To kick off our fantasy baseball preview, Michael Beller will profile certain players who may not fit as a breakout, sleeper or bust (all of which we'll discuss in our preview), but who will still make a major impact in fantasy baseball this season.
Power comes at a premium these days. It’s plastered everywhere, most notably on the pages of the four-year, $57-million contract signed by Nelson Cruz with the Mariners this offseason. Eleven players hit 30 home runs last year. That was down from 14 in 2013 and 26 in 2012. If you want reliable power this season, you’re going to have to spend to get it.
What if I told you, though, that there’s a guy out there who hit 24 homers in 478 plate appearances last year and carries an average draft position in National Fantasy Baseball Championship leagues of 49.94, which lands him just outside the fourth round of a 12-team draft? That’s too good to be true, right? There must be a catch. Indeed there is. He plays his home games at Coors Field.
Corey Dickerson enjoyed a breakout season last year, slashing .312/.364/.567 to go along with his 24 homers, 27 doubles and 76 RBI. It seems almost impossible now, but Dickerson began the 2014 campaign as a backup in the Rockies’ crowded outfield. Injuries to Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez opened up the door to regular playing time, and Dickerson refused to go back on the other side of the threshold. There was no eureka moment marking his regular inclusion in the starting lineup, but June 1 serves as a suitable start point, given that both Cuddyer and Gonzalez were on the DL beginning the first week of June. Dickerson hit .344/.406/.583 with four homers in 106 plate appearances in June. By time either Opening Day starter was ready to return, it was clear Dickerson’s bat needed to be in the lineup.
Still, Dickerson cannot sidestep the reality of his ghastly splits. He hit .363/.415/.684 with 15 homers at Coors Field last year. When the Rockies went on the road, his slash plummeted to .252/.305/.431, though he did manage nine homers in 202 plate appearances. But it wasn’t just his home/road splits that were troubling. The left-handed Dickerson pounded righties to the tune of .328/.379/.606 with 21 of his 24 jacks. When Dickerson didn’t have the platoon advantage, he slashed .253/.306/.418, comparatively worse than his numbers away from Coors.
If you’re buying Dickerson this year, I think you can live with the home/road splits. First of all, he’s still going to play half his games at Coors, and he enters this season as a clear-cut starter in the outfield, along with Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon. Secondly, even if he doesn’t improve at all outside Coors this year, his road numbers, especially in the power department, weren’t a dealbreaker in 2014. He still slugged .431 with a .178 ISO. A few players who didn’t reach a .178 ISO for the entire season included Ian Desmond (.175), Brian Dozier (.174) and Adrian Beltre (.169). Moreover, Dickerson’s fly-ball rate remained flat whether the Rockies were at home or on the road, and while his HR/FB ratio dipped, it was still a strong 17.3 percent. Dickerson’s rates may take a turn in the 81 games played anywhere other than Coors Field, but he’s still going to hit for power.
No, before drafting Dickerson, what you’ll have to square with yourself is his performance in the one-quarter or so of his plate appearances against lefties. Put simply, Dickerson was a completely different hitter against southpaws last year. It largely owed to his wildly variable performance against fastballs and sliders, depending on the side from which they were coming.
Below are tables from Brooks Baseball with Dickerson’s averages versus every individual pitch type. The first is his performance against righties, and the second is against lefties.
When Dickerson had the platoon advantage, he hit .326 with a .484 slugging percentage against fastballs, and .343 with a .571 slugging percentage against sliders. When that advantage shifted to the pitcher, his averages fell off a cliff. He hit and slugged just .143 against fastballs, while hitting .188 with a .344 slugging percentage against sliders.
We can drill down even further and see that Dickerson was far less effective when put on the defensive by lefties. An 0-2 count is its own best where any hitter is going to struggle, regardless of pitcher handedness. Indeed, Dickerson got into 40 0-2 holes against lefties. Of those, 15 ended on the next pitch. He went 2-for-15 with 10 strikeouts. Take a look at 1-2 counts, however, and you’ll see something interesting.
Dickerson hit .625 on fastballs in 1-2 counts against righties. That dropped all the way to .143 against lefties. He hit .286 on sliders in the same count with the advantage. Against same-siders, he hit .125. He isn’t just a different hitter overall, but one who really struggles when he falls behind. That isn’t necessarily the case for Dickerson against righties.
While that’s a real concern for Dickerson, there are far more positives here than there are negatives. With a regular spot in the lineup all season, Dickerson can approach 30 home runs, so long as his fly-ball rate and HR/FB ratio from last year hold up. There are no distance concerns to speak of, as Dickerson’s average true home run distance was an impressive 405.4 feet last year, and his average fly ball distance of 298.07 feet was good for 20th in the league. Dickerson looks like one of the few guys with power who won’t come at a premium.