The 26 year old rookie outfielder was on fire. After toiling in the minors for more than six seasons (five in the Reds farm system), he had his big chance and did he ever make the most of it.

Repeating the same AAA level as the year before, he had nothing else to prove playing similar competition. Called up to the big leagues, the former Reds farmhand went on a tear. Earning 155 plate appearances over 41 games, the rookie smashed big league pitching to the tune of an OPS of 1126. He batted .403 with 7 homers and 12 doubles, a slugging percentage of .649.

Yes, Bob “Hurricane” Hazle, a 26 year old rookie for the Milwaukee Braves in 1957, hit so well that he forced the Braves to move Hank Aaron from right field to center field to make way for the “rookie” slugger. Hazle played so well as a rookie, he finished fourth in the rookie of the year vote despite only playing 41 games. The Braves won the World Series that year.

Yet, one year later, Hazle was out of major league baseball. He started 1958 with the Braves and was sold to the Tigers after batting .179 with no extra base hits in 66 plate appearances. Playing 43 games with the Tigers, he batted .241 with an OPS of 681. He played two more years in the Tigers farm system before calling it quits.

What the Tigers missed, and the Braves realized, was that only once in the minors did Hazle have an OPS surpass 800. He was always a mediocre hitter who caught lightning in a bottle for about a month and half in the big leagues and rode it to a cool nickname and a World Series championship. The Reds had realized this a season earlier and dealt him to the Braves.

Chris Dickerson was a 26 year old rookie for the Reds in 2008. After toiling almost six years in the Reds farm system, Dickerson got the big league call. Dickerson promptly went on a tear, batting .304 in over 120 plate appearances with nine doubles and six homers on the way to 1021 OPS. He already had the reputation as being a very good defensive outfielder with a very good arm. The Reds decided they didn’t have to find another leftfielder for they needed defense and speed and Dickerson could do both…and, after all, it finally “clicked” for Dickerson last year…at age 26.

However, what was missed with Dickerson, is that, at age 26, he was repeating his AAA year and his minor league season OPS crossed 800 for only the second time in his career. Another item missed, was that during his cup of coffee with the Reds, Dickerson struck out at an alarming rate, 35 times in 122 plate appearances, or once in about every 3.5 times to the plate…a similar rate to his minor league days.

As 2009 has broken, Dickerson still strikes out. He’s batting .190 with an OPS of 647 in 51 plate appearances, striking out 16 of his 51 times to the plate, or about once every three at bats.

Many fans were unhappy with Adam Dunn and his propensity to strike out and play mediocre defense in the outfield, and what many considered lackluster hustle. Yet, Dickerson strikes out more often than Dunn, provides less offense, and even made 11 outfield errors as recently as 2007, playing in 134 games. Dunn made 12 outfield errors in 2006 (his career high) in 156 games.

Chris Dickerson is a useful player, but is he really the guy the Reds need playing every day in LF? Age 26 rookies can get a lot of people excited (Yankee fans remember Shane Spencer in 1998. Same story…). Don’t be fooled by the mid-peak (peak defined as ages 25-29) rookie debut seasons. It’s probably the time to sell high, or set low expectations.

28 Responses

  1. mike

    nice story for some perspective

    there are many stories like Dickerson’s and GM and managers fall for it every time.

    you know one player who is the exception? Well there are a couple, Josh Hamilton for one.
    But the one I was thinking about is Chris Sabo

    Old rookie who really wasn’t much a super prospect, put in a couple years at AAA at ages 24-25 but he somehow panned out. Sure his career was short, 9 seasons/3700 PA but he was useful for a few years.

    The problem is, of course, that most do not work out. The one that for some reason I’ll always remember is Bo Hart. Called up late in the season at age 26, was a non-prospect, hit for a .917 OPS for the first 100 AB and then pretty much vanished. His major league career ended with 335 PA. But he was the news for 1 month of baseball.

    Jeff Branson is another Reds that can think of who everyone thought was starter material but really wasn’t

    hmm..others are coming to mind. Tracy Jones, DT Cromer, Hopper, Mike Bell, Pegues, etc, etc, etc

  2. pinson343

    I believe Tracy Jones had a lot of talent but was sidetracked by injuries. I still don’t think Austin Kearn’s first year and a quarter was a fluke, but he was never able to hit that way again, after the shoulder injury.

    As for Dickerson, I was concerned about his high rate of Ks in spring training, someone on the blog sais Ks don’t matter for a hitter. I’ve heard thaat theory before, and understand the idea behind it, but it’s just not true.
    In some situations, a K matters big time, and that’s well understood for pitchers.

  3. wanderinredsfan

    Seriously, Did anyone honestly believe Dickerson was going to be an all-star caliber outfielder? I think he is a fine 4th outfielder, and potentially a very-good option in a strictly platoon situation; the guy has plus speed and defense. Anyone who thought otherwise at the beginning of the season should re-evaluate their evaluation-skills. He is under-performing so far this season, but so is virtually the whole entire Red’s farm-system. I for one believed that he has ‘turned the corner’ late in his career, but nothing beyond an average major-leaguer who emphasizes speed and defense. BTW, 26 is not all that old for a prospect’s arrival to the big-leagues. I think Dickerson has yet to peak, although he may have already put his best three-months of his career behind him.

