Ever since Corey Dickerson was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs in June 2013, he has been one of “my guys.” I confessed as much in back in June when he emerged from a crowded cast of Rockies outfielders to claim an everyday role. He has made the most of continued injuries opportunities in the Rockies outfield to make his mark, not just on this team, but on the league as a whole, evidenced by his National League Player of the Week honors last week. All this has led to a lot of attention lately.
This often happens when a young player does something to make the national media stand up and take notice (didn’t you see all the Charlie Blackmon articles back in April and May?). As such, we have seen a number of articles asking good, honest questions like, “Where did he come from?” Or, “Is his production a mirage?” Or even, “What should the Rockies do with him and the rest of the outfield next year?” Despite all this attention, there seems to be something missing. Absent from these fascinating discussions is perhaps the most pressing question we often ask about young hitters: “Can he get better?”
Corey Dickerson and Swing Mechanics
Enter: Joey Myers. Joey Myers operates the Hitting Performance Lab and has become a bit of a friend to Rockies Zingers. A few months ago he posted an excellent examination of Troy Tulowitzki’s mechanics adjustment in 2014, and then in a later post he compared the swings and power potentials of <>Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez. These are all must-watch videos, and you would be doing yourself a service by watching some of his other Major League swing examinations. You can also read breakdowns from our own Richard Bergstrom on the Tulo video and the CarGo/Arenado video if you’re into some of the numbers behind the swings.
But now Myers has turned his attention to this week’s favorite left-handed Rockies slugger, Corey Dickerson . In this video, Joey does a great job explaining the nuances of swing mechanics so that even a complete novice (namely, “me”) can understand how Dickerson generates his power, and even how he could further improve:
This is an excellent introduction into swing mechanics and really illuminates what he is doing well in his campaign. Joey considers getting to the Fight Position (others have called it the “load” position or the “ready” position; it’s right before you bring the bat around) “the #1 most critical hitting position” and we can see why: the process of getting to the hit position is the foundation upon which the rest of the swing is built.
How He Can Get Better
Joey praises Dickerson for the ways he gets his swing moving. First, the process of “getting shorter” helps Corey establish a solid base so he can push off the ground, transferring power into his legs and torso. Then, by “floating forward,” he is able to get his body weight moving so when he unloads/uncorks/fires, he already has energy to move into his swing—and increases bat speed, like we see in the Tulo video. Finally, Corey’s ability to keep his front shoulder “closed,” or turned inward, helps him generate more torque on his swing, which, in turn, leads to power (more on this can be seen in the Edwin Encarnacion video on “Blocking”). However, Joey also shows us how Corey could improve.
At the beginning of the video, Joey teases us with this idea about how swing mechanics affect OPS (and, by extension, OPS+) and we get the big reveal here. Dickerson’s lack of a downward angle on his shoulders affects his swing plane, which limits him from generating as much power as possible. He also notes that he doesn’t have very much of a turn, showing his back to the pitcher to gain enough torque to really smash the baseball (for a prime example of what this can look like, check out his video on Miguel Cabrera). More torque leads to more power which leads to a greater OPS—at least in theory. However we have to consider what makes Dickerson successful before we can say that more power will increase his performance.
Batted Ball Rates and Power
In that Daniel Schwartz piece from Fangraphs on Corey Dickerson, the author looks at Corey’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and his contact rates. He notes that Corey’s exceptional batted ball rates are fueling his high BABIP, even though he is making less contact than league average. Put simply: based on the way Dickerson gets his hits, we have no reason to believe there won’t be anything more than a moderate drop off in his numbers.
|Batted Ball Rates||League Average||2014 C Dickerson|
|Ground Ball %||44%||36.0%|
|Fly Ball %||36%||35.6%|
|Line Drive %||20%||28.3%|
Schwartz goes on to point out that Corey does not generate very many fly balls, which are typically the types of batted balls that go over the fence, and his BABIP on fly balls is a little lower than you would expect “for a power hitting in Colorado.” And while his home run per fly ball rate is “excellent,” his fly ball percentage is merely “average.” This leads to the conclusion that Corey Dickerson has the very real potential to add power to his game. This is still possible to do as he continues to mature as a hitter and as a human being while he approaches those peak age-26-28 seasons. But, perhaps if based on the techniques shared by Joey Myers, Corey can speed that process along.
What Could Go Wrong?
What are the risks associated with this suggested change? Take a look at Dickerson’s batted ball spray chart below:
One of Corey’s clear strengths this season has been his ability to hit to all fields, which we can see above. One of the advantages of this sort of distribution is, as Schwartz pointed out, that it makes it difficult for teams to utilize any kind of defensive overshift. No overshift means more of your batted balls are liable to fall for hits. In an offensive environment in which fewer and fewer hits are falling, this is a valuable skill to have.
Unless you’re one of the best hitters on the planet, it is extremely difficult to make adjustments in your swing mechanics that lead to an increase in power without losing some of that ability to hit to all fields (though, there is one noteable example who we already discussed). It is impossible to know how much of that would be sacrificed were Corey to “sell-out” for more power.
Also, changing your swing is a very difficult thing to do. Especially when that swing got you to the Major Leagues. Especially when you’re producing 148 OPS+, good for sixth in the National League, with that very swing. For every Troy Tulowitzki-esque adjustment that leads to super-star level production, there are likely dozens of other players who make changes only to see overall negative results. While Joey Myers is by no means suggesting any kind of swing overhaul, sometimes even the most subtle of changes can have a big impact for a player. But what if part of how Corey Dickerson has elevated his game this season is because he’s already made some of those adjustments?
How Much Better Can He Get?
The video Joey analyzed is from Dickerson’s first Major League home run on July 28, 2013. If we look at his most recent Major League home run (from August 17, 2014), we can still see many of the elements in his swing that Joey alluded to in his video: “getting shorter,” the head movement before the fight position, and the closed shoulder.
That is a powerful swing. We can also see that Corey may, in fact, be turning his back to the pitcher a bit more, “showing his number” more prominently. Of course, without proper equipment, this is nearly impossible to say, and the short clip does not provide an alternate camera angle to check to see if any of Joey’s other suggestions are developing in Dickerson’s swing. It’s also worth noting that Coors Field is notorious for having a very off-center centerfield camera, which alters one’s perception of the hitter and makes it difficult to compare one video to another. Having said that, we can surely say that he has already improved as a hitter in the 12+ months since his first Major League home run, though we cannot be sure how much of that can be explained by mechanical adjustments.
Clearly Corey Dickerson has performed extraordinarily well all season, a very impressive feat considering his lack of a prospect pedigree. What’s more is, at only age 25, he still has a few years before he reaches his supposed “peak” in order to improve as a hitter. Thanks to Joey Myers, we now have something to look for as we wait to see if he develops more into a 20-25 home run per season type of player or a 30-35 home runs per season type.
As I said in June, this is part of what makes following the development of a player so enjoyable. Can he get better? Based on everything we’ve seen here the potential is certainly there. But, as for me, rather than sit around and wait for this undefined level of “better,” I’m going to enjoy Corey Dickerson, National League Player of the Week and One of the Top Hitters in Baseball.