Chris Dickerson’s Possible RoleBy
The search for a DH is essentially in wait-and-see mode at the moment, meaning the Yankees are waiting to see who drops their prices before getting serious about a move. I still think it’ll be Johnny Damon, but you’re welcome to disagree. If it’s not Damon (or anyone else) and the Yankees wind up going into Spring Training or even the regular season without a set DH, then Chris Dickerson‘s chances of making the roster are pretty good. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
Dickerson, 30 in April, is actually Eric Dickerson’s cousin for all you NFL fans out there. He fell short of qualifying as a Super Two by a matter of days this offseason, and that might have saved his 40-man roster spot. Had he qualified as a Super Two and been arbitration-eligible, there’s a chance the Yankees would have non-tendered him rather than increase his salary by 200% or so. Anyway, he’s still on the team and is actually a useful player, albeit a limited one.
First, let’s talk about what Dickerson does well, starting with his athleticism and everything that comes with it. He has a reputation of being a strong defender in all three outfield spots, though he doesn’t have enough big league time for the advanced metrics to tell us anything meaningful. You’ll have to take my word for it.. Dickerson also has some speed and has been a highly efficient base-runner at the upper levels, swiping 24 bags in 30 tries in the majors (80%) and 75 bags in 92 tries at Triple-A over the years (81.6%). Defense and base-running are classic fourth outfielder traits, though Dickerson can hit a little, especially against right-handers.
More than 80% of his career plate appearances in the show have come against righties (490 of 582), and he’s tagged them for a .270/.355/.415 batting line, which works out to a .341 wOBA. Most of his power is into the gaps (21 doubles and seven triples) rather than over the fence (nine homers), and his 11.2% walk rate is very good. In 846 Triple-A plate appearances against righties, he’s hit .286/.387/.443 with 13.9% walks. That’s over 1,300 plate appearances at the two highest levels of baseball with better than average production against pitchers of the opposite hand. Against left-handers though, it’s a different story.
Dickerson hasn’t hit southpaws at all in the bigs (.292 wOBA in 92 plate appearances), and his 247 Triple-A plate appearances against lefties have resulted in a .246/.345/.339 batting line. The OBP looks solid enough, but it’s also inflated a bit by eight hit-by-pitches, six or which came more than three years ago. He’s a platoon player, and that’s fine since he’s on the dominant side of the platoon (unlike Justin Maxwell). Dickerson does strike out quite a bit, even against righties (26.3% in the bigs, 27.2% in Triple-A), though that can be partially explained by his walk rate. When you work deep counts, you’re going to strike out, it’s inevitable. That said, a whiff rate that high is a knock against him.
Aside from striking out a bit too much and not being able to hit lefties, Dickerson’s biggest drawback doesn’t even have anything to do with him as a player. He’s out of minor league options, meaning he can’t be sent back to Triple-A without first clearing waivers. Given his defense, base-running, and ability to not embarrass himself against righties, he’s also most certain to be claimed. An NL club (the Mets!) will gobble him right up for a bench spot. Being out of options alone shouldn’t be a reason to give him a spot on the 25-man roster, but it could serve as a tiebreaker if not one stands out from the crowd.
The Yankees do have two position player roster spots to fill at the moment: a DH and one on the bench (Eric Chavez‘s spot). If they end up carrying Dickerson on the roster to open the season, I assume he would take the DH spot and the Yankees would bring in another backup infielder/utility type (like Bill Hall). That doesn’t mean he has to DH though, and frankly it would be a waste of his defense. They could use him in right field against righties and let Nick Swisher DH those days, or they could let Swisher play first to give Mark Teixeira a day at DH. Point is, he’d give them more flexibility than a traditional DH-type like Damon, Raul Ibanez, or whoever else is out there to be had.
Dickerson has what amounts to one full big league season under his belt, though his 582 plate appearances are spread across four years. He did spend all of 2009 with the Reds as a platoon bat/fourth outfielder before an ankle injury effectively ended his season in late-August, but otherwise it’s been a bunch of up-and-down stuff. He could be a Quad-A hitter than will get exposed with regular at-bats, but his defense and speed figure to keep him valuable in some capacity, even if it’s not in New York. The Yankees have to figure out what they’re going to do with Dickerson one way or the other, and it’s not out of this world insane to think he might end up on the roster come Opening Day.