As far as Dickerson is concerned, if it ain't broke, don't fix it

March 19th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- Laugh, if you must, at the many YouTube videos of Corey Dickerson hitting pitches off the bounce for base hits and even home runs, but the newest member of the Cardinals has no plans of changing his free-swinging approach at the plate.

After all, he once tried doing so to show that he could handle the bat, lower his strikeout rate and hit for a better average. That approach robbed him of his power and nearly resulted in him being out of baseball for good. So, Dickerson now has no intention of adjusting who he is as a hitter -- even if that often means he operates off feel, refuses to put too much stock in video and analytics work, and occasionally hits bouncing balls for hits.

“Today I hadn’t seen a pitch in seven months, and I hit a hard line drive, I hit some other balls good, and I hit a ball that looped over third that would have been a hit. That’s just who I am -- I am a bad ball hitter,” Dickerson said following his first BP session with the Cardinals on Saturday. “The more you try to take that out of your game, you take a piece of you away. That’s what makes me good. Sometimes I hit homers on bad pitches, so to try to completely take that away, I’m going to become worse. I do want to have a little better eye and take some pitches, but I don’t ever want to shy away from swinging.”

A franchise in need of a true left-handed hitter and someone who could potentially fill the DH role that is now universal throughout baseball liked Dickerson’s approach at the plate enough to reward him with a one-year deal that could be worth more than $5 million if he reaches several incentives. Although Dickerson is a solid fielder and has a Gold Glove to prove it, he’s expected to compete with young players Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez for the DH role.

Being a DH isn’t as easy as some might think, a reality Dickerson learned early.

“It’s a mentally challenging job and a hard job if you’re to do it full-time. I went through it in ’16 and struggled through it,” Dickerson said of seeing his average dip to .245 while with the Rays in 2016. “It’s ... a hard job for young guys to do. Thinking [DH] is all I can do for my team was difficult. I would practice like I played in the field by shagging balls, so I wasn’t thinking that all I had were those four at-bats. I had to trick myself mentally, and people in Tampa helped me relax and not go hit in the cage so much or overanalyze things. Not doing those things got me right.”

A franchise that set an MLB record last fall with five Gold Glove winners, and one that has always valued defense, liked Dickerson because he can fill the corner outfield slots in addition to serving as a DH. He and Nootbaar will do battle for the fourth outfield slot.

“Ultimately, he fits the profile we’re looking for, and he gives us some flexibility in the outfield,” president John Mozeliak said. “Most importantly, from the left side, he’s done very well. I think he’ll fit in nicely. He also touches on that protection for our club. We like what we have here, but we were one injury away from having to go deeper than we would have liked.”

Dickerson, 32, is well traveled, having played for the Rockies, Rays, Pirates, Marlins and Blue Jays. He split time with Miami and Toronto last season while hitting .271 with six home runs, 29 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .326. He said he got away from himself as a hitter in the past few years and he hopes to return to being the player who clubbed at least 24 home runs three times between 2014-17.

“Throw the fear of low average out because, obviously, low average and big homers pay,” he said. “I’ve always been old school and I’ve hit for average, and [high pay] doesn’t match up. There has to be a balance there, and if I’m hitting for power, I can’t worry that I’m getting out a little or striking out. Guys are throwing 100 and are nasty, so that’s going to happen. But I won’t worry about it so much if I’m hitting for power.”