  4. per14

    We should still give him time, but wanderin is right. He’s not going to be a star. I still think he gives the team high quality ABs. If he keeps doing, that the numbers will go up and I think he can be a productive platoon OFer, in a 2000 Michael Tucker sort of way. (Decent OBP, a little pop, a little speed, solid defense.)

  5. Chad Dotson

    I think he is a fine 4th outfielder, and potentially a very-good option in a strictly platoon situation

    This.

    Although I’m still not sure I wouldn’t rather have Nix out there against RH pitching.

  6. Kenny

    That’s an awful long blog entry over 51 at bats.

    Ummmm….more like 175 major league plate appearances and 2590 minor league plate appearances. That’s plenty to begin drawing some conclusions about who Chris Dickerson is. Unless you are one of these guys who think he is going to be the first person in history to magically perform better at the major league level than he did in the minors.

  7. GregD

    Nix is actually one of the few who could break into the league at his age because he missed a lot of time with his injury.

  8. Glenn

    I’d give Nix the position. He’s hitting the ball hard and while he’s not as good in the field as Dickerson, he doesn’t hurt you that bad.

  9. nycredsfan

    Y’all may get your wish. Looks like Dickerson is still woozy from his collision last night. He’ll probably need a few days off at least.

  10. Dan

    This seems a bit over-dramatic.

    No one thought Dickerson was going to be a world-beater or an All-Star. We thought he’d be a useful outfielder vs. RHP’s, and I still think that.

    He way overperformed last year, and he’s underperforming this year. Both are small samples. I still think he can hit, say, .260/.360/.420, with above average defense, and I’ll totally take that.

    I’ll tell you one thing that I do like about his game, both this year and last year — he’ll take a walk. His OBP is more than .100 higher than his BA, last year and this year. I love that b/c it means he can hit .250 or .260 and still be very effective.

    I’m fine w/ Dickerson.

    Nix has hit the ball hard a few times, but he’s got a career .271 OBP. he does NOT take a walk, and that puts pressure on him to keep a high batting average, and I don’t think he’s that type of guy. He’s a decent pinch-hitting option, and that’s fine.

  11. Dan

    I maintain the same thing I did on Opening Day – the best LF option for the Reds is a Dickerson/Gomes platoon. (Gomes is again crushing LHP’s down in Louisville. Get him up here!)

  12. Chad Dotson

    (I posted this on another thread, but wanted to put it here, too.)

    Dan, you may be right about Dickerson. I think your projection is very optimistic on him (given his minor league history), but it’s not completely unreasonable.

    I think you underrate, Nix, though. Look at Nix’s minor league OBP over 3000 ABs. It’s not far below Dickerson’s…but his SLG is significantly higher.

    Nix’s major league numbers are very skewed because of his injury history. You mention his .271 OBP, but 90% of the ABs in that sample were when he was 22-24 years old (he hasn’t played more than 19 ML games in a season since then). I don’t think that’s a fair comparison.

    Neither are good long-term options for LF, but I really think I’d take Nix for the short term. Let’s be honest, Dickerson never had a decent year until he repeated AAA. He could be a good 4th outfielder for 3-4 years, but no good team should count on him.

  13. Chad Dotson

    I’ll tell you one thing that I do like about his game, both this year and last year — he’ll take a walk.

    I want to specifically note that I agree 100% with this. It’s really the only thing that gives Dickerson value, but it’s a significant skill.

  14. Kurt Frost

    Kenny…

    So if Dickerson started out hot instead of cold we still would have this hand wringing? It’s 51 ABs. He is a platoon player. It’s not like they are running him out there every night.

  15. Dan

    I also posted this in the other thread but am reposting here…

    All in all, here are the PECOTA projections for both of them (ignoring playing time limitations):

    Dickerson (PECOTA 2009) – .247/.332/.430 with -1 defense in CF
    Nix (PECOTA 2009) – .230/.288/.429 with -7 defense in CF

    Neither one is going to hit for a great average, probably. I still prefer Dickerson b/c I think he has a better walk rate, better speed, and better defense. Probably less power, but it’s reasonably close.

    I’d at least like to see what we have in Dickerson before giving up on him. I’m thinking at least 300 PA’s this year. He’s no slam dunk, but he COULD be pretty good, and he’s young(ish) and cheap.

  16. Bill Lack

    I think in addition to the point of the post being about Dickerson, it also shows that the Reds may have over-estimated Dickerson’s talents in playing every day and that they missed the opportunity to help the team by adding some offense by believing that Dickerson would be more effective than he is (or will be).

    A flaw in their judgement perhaps?

