Corey Dickerson has been the team’s worst hitter when he puts the ball in the air. Is it just bad luck, or is it because of where those fly balls go?
Yesterday, Jason Rollison looked at the Pirates’ mediocre fly ball results this season. At the bottom of the list was a name that would surprise some: Corey Dickerson. Dickerson came to Pittsburgh touted as an extra-base machine, and while he has been streaky, he’s still had an above average offensive season. He would seem like the type of guy who would have good results when he puts the ball in the air.
Dickerson has a .294 wOBA on fly balls this year. (If you would prefer a non-nerd translation, he also has a .167 batting average.) League wide, the average wOBA on fly balls is .447. Dickerson is 293rd in that stat out of the 355 batters who qualify (min. 25 results). That’s less than optimal.
If you buy into expected stats- namely xwOBA- then Dickerson is getting rooked. As Rollison point out, his wOBA is over 100 points lower than the Statcast projection. A .407 xwOBA is still below league average by a good bit, but it’s at least workable, not to mention an improvement.
It would be easy to write off Dickerson’s slump to bad luck, but let’s delve a little deeper and compare his fly balls this season to the ones he hit in 2017. This is his batted ball profile based on direction:
Last season, Dickerson was in the top 20 in baseball in batting average, slugging percentage and wOBA on fly balls batted to the opposite field (out of 176 qualified batters, min. 25 results). This season, he’s among the 10 worst in wOBA and slugging. Things haven’t gone much better when he hits it to straightaway center, either. Basically, unless it is hit to right field, fly balls have been counterproductive for him this season.
Travis Sawchik of 538 wrote about how being able to pull fly balls effectively has made Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor into two of the best power hitters in the game. I blatantly ripped him off in a post for The Point Of Pittsburgh and applied the theory to Adam Frazier- who is hitting more home runs by pulling the ball more- and Josh Bell- who is doing neither of those things this season. Generally speaking, league wide, a pulled fly ball is about four times as likely to result in a home run than a ball hit to center field, and seven times as likely as a ball hit to the opposite field. Going based on league wide wOBA from 2016-2018, it’s clear to see where you want to hit it if you lift it.
Pull: .895, Straightaway: .314, Opposite: .227
This is even more true for lefty hitters at PNC Park. With a short right field porch and cavernous left field notch, southpaws on the North Shore add 90 points to the league average wOBA on pulled fly balls at the cost of nearly 40 points when they lift it to the opposite field. Again, from the last three years:
Pull .985, Straightaway: .346, Opposite: .178
Getting the ball in the air is half the battle. The other half is driving it. While an opposite field strike could be hit hard, it’s far less likely than a pulled ball. This season, Dickerson’s average exit velocity on pulled fly balls is 96.5 MPH, with 12 of his 21 going 95+ MPH. Only 13 of his 37 flies to center have gone 95+, and just four of his balls to the opposite field have been hit that hard.
Batted ball direction is playing a large role in Dickerson’s slump since coming off the disabled list, too. His fly ball rate is down a tad since being activated on Aug. 4, but what is more concerning is he has not pulled a fly ball since then. 18 fly balls: eight to the opposite field and 10 to straightaway center. Those 18 fly balls have yielded a single, a sacrifice fly and 16 garden variety outs.
Those aren’t all lazy flies, either. Seven went over 350 feet, which would clear the Clemente wall easily. Actually, his average fly ball distance is up since coming off the DL, going from 317 to 327 feet. There’s something to be said for hitting smarter, not harder.
Let’s examine Dickerson’s swing before and after his DL stint to see if we can find the difference. Here he is launching a 447 foot mammoth shot in Cincinnati shortly after the All-Star Break.
Here are a pair of recent whiffs.
One seemingly minor change is he has cut down on his toe tap, which might be causing a bit of a timing issue. But even if he did make contact on these pitches, it’s unlikely that he would have made solid contact.
Here’s one more video of him making contact, though he probably wishes he would have whiffed again.
Look at his hips. He opened up very well in the game in Cincy, which lead to him being able to pull the pitch. He has not had the same explosiveness since, which is why the ball is going to the opposite field more often.
Dickerson had a notably poor second half last season, which is why Tampa Bay abandoned him on the side of the road this spring. He’s having another poor finish this season. His power numbers are way down, and unless he can start pulling his fly balls, they are likely to stay down.