Saturday, September 6, 2008

Can Chris Dickerson Possibly be for Real?

While Chris Dickerson continues to have the biggest Whiskey Tango Foxtrot season in all of baseball, it may be time for us to get a bit of perspective on his chances for continued success. While I didn't rank Dickerson among the top 25 Reds prospects this past offseason, I'm sure that he has exceeded the expectations of everyone who isn't Chris Dickerson's mother. I'd love to believe that this is the real Chris Dickerson, but unless he's Babe Ruth reincarnated, then he's due for a regression. Of course, the $25,000 question is just how far will he fall?

Unfortunately, we wasted a ton of playing time on Corey Patterson, which is time that should have been given to Dickerson. At this point, I still don't think we can be sure that he actually is more than a 4th outfielder.

If we had given him a longer look, then we'd have a better idea of what we've got. At this point, pitchers haven't gotten a book on Dickerson yet, so he could still be enjoying the fruits of anonymity. Sadly, the bumbling ways of the Reds front office likely means that we won't get to see if Dickerson can adapt to the adjustments the pitchers are inevitably going to make.


So far, Dickerson has been outstanding, but there are some evident "Red" flags. Dickerson is striking out once every 3.2 ABs, his BABIP is an unsustainable .420, his AB/HR is 13.7, and his HR/FB rate is likely unsustainable at 22.2%.

For comparison, over his career, Adam Dunn strikes out once every 3.1 ABs, has an AB/HR of 13.9, and has an HR/FB of 22.8%, so Dickerson is currently hitting a homer at a rate better than Dunn and is seeing a higher percentage of his flyballs leave the yard than Adam Dunn.

I love what Dickerson is doing, but it's probably wise to remain somewhat skeptical. He's performing at such a high level right now that he can afford to regress, but I think we are all fooling ourselves if we don't expect a regression. He's very unlikely to hit .300 over any appreciable amount of time when he is striking out that much. And, I think it's clear to everyone that he isn't going to continue hitting homeruns at a "Dunn-ian" clip.

While Dickerson seems to have turned the corner and made significant strides from his minor league level of performance, I'm still taking a bit of a wait and see approach. Kevin Maas looked pretty good at one point, too. I just wish the Reds had had the foresight to "see" about Dickerson much earlier in the season.


Still, even if Dickerson isn't the next Babe Ruth, he can still afford to slide quite a ways from his current level of offensive production and be a productive big leaguer. His tremendous late count hitting and on-base skills, very strong defense, and good speed means that he doesn't need to hit all that much to be an intriguing player. He's off to a good start to his MLB career and if he continues to establish himself as a solid hitter than he could really help offset the loss of Adam Dunn in 2009, but (WARNING: Understatement Alert!!) despite all that he's unlikely to continue to produce at his current level over any extended period of time.

Still, we can enjoy it while it lasts!

Reds Baserunning Woes

The Reds have once again underwhelmed this year, so it's time to take a look at some of the reasons WHY they are consistently a second tier team. To me, they always seem to be a decent team on paper, but they never perform up to my expectations. Perhaps, even though I downgrade my expectations each year, I just continue to overrate them. Still, my expectations are never very high, but the Reds never fail to disappoint. I'm still trying to figure out why.

The new wave of statistical analysis has done a tremendous job flushing out hitting and pitching, but only recently has it started focusing on the less glamorous aspects of the game. One of the more interesting developments has come from a not so surprising source: Bill James. James has begun analyzing base running and identifying which players and teams are actually good at it. A novel concept, to be sure, but here is how his analysis is defined.

Team Baserunning Analysis

"The entire team’s overall contribution on the bases; their basestealing, avoidance of the double play, and success at taking the extra base while avoiding being thrown out.

For a summary of each team, look at the far right column called "Net Gain". Zero is
average. Plus numbers are above average and negative numbers are below average."

This is one unpublicized area where the Reds have performed very poorly this year. On the season, as a team, the Reds are only a +12. In comparison, the best baserunning team is the Colorado Rockies at +96, followed by the Phillies at +95, the Rangers at +86, and the Mets at +76. So, the Reds are one of the worst baserunning teams in baseball and well off the pace of the leaders.

Here is how the Reds' +12 baserunning breaks down:

From 1st to 3rd: 40 times in 164 opportunities.
From 2nd to Home: 70 times in 123 opportunities.
From 1st to Home: 14 times in 47 opportunities.

And, how successful they were at avoiding hitting into the double play:

Double Play: Grounded into 91 double plays in 960 opportunities.

And, how many extra bases they managed to take, which includes advancing on Wild Pitches, Passed Balls, Balks, Sac Flies, and Defensive Indifference.

131 bases taken

Baserunning Outs, including three categories: "Outs Advancing," which are outs made attempting to score from 1st on a double or 2nd on a single, and outs made attempting to go from 1st to 3rd. Also includes "Doubled Off," which is runners doubled off base on a ball hit in the air and "BR Outs," which includes outs made attempting to advance on a Wild Pitch, a Passed Ball, or a Sac Fly.

The Reds have 27 baserunning outs so far in 2008.

All of which works out to a +26 gain in baserunning so far in 2008.

Now, as for basestealing, the Reds have a -14 mark. On the season, they have stolen 78 bases and been caught 46 times, which is a very poor 63% success rate.

So, overall, the Reds have a +26 gain in baserunning and a -14 in base stealing, which gives them a total of +12.

While it's still difficult to translate the baserunning statistics directly into runs scored, it's clear that the more extra bases a team can take, the better the chances that they will score. The closer you can get to home plate, the greater the likelihood of scoring runs. The Reds just aren't very good at running the bases or stealing them. And, when you are a second tier team, you just can't afford to give away outs on the bases or miss out on opportunities to advance another 90 feet.

If the Reds want to compete in 2009, then they'll have to improve in a myriad of areas and baserunning is certainly one of them. Given their smaller resources and difficulty competing on a pure talent basis, the Reds need to maximize their play in every possible area. A lot of improvement in the small areas can lead to a big improvement in the W/L record.