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 MLB.com ?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.
And last year he hit five fly balls that weren ?t home runs but would have been in PNC Park.
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.
And here are the balls that landed around him for a hit.
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.