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It’s time for Corey Dickerson to be a bench player again

Dickerson is seemingly an everyday guy now and he really shouldn’t be.

MLB: SEP 08 Nationals at Cardinals Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In September, Corey Dickerson has started all but three games. One of those games he sat was due to a doubleheader. He has essentially become a full-time starter. He is not alone, of course, but he has been bad in September. He has a batting line of .262/.274/.344, good for a 75 wRC+. He has not been unlucky as he has a generally terrible plate approach, as evidenced by his 1.6 BB% and .314 BABIP in that span.

Okay well, that’s September, where the Cardinals’ offense went to die. Nobody’s numbers are going to look good. Actually, if you can believe it, five Cardinals have a 122 wRC+ or better in September, all with at least 47 PAs. Brendan Donovan has to be fairly close to being the sixth member, since he went into yesterday’s game with a 109 wRC+ and then promptly homered and walked. (The other names: Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, and Tyler O’Neill.)

But well, Dickerson’s season stats aren’t good either. Dickerson is capturing the spirt of Aaron Miles by having a deceiving batting average. He is batting .274, yes. He also never walks so he doesn’t really get on base at a good clip. And he has no power, so it’s a pretty empty batting average. He has a .274/.302/.405 line, good for a 100 wRC+.

Statcast is not a fan, which probably isn’t a surprise if you’ve watched him play. He has an average exit velocity of 87.7 mph, which is 184th out of 249 hitters (though he doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify). He has a barrel% of 3.8%, which ranks around the same place. His hard hit% ranks 203rd. You get it, he doesn’t hit the ball hard. As a consequence of these stats, his xwOBA is .293, in comparison to his actual wOBA of .307.

But I will say that Dickerson does outperform his wOBA historically. So those two stats are probably congruent with each other and not an indication that Dickerson should be hitting worse. His career wOBA is .334 in the Statcast era and his xwOBA is .316. Case closed, his hitting line is sustainable.

Except it is a tiny bit deceiving. Okay it’s actually pretty deceiving. Tell me if you notice anything about these two homers.

Yeah two of his five homers are off position players. Which look, good for Dickerson for padding his stats, more power to him, they still count. They should probably not be used for analytical purposes though. You probably notice in his slash line that his slugging seems fine, but it’s being propped up by those two homers.

I hate to remove stats, but... I mean I can remove stats off position players right? What possible use is there to be gained by treating these homers as if they are like any other? If we ignore those two homers, his batting line is .268/.297/.376, good for a .293 wOBA. I can’t quite do the wRC+ as easy, but Harrison Bader had a .296 wOBA as a Cardinal in 2022 and that was good for a 93 wRC+. So if you remove those homers, he’s like a 92 wRC+ hitter.

But that’s not completely fair since Dickerson was signed to face right-handed pitchers and that 92 wRC+ does include a few plate appearances against LHP. Dickerson has a 112 wRC+ against RHP this season. His wOBA, if you remove the homers, which as you can see were both against right-handed position players, is .307. This just so happens to be his wOBA on his Fangraphs page as of this writing, before his 0-2 day, so that’s convenient. That translates to a 101 wRC+. So he’s still an above average hitter against RHP.

It is moderately surprising to see that Statcast is neutral on Dickerson. He does not look like a good fielder, but he’s been neither costing the Cardinals nor benefiting the Cardinals with his defense. And eye test or not, there’s not much evidence in recent years to suggest I should saddle him with a negative number. So he’s a dead average left fielder.

So in a weird roundabout way, his current stats are almost exactly indicative of Corey Dickerson against RHP, since he’s being hurt by two hits in 24 plate appearances against LHP (Oli was insane for starting him against Snell to be honest). But well, here’s the thing. An average defensive corner outfielder who is an average hitter is not an average player, he’s a below average player.

I said that we can basically take Dickerson’s stats as who he is, and who he is has been a 0.6 fWAR player in 265 PAs. That is a 1.4 fWAR player in 600 PAs. The Cardinals have better options than that. Juan Yepez can hit RHP just fine and has a 124 wRC+ against them. Lars Nootbaar has been worth 2 fWAR in literally half of a full season. Alec Burleson deserves more than 28 PAs before we give up on him, especially since his contact skills have basically been as advertised, if not what he’s done with that contact: he has just three strikeouts so far.

And I would argue Dylan Carlson deserves to play over Dickerson as well. Carlson has shown extreme splits so far, however they appear to be entirely BABIP driven. He has an 8.9 BB% against RHP, 8.5% against LHP. 23.2 K% against RHP, 23 K% against LHP. .155 ISO against RHP, .179 against LHP. .396 BABIP against LHP, .275 against RHP. If ever there looked like a true switch hitter, it seems like Carlson to me. Those are his career numbers, in 2022, he is actually striking out less and walking more against RHP, but has a .240 BABIP.

It goes without saying that when Tyler O’Neill comes back, Dickerson really shouldn’t be a starter. If this extended bout of playing time is meant to determine if he should start games in the playoffs, and it might be, he shouldn’t pass the test unless things change between now and the end of the season. Though his last 840 PAs in the majors would seem to outweigh his next 30 plate appearances.

Mostly, I’ll be honest. I’m biased. I really don’t enjoy watching Dickerson the hitter. At all. His approach appears to be “swing at strikes, swing at borderline pitches, swing if it’s close, and swing if it’s not close too.” How do you get Corey Dickerson out? Throw it out of the strike zone, he’s sure to swing at it. Ironically, he had a better approach when he had his very cold start to the season, but his hot streak seemed to bring out all his worst habits as a hitter.

I understand that he needs to be fairly swing-happy with the type of hitter he is, but if he had even an ounce of patience at the plate, I wouldn’t be writing this article! He’d have a pretty decent OBP because he would be walking to first base more often when pitchers throw him junk. He treats every plate appearance like he’ll get fined if he walks.

Sorry, as someone whose favorite player was Matt Carpenter for 10 years (and whom the leader contenders for favorite player now are Donovan and Nootbaar), I am a big, big fan of hitters who can work a count and walk a lot, no matter if they’re struggling or thriving. Dickerson is the opposite of that guy. I don’t think I’d particularly enjoy watching Javier Baez bat either, but at least he has power. And defense. Dickerson brings to the table: a healthy dose of singles and lots of weak contact. I’ll take my chances with Carlson’s weak contact, thank you very much.