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Kicking The Tires On Derek Dietrich

Derek Dietrich never really clicked with the Marlins. His defense was a big reason why. A move to Pittsburgh could help him shake that stigma. Photo by Mike Carlson, AP.

Stop me if you ?ve heard this one before: a Florida team unexpectedly designated a plus hitting, poor fielding outfielder for assignment last week, and he would be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh.

The Marlins Dickerson ?d Derek Dietrich last week. (Not to be outdone, the Rays Dickerson ?d C.J. Cron last week as well. Cron is the guy they DFA’d Dickerson for. Circle of life.) He ?s a former first round draft pick utilityman who has had some good offensive seasons. The Pirates are traditionally drawn to this type of player. They need someone to fill in for Gregory Polanco for the start of the season. Neal Huntington recently told ?s Adam Berry that he ?s still looking for infielders and outfielders for next season. At an estimated salary of $4.8 million (per MLBTR), he is well within budget. This potential pairing makes sense. It ?s not too surprising that Miami gave up on Dietrich because he has some noticeable flaws and never really took off as a Marlin, but those shortcomings seem correctable and he could be a really nice pickup for the Bucs.

Dietrich ?s bat would probably benefit from getting out of Florida. Last season his OPS was over .200 points higher when he was playing outside of Marlins Park. If wRC+ is more your speed, it was 50 points higher when he was a visitor. While this was the most extreme split of his career, he ?s consistently done better on the road.

Dietrich’s home/road splits in his career. Courtesy of FanGraphs. Click to enlarge.

And last year he hit five fly balls that weren ?t home runs but would have been in PNC Park.

Dietrich’s 2018 batted fly balls overlaid over PNC Park’s dimensions. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

But Dietrich ?s offensive prowess isn ?t what is in question. Even though he ?s had an above average bat the last five years, he ?s cracked 2 WAR only once. That ?s because his defense has been varying levels of bad. He has played over 1,000 career innings in the field at second base, third and the outfield, but he hasn ?t looked particularly good at any position. He has -4 DRS at the hot corner and -19 at second, but he ?s struggled the most in the outfield. His -15 DRS in left field was the second worst in baseball at the position. It’s worth noting those -15 runs were over just 704 innings, too.

In fairness, it’s not completely Dietrich’s fault. The Marlins traded all three of their outfielders last offseason, so they turned to him even though he barely played outside of the infield the last two years. He could have just been rusty or not properly prepared. Coming into the season he only had 425 career innings logged in the outfield between the majors and the minors. He was learning on the fly.

Here is a spray chart of the catches Dietrich made in left field last season.

Courtesy of FanGraphs and Inside Edge.

And here are the balls that landed around him for a hit.

Courtesy of FanGraphs and Inside Edge.

Let ?s ignore the balls that had a 0% catch probability. The 1-10% misses are forgivable transgressions, too. That means there are 10 plays in question that resulted in the bulk of his poor defensive performance. Three had a 10-40% chance of being fieldable, per Inside Edge. Two had a 40-60% chance, and one was 60-90%. The real concern is there were four balls dropped safely that had an over 90% catch probability.

This is one such play that happened in June. It ?s a fairly routine backpedal that he tracked off the bat, but it bounces in and out of his glove.

That is a common theme in Dietrich ?s defense. He has trouble going in on the ball. Going by Baseball Savant ?s Outs Above Average (OAA), Dietrich was -8 OOA going back on the ball last season. That was the fourth worst in baseball.

There are two factors that may have made this problem even more exaggerated. The first is the size of Miami ?s outfield. Marlins Park has a larger than usual left field. Meanwhile, PNC Park has one of the smallest right fields around. That short right field porch could help him both offensively and defensively. The other key is depth. Dietrich played shallower than most left fielders last season. Playing a fielder who has trouble going back on the ball shallow in a big park is a recipe for disaster.

Depth can make or break a fielder. Corey Dickerson isn ?t great at going back on fly balls either. The Pirates compensated for that by playing him deeper than most left fielders. His Gold Glove is proof that the mindset worked. That doesn ?t mean Dietrich could be a Gold Glover too, but perhaps he could be passable in the field.

Dietrich is the type of guy most teams would like to have on their roster. There ?s value in a plus hitting lefty utilityman, even if it is just as a role player. The problem is the Pirates won ?t spend $5 million on a bench bat under their current payroll, but if he really could fill in for Polanco, then they should shell out. If his offense and defense improves with a change in scenery, he could be another Dickerson-type steal.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

8 Comments on Kicking The Tires On Derek Dietrich

  1. He would be an interesting pickup, depending on how the Bucs end up putting together the roster. For a salary comparable to Freese, the club could end up with similar overall value. As an outfielder, Dietrich is a bit of a scary proposition, but he’s not a horrible third baseman, or at least no more than Moran is, and he might provide the 20-homer pop that Moran only provides in theory.

  2. John Kosele // November 26, 2018 at 10:34 AM //

    The pirates should sign Matt Adams 3 years 15 milliion total .. he can play first or right or left feild… start out with bell at 1b.. if the power doesn ?t reapear trade him to the American League.. he ?s a below average 1b.. he needs 15 homers by the time polanco comes back.. cron would also be a great pick up… 3,years 15 million also.. I ?d also bring back Neil walker 2 years 5 million to mentor the Seinfeld boys.. I like Frazier at second.. kang.. will be a nice fit .. 1b.. 3b .. 2b.. also give him time in of at spring training…

  3. I am not sure if he is the answer, however he earned around $3M last year and having been DFAd he probably won’t get much more than that amount this year. I think the Pirates will have to spend $5-6 M to come up with a decent Polanco fill in/ongoing bench bat (spent that amount on SRod and Freese). I don’t think they will spend much on a better SS so the OF and another relief pitcher will make up the spending for the year.

  4. I still think it takes two to Tango. Obviously it was Polanco’s throwing shoulder that was hurt. He is not a pitcher however if he starts throwing in Feb , he might not be out that long. Point being I have seen some interesting names but I’m sure the first question is playing time after Polanco returns. I think they could give a good 4th plenty of time even after Polanco’s return. I think NH is feeling a little more pressure than normal to get a bigger name in here.

  5. Chisenhall !!!

    • He checks all the boxes–Cleveland connection, bounce-back guy on the cheap. He seems almost inevitable.

      • Drama gone for 2019 except who is going to paly 3rd Kang or Moran and who will play short Newman or Gonzalez. NH gets off cheap again. I don’t think this guarantees us a shot at the WS

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