Corey Dickerson has trouble with the curve.
Going into spring training, the Pittsburgh Pirates left field situation was a bit of a mess. It looked like it would be some sort of timeshare between Adam Frazier, Jordan Luplow, and Daniel Nava. Instead, the Tampa Bay Rays DFA’d 2017 All-Star Corey Dickerson. The Pirates front office jumped at the opportunity. They traded away the ineffective Daniel Hudson, a minor leaguer not worth mentioning, and some cash to acquire Dickerson. It was a slam dunk trade even before Dickerson took the field.
At the time, the book on Corey was that he couldn’t play defense well and that he had a major problem with fastballs. As the season began, he quickly disproved both of those ideas. While he was not stellar against the fastball, or in the field, he was definitely average if not better.
COREY DICKERSON! WHAT A CATCH
Corey stayed hot and was one of Pittsburgh’s best hitters, albeit with a cold June. Then it all went sideways.
Dickerson suffered a left hamstring injury on July 24th. At the time, he was slashing .318/.351/.517 (132 wRC+). He struggled in June but had put that behind him and was having his best month yet. He was an essential part of the Pirates outfield that fueled their 11 game winning streak. He had almost put in a full month of games behind the All-Star break, perhaps putting away the idea that he was a first-half player.
#Pirates Corey Dickerson is still using that Sam Bat that Colin Moran said was full of homers. This shot in second inning today flew 447 feet, which is tied for fourth-longest of Dickerson's career. pic.twitter.com/wFNxlW9G2b
— Rob Biertempfel (@RobBiertempfel) July 22, 2018
However, when Corey came back in August he struggled. It all seemed fine at first, he was just knocking the rust off. Hitting is hard and it takes time to get comfortable. It’s been six-plus weeks since then and the “rust” is now more like a plague that’s infected his bat. As of Friday morning, Dickerson is hitting .209/.218/.252 (24wRC+).
Last year’s precipitous decline was because Dickerson couldn’t hit a fastball, even when he knew it was coming (32.6% whiff in 2017). Through different stances and choking up, he cut his whiff percentage down to 17.6. He essentially eliminated his biggest weakness. Now his struggles have reappeared. This time it’s a different pitch, the breaking ball.
We are talking about the combination of sliders and curveballs as Corey has struggled against both pitches post-injury. For the record, the curveball, in particular, is his bugaboo. Before the injury, he wasn’t really whiffing all that much on any particular pitch. In July he only missed 13% of breaking pitches. Upon his return, that number skyrocketed to 43% and it’s stayed there so far in September.
A closer look at the numbers shows a pretty disturbing trend. In July, Dickerson was swinging at more than half of the breaking pitches thrown at him. Opposing teams likely picked up on this trend and began to attack Dickerson with breaking pitches. Even now, Corey continues to hack at ole Uncle Charlie even as his production falls off a cliff.
If you have watched a Pirate game lately than you’ve seen Dickerson make some atrocious swing decisions.
That’s right he’s swung at a pitch that should’ve hit him. He honestly just looks lost up there at the plate sometimes.
It’s odd that Dickerson went from being a “disciplined” hitter to a flailer. Pre-injury Dickerson hardly walked but he also didn’t strike out much (12.3%). Post-injury, that rate has gone over 23%, thanks in large part to being unable to touch the breaking ball. It’s possible that the injury has somehow thrown Corey Dickerson’s swing out of whack. Making it more difficult to hit the breaking pitch. This inability, unfortunately, puts him in more breaking ball friendly counts and the negative feedback loop turns Dickerson into a pitcher at the plate.
While blaming the injury could be the actual reason, it may actually have something to do with last season. Earlier in the article, I mentioned that Dickerson couldn’t do anything against the fastball. He made adjustments at the plate to avoid that this season. For over half a year it worked. I think that Dickerson is pressing. He knows how poorly he struggled against the fastball last season and refuses to be beaten by it this year. It’s possible that he’s so fastball conscious that he pulls the trigger too fast on the breaking pitch and ends up missing it by a mile. Watch Dickerson swing the next time he’s in the lineup and keep an eye on any swing at a breaking ball. I bet nine times out of ten it’s going to be a goofy looking swing.
With all that said, I wouldn’t bet against Corey Dickerson. A lot of people, including the analytically inclined Rays, left Dickerson for dead last year. They assumed that the league had exposed his great weakness with fastballs. Instead, Corey made adjustments and came back as an arguably stronger player. Dickerson will have to make adjustments once again, hopefully, this time it’ll be just as successful.
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