  17. Chad Dotson

    Dan, you mentioned in the other post that Nix had lots of ABs in the PCL. That’s a very fair point; the PCL is a pretty significant hitter’s league.

    Looking at the PECOTA projections, Dickerson’s seems fair. I can’t really argue with Nix’s, either, but I just think he’s a unique case, based on his early entry to the major leagues and his recent injury issues. I just feel like he’s a good bet to exceed those numbers. But that’s subjective, I know.

    Again, however, neither of them are long-term solutions, and if the Reds could identify a long-term LF, either of these guys could be valuable 4th outfielders.

  18. Kenny

    So if Dickerson started out hot instead of cold we still would have this hand wringing? It’s 51 ABs. He is a platoon player. It’s not like they are running him out there every night.

    Speaking for myself, I would DEFINITELY still be wringing my hands. I don’t think Dickerson is much good. He only had one decent season in the minors, and that was when he repeated AAA.

    I think he’s a very poor bet to be anything more than a 4th/5th outfielder. That’s not a bad thing; teams need good backup OFs. But if he could barely put up an 800 OPS in the minors, I’m not sure why I should think that he’d be decent in the majors. At age 27.

  19. Kenny

    Also, what’s up with his defense? He has a good reputation, but he’s been awful this year (small sample size) and he was awful in the short time we saw him last year (again, small sample, but he was also AWFUL at baserunning last year, too).

    Does anyone have any contemporaneous accounts of his minor league defense? Does he really have a good reputation?

    I’ll say this, though, it wouldn’t bother me to see Dickerson prove me wrong. He seems like a REALLY good guy, and he’s not a loafer like Brandon Phillips.

  20. Dallas

    “Many fans were unhappy with Adam Dunn and his propensity to strike out and play mediocre defense in the outfield, and what many considered lackluster hustle. Yet, Dickerson strikes out more often than Dunn, provides less offense, and even made 11 outfield errors as recently as 2007, playing in 134 games. Dunn made 12 outfield errors in 2006 (his career high) in 156 games.”
    —————————————–
    So you’re saying we have a rookie that is playing slightly worse than Adam Dunn for roughly 7.6 million dollars less?

  21. Steve Price

    No, I’m saying that Dickerson doesn’t belong in the same league with Dunn.

    He doesn’t offer anything that Dunn couldn’t already do (well, some speed), and Dunn hits 30 more homers, walks 40 more times, scores 40 more runs, and drives in 40 more runs a year.

  22. Shane

    one of the other players needs to put their foot in Brandon Phillips’ ass. His loafing is getting out of hand

  23. Dan

    I feel like a grumpy old man griping about a player not playing hard, but yeah, I’ve decided to embrace it. It really ticks me off. I even get ticked when one of my teammates on my softball team doesn’t run out a pop up. It just irks me at any level. You shouldn’t see it – ever.

    I actually remember a quote from Roy Williams from the first year he took over at UNC. They were so talented (the Raymond Felton/Sean May team I believe) that they won it all. But he was really frustrated w/ them early in the year. I remember this quote of his: “I’ve never had to coach effort before.”

    I feel the same way. Play hard rather than just trying to style and look cool. Get over yourself, Brandon, and be a leader by just playing hard.

  24. Mark in CC

    I heard Sparky Anderson say, “There is a fine line between aggressive and an idiot is vey small.” Tracy Jones, like Ryan Freel went across the line too much. Also Tracy was a jerk which led to him wearing out his welcome way to much. And, both have and had average at best major league talent

    This is a critical time for Dickerson. If they handle him properly he can still be productive, but a wrong move at this point could rouine his career. I think a trip to the DL and then a rehab keeps his mind right. it wouldn’t be looked at as a demotion. He hopefully could then rlax and get some of those September skills back. But if he continues to fail hard now he will be done by the All Star break never to be heard of again.

  25. Chris

    I don’t know that the Reds, as an organization, really thought Dickerson would be a major league caliber LF. I think they tried to find another cheap option, and failed, and (probably reasonably) treated Dickerson as a reasonable stopgap.

    Some fans and broadcasters, of course, got overexcited about his out-of-his-mind finish last year. There’s always this strange propensity in society (not just sports) to overrate the new and the surprising, and underrate the consistent, and expected achiever.

    This Susan Boyle person, who has a nice voice, is treated like she invented singing. Chris Dickerson has a hot month, and some people want to think of him as a viable Adam Dunn replacement.

    Contrast with Dunn – everyone was so fed up with his defense and the strikeouts, that they were perfectly willing to throw the Home Runs out with the bathwater. (Actually, I have a theory that peoples’ subconscious refused to factor in the lost offense when they wished Dunn away. They just imagined the same offense, but with speed and defense too).

  26. GregD

    (Actually, I have a theory that peoples’ subconscious refused to factor in the lost offense when they wished Dunn away. They just imagined the same offense, but with speed and defense too)

    No, there are just a lot of people who (a) put too much weight on batting average and (b) assumed that any other option in LF would make more defensive plays than 2 Adam Dunns standing out there.