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July 22, 2014
Notes About Baseball, 7/22
In the Room
Pop quiz, Hot Shot!
As I have no idea who you've guessed, I'm going to assume it was either Carlos Gonzalez (.755) or Justin Morneau (.846), both of whom have extensive pedigrees and have earned their brand names as sluggers. You'd be wrong, of course.
The answer: SHOOT THE HOSTAGE.
Felt we needed a Speed payoff there.
No, the real answer is Corey Dickerson, owner of a sterling .976 OPS as of this writing, just 59 points behind Tulowitzki, the NL's leader. Were he a qualifier (his 245 PAs are a bit short of the Rox qualifying mark of 303.8), he'd sit in fourth place in the National League, ahead of Bigfoot, Wild Horse and every other NLer not (nick)named Tulo, Cutch or Goldy. Even adjusting for park & league, his .328 TAv puts him 11th in all of MLB with at least 240 PAs.
So Dickerson, 25, would seem to be good at hitting... or is this all just an aberration? Some kind of extended, pronounced beginner's luck? Could we be making a sample size error?
Just to be safe, let's check the minor-league track record.
Corey put up an aggregated .981 OPS in the minors across five seasons, spanning 1,661 plate appearances, and hit .372/.415/.631 at Triple-A Colorado Springs (359 PAs). And this is fun—he drove in 10 runs in a game on June 3, 2011, tying a 33-year-old Sally League record. He hit three homers in the game and 32 in his 106 games that season.
Well then. It seems this young man from Mississippi can do some work with the bat. Let's talk to him about hitting.
"Really, I just hit it has hard as I can wherever it's pitched."
In chatting with the Rockies' media relations manager just prior to approaching Dickerson, I learned that Corey apparently dislikes hitting singles... which is kind of great.
"I try to be really aggressive and push for that extra base," Corey said with his light, but apparent accent. His hometown, McComb, sits in the deep south. "If a pitch is outside, I (try to) hit it as hard as I can outside. If it's inside, pull it."
But every hitter has preferences, right? Without requiring him to give too much away, I asked him to speak to his mindset at the plate. Where's he generally looking to attack? Does he prefer to extend on something on the outer third? Something on the inner half?
"I really think it's how I feel a team is adjusting to me. Sometimes I feel comfortable lookin' in and tryin' to pull the ball... and sometimes I feel like, to get back to where I wanna be, and if they're throwing a lot of fastballs and breaking pitches on the outside, I'll just try to go with it and shoot it the other way."
"I think it's a feel thing. I'm never really looking for one pitch all the time or one place all the time."
What about pitch selection? I've heard a lot of guys look fastball and try to react to anything else.
"Yeah, I mean, I try to have their best secondary pitch in the back of my mind so if he does throw it, my mind recognizes it and I'll still be able to swing. A lot of people like to have one pitch that they're looking for; I'm more looking fastball, having my hands ready for the fastball, but have that secondary pitch in mind so if I see it, I can put the right swing on it."
There have been lots of those “right" swings for Corey in 2014; he's not gone more than two starts without a hit this season. He didn't register a hit on June 13-14, June 27-28 or July 6-7. That's it. Those are his "slumps" this year, while playing an awful lot during CarGo's time on the DL.
So given his extensive collection of hits, I was curious if he ever checks his numbers.
Bit of a personal pet peeve here, as I've asked this question to countless players over the years and few ever admit to looking at their numbers, or at least paying much attention to them. I just don't see how this can be possible, as statistics have always been a huge part of baseball culture. Even if they were the wrong stats, producers have been showing things like batting average, homers, and RBI on TV graphics since it was technologically possible, and relaying the same information on the radio for even longer.
Baseball players grow up watching baseball on television, listening to baseball on the radio and, these days, reading about it on the internet. How this selection of humans, just because they play baseball, could be so overwhelmingly uninterested in their own personal statistics is therefore unfathomable to me.
But I suppose the players are part of a culture of their own. And that subculture, in my experience, seems to dissuade looking at the numbers, or at least admitting as much.
So does Corey?
"I never Google it or look my numbers up. I sometimes wonder how many at bats I'm at, but I've always told myself coming up (through the minors) not to worry, not to stress until I get 100 at-bats; I wanna be at 300 (at-bats before he thinks about his season-long performance), so I really never look at the numbers ... sometimes I see my numbers up on the scoreboard... "
I interrupt here. Wouldn't needing to be at 300 ABs before putting any weight on his performance imply that he checks his numbers? And how could any player not be curious? It's like their report card!
"I just don't wanna think about it or try to do more. The season is so long your numbers are gonna show after a season, so if I look at it now and try to get more numbers in now, it's kinda like I'm pressing."
So we can confirm he at least seeks them out after the season?
"Yeah, after the season, sure. I'm setting my goals for the next season; I wanna get better every year."
What were his goals this year?
