St. Louis Cardinals: Could Corey Dickerson be the answer in left field?
Two recent MLB.com posts matched up free-agent outfielder Corey Dickerson and the St. Louis Cardinals. Could Dickerson be the bat St. Louis is looking for to replace Marcell Ozuna?
David Adler and Richard Justice, both of MLB.com, have touted free-agent outfielder Corey Dickerson as a viable outfield option for the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, both also believe the 30-year-old Dickerson is the better option over Marcell Ozuna for the defending 2019 NL Central Champs.
David Adler acknowledges the Cardinals’ preference for adding a starting pitcher (hello, Kwang-Hyun Kim) but feels there is a bigger need to add an outfielder to boost the offense. Adler believes Ozuna returning to the Cardinals is a real possibility but feels the front office would prefer a left-handed bat in the lineup. With limited lefty options available in free agency, enter Corey Dickerson.
Richard Justice feels that Dickerson is the better option than Ozuna for the Cardinals, primarily due to his defense and offers better roster flexibility. In 2018, he won a Gold Glove Award for the PIrates and had plus 10 outs above average (which was 12th among 174 outfielders).
However, we all know the Cardinals are primarily looking for the offense that will replace Ozuna’s potential 25-30 homers and 80-90 RBIs. So let’s take a closer look at Corey Dickerson’s offensive prowess and if it helps the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Case for Dickerson over Ozuna
Richard Justice doesn’t leave it to just Dickerson’s defense, he also expands on his offensive abilities. Justice points out that Dickerson’s OPS+ since 2014 is tied with Justin Upton for 29th out of 130 hitters with at least 2,500 plate appearances in that span. Additionally, his .870 OPS against right-handed pitchers since 2014 is tied with Giancarlo Stanton for 17th out of 108 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances.
If you are really into sabermetrics, Justice points out his numbers are solid against all types of pitching. For example, fastballs (.293 batting average .512 slugging percentage), breaking balls (.286/.506), and offspeed (.270/.486). Also, Dickerson is one of 23 hitters to be an above-average hitter by OPS+ for six straight seasons (min. 200 PA per season).
Finally, Justice brings up one of those offensive metrics often overlooked. Of hitters with at least 200 batted balls last season, Dickerson had the third-highest sweet spot rate (frequency of contact in the optimal launch angle range). He measures up to Mike Trout in this area.
Of course, there’s another reason for Dickerson over Ozuna, length of contract. As Justice points out, Ozuna is expected to get at least four years and Dickerson would likely settle for two. Signing Dickerson would give the Cardinals the roster flexibility which an Ozuna contract wouldn’t.
The Case against Dickerson over Ozuna
Although Richard Justice and David Adler make a credible argument about why Corey Dickerson is preferable over Marcell Ozuna, there is a legitimate question whether he has a big enough bat to protect Paul Goldshmidt in the lineup.
Corey Dickerson’s most productive years were 2014, 2016, and 2017, where he hit 24, 24, and 27 home runs respectively. He also had 76, 70, and 62 RBIs in those years with batting averages of .312, .245, and .282. Certainly not bad, but it’s not a true reflection of his whole seven-year MLB career.
The 2017 All-Star’s career seems to show considerable experience hitting in the top of the lineup or even at the back-end of the batting order. However, he hasn’t had much experience backing up big batters like Goldschmidt from the cleanup spot.
For instance, Dickerson has 991 at-bats in the first and second spots during his seven-year career. Additionally, he also has 1,089 at-bats in the fifth and sixth spots in the order, but only 212 AB in the cleanup spot. In fact, the fourth spot in the order is one of his least productive, with a slash line of .245/.284/.500 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs.
Finally, with the glut of outfielders on the Cardinals 40-man roster, adding Corey Dickerson would only add to the bottleneck. Even with Adolis Garcia being sent to the Texas Rangers, the 40-man still has an outfield of Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez, Lane Thomas, Harrison Bader, Justin Williams, Tyler O’Neill, and Randy Arozarena. Additionally, there is the consideration that Tommy Edman may be added to the outfield mix, along with the organization’s top prospect, Dylan Carlson.
My Call on the Corey Dickerson question
I have believed the St. Louis Cardinals need to find a replacement for Marcell Ozuna in order to protect Paul Goldschmidt. His 25-30 homers and 80-90 RBIs just isn’t easy to replace and I don’t trust the Cardinals can count on any of the current outfielders on the 40-man roster, including Dylan Carlson, to fill the Ozuna role.
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My initial thought on Corey Dickerson was that he isn’t the answer for the Cardinals, for most of the reasons stated above. But a closer look at his sabermetrics changed my mind.
Dickerson is one of the most versatile hitters in MLB when it comes to his placement in the batting order. He has hit well in the first, second, fifth, sixth, and seventh spots in the lineup. He shows power and RBI potential no matter where he hits in those spots.
Even in the cleanup spot, his lack of production is somewhat deceiving. Keep in mind he has 11 homers and 35 RBIs in only 58 games. If those numbers are extended out to 140-150 games, then you are approaching Marcell Ozuna numbers. His OPS of .784 in the four spot actually beats Ozuna’s .777 OPS in two years with the Cardinals.
Finally, even though the focus for the Cardinals is on offense for left field, Dickerson’s Gold-Glove-caliber defense shouldn’t be diminished. He has played the majority of his career in left field and the improvement could be valuable for the Cardinals in 2020.
Yes, signing Dickerson would add to an already crowded outfield on the 40-man roster. Nevertheless, I believe, like Richard Justice and David Adler, he could be the impact bat and glove the Cardinals’ need for 2020. For a two-year deal, then live with the crowded outfield and bring him aboard.