2014 Fantasy Baseball Breakout: Corey Dickerson
Corey Dickerson, an eighth round pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, was never a highly touted prospect, failing to crack notable industry top-100 prospect lists. He did, however, crush the ball at every level of the minors (albeit it in some very friendly hitting conditions), and he hit respectably in a 213 plate appearance big league debut in 2013. What he did last season exceeded reasonable prognostications, and now it’s time to re-evaluate who Dickerson is and review his 2014 success.
A crowded outfield and some limiting of his exposure to left-handed pitchers (just 98 plate appearances against them) resulted in Dickerson tallying less than 500 plate appearances last year. In his 478 plate appearances, though, he was a stud hitting .312 with 24 home runs, 74 runs, 76 RBIs, and eight steals. Basically, he filled the 5×5 categories quite well. Run production stats (i.e. runs and RBIs) are obviously largely a product of a team as a whole and lineup slot, so let’s dig into the more projectable numbers.
As I noted above, he was limited to fewer than 100 plate appearances against lefties, but with Michael Cuddyer out of town and Charlie Blackmon possibly a better candidate to sit for Drew Stubbs when a lefty is on the hill, more plate appearances could be on the horizon for the left-handed hitting Dickerson. He wasn’t inept by any means against southpaws last year, but he was a below average offensive player (87 wRC+ with 100 representing average) and saw a strikeout spike when facing a same-handed pitching (26.5% strikeout rate versus lefties compared to 19.7% versus right-handed pitchers). A total of 98 plate appearances is a tiny sample, and even if you include his 2013 numbers, he has just 138 plate appearances against lefties in the majors.
In order to get a better picture, it’s best to add to the sample size, and that means including his minor league work. Minor League Central has stats available dating back to 2011, and in 312 minor league plate appearances he’s hit .310/.359/.606 with a 5.8% walk rate and 21.5% strikeout rate. His minor league strikeout rate is more than four percent higher against lefties than right-handed pitchers, so that holds true to his major league form, and his walk rate is on the low side. But his .296 ISO is tantalizing and allows for some forgiveness for the strikeout rate uptick. As I’ve already cautioned, he’s hit in some favorable offensive environments in the upper minors at Colorado Springs (part of the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League) and Tulsa. Even with that caution in mind, his minor league work against lefties leaves some hope for improved performance against them. Extra plate appearances should be viewed as a plus for him in 2015 as the drop in overall batting average due to increased exposure to southpaws will be more than offset by the extra counting stats.
Speaking of counting stats, a healthy Rockies lineup at Coors Field is a run scoring juggernaut, and Dickerson is a beast in the thin air. The gap in his offensive production when at home and when on the road was stark. In 258 plate appearances at Coors Field he hit 15 homers with a .363 batting average, a 15.5% strikeout rate and a 171 wRC+. On the road he tallied 220 plate appearances and hit nine homers with a .252 batting average, 27.7% strikeout rate and a 102 wRC+. A monstrous gap in strikeout rate isn’t totally surprising. Anecdotal tales of pitcher’s stuff not playing as well in the thin air of Colorado were analytically proven to be true by Dan Rozenson in a piece for Baseball Prospectus a couple years ago. The sizable difference in home and road numbers means it is worth monitoring the Rockies offseason activity. With a talented outfield, plenty of offense firepower, and a never ending desire to acquire pitching talent, the Rockies could turn to moving one of their outfielders. Given the high price tag and injury history of Carlos Gonzalez, he is the player they’ve been most often rumored to be shopping, but the same reasons for their desire to move him have proved to make it difficult to get the return they’re looking for. A quick MLB Trade Rumors search confirmed that I haven’t missed any trade rumors involving Dickerson, but suffice to say, a deal prior to fantasy drafts would necessitate a drop in his ranking.
As a member of the Rockies, Dickerson’s outlook for this season is that of a big contributor in batting average and power. He’s a line drive hitting machine with a 26.5% line drive rate according to FanGraphs, and while he hasn’t tallied enough plate appearances for it to be stabilized yet according to Derek Carty’s study back in the summer of 2013, even some regression would still make the line drive hitting machine title fit. Ripping so many ropes in addition to playing in a park known for increasing BABIP helps explain his .356 BABIP, and it means that it would be unwise to predict a huge drop in that rate. Factor in his reasonable strikeout rate of 21.1%, and you’ve got a guy that should hit around .300 this year. He’ll do so with power as well.
I’m expecting for him to set a new career high in homers with increased plate appearances this year, and he should give 30 taters a run. In 212 plate appearances in 2013 he had a 33.8% flyball rate and last year he improved upon that raising it almost three percent to 36.5%. Between the increase in flyballs and a jump from a 9.6% HR/FB rate to 19.5% according to FanGraphs, his homer total reflected those gains. His average home run and flyball distance as measured by Baseball Heat Maps was 298.07 feet, the 20th highest mark among hitters, and that provides encouragement that more than doubling his HR/FB rate was legit and not fluky.
Dickerson rounded out his statistical profile with eight stolen bases last year, but did so inefficiently getting caught seven times. He’s never been an efficient base stealer, even in his minor league career, yet that hasn’t stopped him from reaching eight stolen bases or more every year in professional baseball with a single season high of 16 coming in two minor leagues stops in 2012. Around 8-to-10 stolen bases is a reasonable guess for him this year. Add it all up, and you’ve got a high end second outfielder who I’ve currently got ranked inside the top-20 at the position.