"I knew I could be a .300 hitter and that's what I want to be. But really, coming into this year, I just wanted to establish myself as an everyday player. Let them see what I was doing down there in high school, college, the minor leagues—that I could do that at this level. Finally I got the opportunity to do that more often. I feel like that was my goal this year."
After some asides on fantasy baseball (he's never played) and his favorite big league memory to this point, we ended things discussing his playing time expectations now that Carlos Gonzalez is back from finger surgery. He's mostly just playing against right handers.
"It was tough at first, especially when you know what you can do and the numbers you've produced in the past and knowing what you can do throughout a season... it's something really you hone in on and think about. But you're just not getting (regular) at-bats, so when you do, you try not to do too much and try not to get all those numbers all at once."
And his take on sitting vs. lefties?
"If they feel comfortable I can hit 'em, they're gonna throw me out there. But I don't think Walt (Weiss), in your first year, really wants to just throw you out there and have you have little success. I think he'd rather you feel more confident and have more success."
Does Corey agree with that strategy?
"Yeah, I agree with it. I haven't seen a lot of these pitchers. Other guys on this team have seen 'em 20, 30, 40 times. I really think it's just (a form of) protecting, getting my feet wet. I think he's trying to instill confidence in each one of us."
Given the last-place Rockies' glut of outfielders and Corey's status as the youngest, least expensive and best performing of the bunch, the expectation here is that the Rox will make room for Corey to get everyday at-bats in 2015, if not sooner—the non-waiver trade deadline looms.
More on that subject next week...
Reminder: I'm soliciting reader-based selections for inclusion in Outliers, so if there's a guy that's notable at... something... and you think he deserves a spot in the column, hit me up on the Twitter.
A fine suggestion, Tombote, as both guys have been Outliers recently.
Let's start with Pedro. After leading the NL in HR last season (36, tied w/Goldschmidt), much was expected of the 27-year-old third baseman in 2014. But I'm afraid his Outlying this year has much less to do with his work at the plate (.237/.325/.407) than with his arm... or, more accurately, his head.
It seems Pedro's got a case of the yips. Of his 21 errors (as of this writing), 20 have been throwing miscues, and usually occur when he has time. An easy two-hopper with the pitcher jogging to first, that type of play. And while he hasn't hit Keith Olbermann's mother in the head with a throw (may she rest in peace), he has issued way more souvenirs than the average third baseman.
The Pirates, naturally, are trying all sort of things to get him sorted, but nothing has worked to this point. As far as the data goes, we'll turn to FanGraphs’ defensive component stats, where we get an idea of the runs Pedro's throws are costing the Pirates.
If you absolutely refuse to click on hyperlinks, Pedro's -5.6 ErrR leads the majors by almost four full runs. Put another way, his errors have cost the Pirates more runs than the next four offenders combined.
Pedro's been an Outlier, to be sure.
As for the second half of Tombote's request, all Yoenis Cespedes did last week was win his second consecutive Home Run Derby. Analytically, that's boring. Still, he literally won a contest of power against some of the most powerful batsmen on the planet, so that's something.
Then there's this:
I've seen that play about a dozen times. We've all seen that play about a dozen times. That play is exceedingly well worn by now... yet I'm still mesmerized and I remain impressed.
The shot from behind Cespedes is the best, as it shows off his mechanical excellence—there was very little tail on that ball, which allowed it to travel to target as efficiently as possible. Post-bobble, everything in Cespedes' kinetic chain had to be absolutely perfect if he was going to get Kendrick, and it was.
Cespedes leads the league in OF Assists (12) and might possess the strongest outfield arm in all of baseball.
Because I love you all dearly (and I'm a sucker for OF hosiery) here's some bonus Outlier content this week:
Poor Neifi Perez. He must've been so confused. Due respect to the Rockies' color analyst, but with the benefit of replay, we can put the margin of Neifi's defeat at third at about 10 feet.
We'll put Jose at the 365-foot mark in Coors Field's right-center upon unleashing that ball, which also must've been terrified. It's one of the greatest throws I've ever seen.
Aside from being the high point of Guillen's career, that highlight also contains a great deal of serendipity, as it concludes with a mention of The Great Roberto Clemente.
Here's some brilliance from the sixth game of the '71 Series.
Of all our outfield arm Outlier vids this week, Roberto's comes with the least amount of forward momentum. No crow hop there, just a quick change in stance—that’s 99 percent arm, folks, which makes it all the more remarkable.
For some context, right field in Memorial Stadium was listed at 309 feet, so you're looking at a flat-footed, 300-foot laser beam. Think about that—from goal line to goal line on a football field. With virtually zero forward momentum.
And not for nothing, but Clemente played the carom perfectly, preserving a tie in the bottom of the ninth with two out. In the World Series.
Game six eventually became a 3-2 Orioles win in 10 innings, though the Pirates would win that particular War.