the platoon split regressor. Looking at just lefties I found that Dickerson had the 21st widest observed split at 0.23, which tied him with new Ray Brad Miller. There’s that name again. I’m pretty excited to have Miller here if he’s a SS that does things in ways that a slugger like Dickerson does them, but that’s for another day.
Regressing the split takes him down to 46th widest (0.12) between Stephen Drew and Eric Hosmer. What I’m saying is that it’s still pretty early to write him off as a guy that just can’t flat out hit lefties. His split is much smaller than, say, Matt Joyce’s 0.29/0.15 or Kevin Kiermaier’s 0.32/0.13. Or Grady Sizemore’s 0.18/0.14. Or John Jaso’s 0.28/0.13. Or David DeJesus’s 0.16/0.13 observed and regressed split, respectively. The takeaway is that the Rays are familiar with this skillset and they have been able to effectively platoon all of those guys despite the fact that outside of Kiermaier none of them is a good defender in a corner.
The stuff that is less well known is how he would hit away from Coors full time. During the season there is a pretty well-documented “reverse Coors effect” that makes Rockies batters perform worse on the road than at home. That’s the case for most guys and most guys don’t play at Coors, but this seems to make them inordinately worse on the road. This likely has something to do with the way the ball breaks in 97% of parks, but doesn’t for half their games. Hitting is muscle memory so it must be awfully difficult to continuously have to adjust expectations on what a ball will do mid-flight.
The one weakness I have failed to touch on here is his defense, because I think that’s a pretty well known truth. He’s not a good defender in the outfield and likely doesn’t have the arm to play right, relegating him to left field. Additionally, he throws right-handed so even sticking him at 1B is kind of a problem as the Rays love to have a lefty tosser over there. I bet the Mets wish they had a lefty that was known for a great arm like our James Loney. The biggest question remaining is the return. I don’t know what that is and I don’t really have an idea what someone like Dickerson is worth in this current market where good outfielders have to settle for what seems like soft deals.
One thing is for certain, you’re not finding this type of guy in free agency even if you could afford to bid for his service. The opportunity for the Rays to acquire a legitimately good hitter that has a tremendous batted ball distribution, age on his side, and a bunch of control is rare, indeed. While I initially got caught up looking at the things he doesn’t do well it caused me to miss all the things he does. He really is a very good hitter and I would expect that to continue regardless of park. Being left handed with equal parts contact and power fills the bill for the Rays biggest need for several years now, and there isn’t exactly this type of player beating down the door to the Show. The Rays strength, right now, is right-handed batters. The Rockies could use one of those with all the lefties in their outfield even if they move Corey Dickerson so maybe the two teams line up a bit there. I’d hate to see someone like Mikie Mahtook or Richie Shaffer go, and I’d probably hate it even less if someone like Desmond Jennings or Brandon Guyer is what gets us a good player. I hope we can turn some of these overlaps into the left-handed masher this team so obviously needs.