Corey Dickerson’s hangover remedy

Tampa Bay Rays LogoWith the Rockies looking to add bullpen depth to a team that is more than a couple of pieces away from contending, the Rays jumped in to grab one of their most productive hitters over the past few years in exchange for their former closer and current setup man, Jake McGee. With Dickerson going down to Florida, right away everyone wants to know one thing; how are his Coors-inflated numbers going to translate?

If we were feeling lazy, this is an open and shut case. Career home/road splits for triple slash lines? 355/410/675 versus 249/286/410. Yeah, I’ll let you guess which one is when he is playing in the most hitter friendly park in the league.

But today I am not feeling lazy (and I also have a word count), and for a team as smart as the Rays have proven themselves to be, trading for someone who stinks away from Coors doesn’t make a lot of sense for the organization. Sure, they’ve missed a few times on trading for young hitters (Wil Myers was exceedingly underwhelming), but more often than not they evaluate talent as well as anyone in the league.

Ask anyone who spends too much time with Coors, you’ll get a hangover. For players who get used to the thin atmosphere at their home park, they get used to seeing pitches break differently than at more normal elevations. I’ll save you the math and physics behind it, but in a nutshell the ball breaks less with less atmosphere for the seams to resist against. Baseballs in Coors Field move faster with less break. Proof of this wouldn’t be in how well his bat performs, since there’s a lot of noise as to why home and road splits exist, but in stats that reflect him in the box: strikeouts, walks, whiffs, etc.

And guess what? There’s considerable difference. When he’s on the road, his strikeout rate jumps 9.0%, his walks fall by 3.4%, his soft contact rate goes up 4.5%, and his grounder rate goes up 5.2%. So that’s a lot of numbers to just throw at you, so compare that to the league average home/road splits in the nice table below:

Change – Home to Road (Dickerson) Change – Home to Road (League avg)
Strikeout % 9.0% 1.0%
Walk % -3.4% -0.6%
Soft contact % 4.5% -0.3%
Ground ball % 5.2% 0.0%

The league generally stays the same for these stats, sometimes even swings in the other direction. Although it isn’t definitive proof that Dickerson’s away woes are purely caused by the hangover effect, it surely helps build up an argument for it.

Staying with his home numbers, we see a wRC+ of 165, meaning he performed 65 percent better than average at home over his career. But this isn’t just another “good job for hitting in hitter’s heaven” stat like some others, because wRC+ is both park and era adjusted. So this strips away whatever benefit you get from hitting at Coors by comparing his numbers to how well other hitters have done in the same conditions, and quantitatively files him under the category of Excellent. Now we don’t expect that to be his norm, since there are actual league wide drop-offs in overall production ( about a 9 point decrease in wRC+), but anything close to his career number at home is pushing elite.

The biggest looming issue with Dickerson remaining is how well, and how quickly, he’s going to adjust to life at sea level. It would be wonderful for him to just tear up the league at a 165 wRC+ clip his entire time with the Rays, but he will have to adjust. Some may point to former teammate Troy Tulowitzki’s tough time in Toronto as evidence it can be a brutal transition and take more time than what seems economical, but there’s reason to believe Tulo’s struggles are more than just a hangover. And outside of him there are few comparables of strong hitters leaving Coors at such a young age. In short, we just don’t know how long it’s going to take.

One more thing going for Dickerson here is that he’s still very young. The guy will open the season at 26 years old, which is still plenty young enough for hitters to start peaking. WAR curves by age show a player tends to be most valuable around this age until around 29-30 when we see a drop in production (this curve is delayed generally by elite players). Dickerson is not only on the right side of the curve, but is also so young where he can effectively work on any tweaks to his swing to reach that sky-high talent he was showing in Colorado.

While it is easy to say that Dickerson is going to fail in St. Petersburg because of his bad home and road splits, it’s also not telling a complete story. There seems to definitely be a Coors type of hangover affecting Dickerson away from Coors, artificially deflating those numbers. With time to correct himself back to sea level, and even a few more years to grow as a player into more talent, it’s looking like the Rays may have snagged themselves a legit bat in Corey Dickerson.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.