I’m an Alex Dickerson fan, but I don’t know if anyone else is. He at least appears to have gone largely without fanfare thus far, as evidenced by his lowly ownership rates (4.7 percent at ESPN, 5 percent at Yahoo!). He never projected to be much of anything; former FanGraphs prospector Kiley McDaniel graded Dickerson’s tools below-average across the board, with exception to his plus raw power, and Dickerson led a weak crop of Padres prospects prior to the 2015 season in terms of projected WAR.
Fast forward to 2016, and Dickerson doesn’t look so meager. In 240 Triple-A plate appearances, he generated the Pacific Coast League’s 3rd-best wOBA. In fact, it eerily resembled that of the lauded Willson Contreras, and it only trails by a nonzero margin that of the seemingly powerful Mitch Haniger. Dickerson not only cranked up the power, posting a career-best .240 isolated power (ISO), but also shaved more than 7 percentage points off his strikeout rate (K%). The hit tool that once graded out well-below-average suddenly looked like a solid asset. While some hitters sacrifice power to refine their plate discipline or contact skills, Dickerson’s 3-year ISO of .199 from 2013-15 increased about 40 points.
The best news is the gains have carried over to the Major League level. To attest, Dickerson’s plate discipline, by definition, is above average:
His contact skills aren’t superb, but they’re good enough to keep his strikeout rate almost 6 percentage points lower than the league average. His one flaw in this regard is his chase rate (O-Swing%), which pitchers have exploited so far, avoiding the zone to extract a few extra swings out of a guy who likes to chase a bit more than their usual foes. But Dickerson still makes above-average contact on the pitches he chases, too, so he’s able to mitigate some of the damage his free-swinging ways might cause. The extra chases suppress his walk rate (BB%), but the extra contact on those chases suppresses his strikeout rate.
Circling back to his scouting report, Dickerson is inherently a power hitter. If he’s going to grip it and rip it, he risks whiffing a bit. It comes with the territory. That’s essentially the way the game has trended in recent years anyway — it’s no coincidence that 2016’s power spike aligns with the highest swinging strike rate (SwStr%) we’ve seen since Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) started tracking plate discipline in 2002.
Really, what we’re talking about is a power hitter with good plate discipline, and that doesn’t come by as often as one might think. Take all hitters this season with at least 240 MLB plate appearances that have better ISO, K% and BB% marks than Dickerson and you get this beautiful list:
His power rings more like Diaz’s than anyone else’s on first glance, but Dickerson’s 40.3-percent fly ball rate (FB%), 41.2-percent pull rate (Pull%) and 33.7-percent hard-hit rate (Hard%) portend good things for what seems like a suppressed 12-percent home run-per-fly ball rate (HR/FB). Add a few percentage points to the HR/FB and give Dickerson a full season’s worth of PAs, and his current 23-homer pace looks more like a 30-homer pace. Even if that’s too liberal an assumption to make regarding the HR/FB rate, 23 home runs typically suffices in all but the shallowest of leagues (when it’s not 2016, at least).
Meanwhile, he runs, too, more often than all those in the aforementioned list except Altuve. It’s a modest number, but Dickerson is on pace for 13 steals, and that’s with a lowly .315 on-base percentage (OBP). Despite him approaching the wrong side of the aging curve, more times on base fueled by a boost in batting average on balls in play (BABIP) will afford him additional opportunities to swipe an extra bag or two.
Yes, Dickerson’s on-base skills currently leave something to be desired. His .258 BABIP reeks of bad luck, but for a guy who likes to pull the ball and pops up quite a bit, a low BABIP simply might be an occupational hazard. Still, my xBABIP equation pegs Dickerson for a .313 xBABIP — a whopping 55-point difference, which would add almost 45 points to his batting average. For the mathematically disinclined, that’s a very eye-pleasing .291 (as of Sept. 17’s statistics).
Even with a poor batting average, Dickerson still produces at a league-average rate (102 wRC+). Leave the HR/FB as-is and split the difference on his expected and actual BABIPs, and we’re talking about a spitting image of Kyle Seager — if not 2016 Seager, then at least 2012-15 Seager, who was (and maybe still is) one of the game’s most underappreciated hitters.
The cautionary tale here lies in a youth named Maikel Franco, of whom the 2015 version would have cracked the above list. His combination of power and plate discipline from last year almost perfectly mirrors Dickerson’s offensive conquests thus far. Yet 2016 has been mostly a lost season for Franco due to a sunken BABIP and a dip in power.
But Franco has his own flaws, including slightly worse contact skills, inferior speed, a suppressed line drive rate, and an increased tendency to pop up, all of which Dickerson tends to avoid. The proverbial writing, however faintly scribbled, was on the proverbial wall regarding Franco — we just couldn’t quite see it without seeing a little more of Franco first. The same could become of Dickerson, but his peripherals indicate he has staked himself to a safer floor. He also doesn’t yet have the fanfare that catapulted Franco into the top 10 at his position this past March, per NFBC ADP, thus making Dickerson the more cost-effective option in terms of potential.
Barring something absurd from the San Diego Padres front office — a possibility not entirely out of the question at this point — Dickerson projects to be the team’s starting left fielder or, at the very least, their starting something. I already anticipate Dickerson being underrated going into 2017 drafts. (Is this the jinx?) If you’re looking for a late-round, dirt-cheap, moderate-upside outfielder, Dickerson is your guy.