What Is Powering Alex Dickerson’s Unprecedented Hot Ride?

Photo: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY SportsPhoto

San Francisco Giants 29 year old outfielder Alex Dickerson is off to a torrid start to the 2019 campaign. He’s hitting .303/.370/.606 (compared to his career line of .266/.339/.480) and has slugged four home runs in just over 70 plate appearances this season. Here’s where Dickerson ranks among National League hitters with at least 30 plate appearances from June 24th – July 7th…

  • wRC+: 196 (2nd to only Fernando Tatis Jr. [205])
  • SLG: .714 (4th — trailing only Yasiel Puig [.730], Evan Longoria [.737], and Fernando Tatis Jr. [.787])
  • wOBA: .468 (T-2nd alongside Yasiel Puig — trailing only Fernando Tatis Jr. [.483])

What makes Dickerson’s strong stretch of play that much more remarkable is the extremely high number of injuries he’s had to overcome and persevere through in recent years

There’s bad luck, and then there’s Alex Dickerson. First he missed half of the 2014 season with ankle and leg issues. A promising 2015 minor league campaign led to a breakout in 2016, only to be cut short by a hip injury. Then he missed the 2017 season with back issues. Coming into spring training, everyone was optimistic about the back, but he felt some discomfort in his elbow early this month and was shut down.

 roydjt | @Zippy_TMS of the Gaslamp Ball

At the end of the 2018 season, he elected to become a free agent, and about a month or so later, Dickerson retuned to the Padres on what was a minor league deal.

Then, Spring training came along, and San Diego optioned him to the minors in early March. After performing exceptionally well playing at Triple-A El Paso (.372/.469/..606 and 5 HR in 113 PA), the Padres called Dickerson up to the majors on May 3rd (also optioning starter Luis Perdomo down a level). Unsurprisingly, he had a hard time making the transition back to facing major league caliber pitching…

  • PA: 19
  • H: 3 (.158 AVG)
  • K: 7 (36.8%)
  • BB: 0
  • XBH: 0
  • wRC+: -21

To add insult to injury, it was announced on May 24th that Dickerson would be placed on the 10-day IL due to a sprained wrist. Just over a week later, he was activated off of the injured list and sent down to Triple-A. A few days passed and the Padres decided to designate Dickerson for assignment. In less than a week’s time, he had found himself a new home: the San Francisco Giants organization. The Padres had traded Dickerson to Giants in return for right-handed pitching prospect Franklin Van Gurp.

On June 21st, San Francisco called him up from Triple-A Sacramento to make his Giants debut. That roster decision payed off big time for both Dickerson and the Giants

A night after driving in six runs in his debut with the team, Dickerson drove in three more runs on a pair of doubles. That set the Giants’ record for most RBI in a player’s first two games with the franchise. And he received texts from people as if he just made his major league debut. And in a way, it was. A rebirth if you will.

Jessica Kleinschmidt of NBCSports.com

Here are Dickerson’s full numbers during his time with San Francisco…

  • PA: 54
  • H: 17 (.362 AVG)
  • OBP: .444
  • SLG: .787
  • HR: 4
  • RBI: 15

In taking a closer look at his profile, his plate discipline numbers (according to FanGraphs) have stabilized and resemble the ones he put up in 2016 for the most part (285 PA)…

20162019 w/ the Giants
O-Swing%30.825.0
Z-Swing%72.467.9
O-Contact%72.365.5
Z-Contact%89.090.9

There are some changes in his batted ball frequencies, and it appears Dickerson is making a concerted effort to hit for more power…

20162019 w/ the Giants
GB%37.129.7
LD%22.427.0
FB%40.543.2

Let’s examine the tangible changes Dickerson has made to his approach in 2019 which are enabling him to hit for increased levels of power…

Here is a home run Dickerson hit with the Padres in 2016:

and one he hit with the Giants in 2019:

Video via Baseball Savant

Now we will compare the two swings/approaches side-by-side…

2018 (left); 2019 (right)
  • Dickerson’s arms are more aligned with each other –> more balanced
    • In doing so, he has dropped his shoulder some
  • His bat in 2019 is angled less vertically –> possibly more bat control
    • Bat is further back –> could potentially explain the uptick in power and strikeouts
2018 (left); 2019 (right)
  • Dickerson has started to implement a drastically bigger leg kick –> harder contact
  • Once again, he seems to be more balanced, and his bat is farther back –> could be allowing for a more fluid swing
20162019 w/ the Giants
Average Exit Velocity (Statcast)88.693.3
Barrel %6.610.2
2018 (left); 2019 (right)
  • Dropping his front foot earlier –> easier time catching up to fastballs
    • Still staying back on the baseball
20162019 w/ the Giants
Fastball Pitch Value / 100 pitches1.112.98

And it is not like Alex Dickerson has been getting excessively lucky in 2019. His .356 BABIP is very high, but he’s regularly put up BABIP in that same ballpark, and it’s pretty normal for line drive hitters to run higher BABIP…

  • 2015 AAA (519 PA): .360
  • 2016 AAA (241 PA): .397
  • 2019 AAA w/ SD (113 PA): .417
X = LD%; Y = BABIP

Additionally, Dickerson’s four home runs have traveled an average of 422 feet. To put that in perspective, realize that Ronald Acuna Jr.’s home runs have also traveled an average of 422 feet.

FanGraphs gives the Giants a 0.8% chance of making the playoffs and 0.0% chance of claiming the NL West divisional crown. That means they make the playoffs in only 80 out of their 10,000 simulations.

But there’s no doubt that Alex Dickerson, who has made an effort to hit for more power through using a significantly bigger leg kick, has been one of the biggest bright spots of their disappointing season. He will likely remain a contributor for the Giants so long as he manages to stay on the field.

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