Digging For Diamonds: Derek “Diehard” Dietrich
All alliteration aside, Miami Marlins’ Derek Dietrich is more than just a fun name for a post in the “Digging for Diamonds” category. After serving the past few years as Miami’s super-utility/platoon player, Dietrich’s hard-nosed style of play and recent productivity at the plate have seen him receive nearly every day at-bats at the leadoff position as of late. Will his first half success carry over after the All-Star Break, or will Double-D revert back to being a strictly part-time player again?
You may have first heard Dietrich’s name back in December of 2012 when he was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays for notorious nice-guy Yunel Escobar, or perhaps when he was drafted and had a few successful seasons as a shortstop prospect in the lower levels of the minors. And hey, if this is the first you are hearing about him, welcome to the party, pal!
Dietrich’s bat has always been his calling card. As for his positioning, scouts at Baseball America noted at the time of the draft that “he lacks the footwork or athletic ability in his 6-foot-1, 196-pound frame to stay at short, though, and wonder if his footwork can improve enough for him to play at second. Most doubt that and believe third base is his best fit with the glove.” Fast forward eight seasons and Dietrich has transitioned to a nearly full-time left-fielder. He has third base eligibility in most leagues from his 93 starts there last season, but unless he plays in eleven more games at first this year, he will enter 2019 with left field-only eligibility. Another red flag is his 3% drop in walks and subsequent 3% rise in K-rate, as well as a career high .364 BABIP. These changes have also come with an increase in power, as his .472 slugging percentage right now puts him just outside the top 40 among all batters this season. And even when that power hurts his average it should still be valuable.
While his decrease in eligibility this season does damper his long-term outlook, we still have half a season left to play this year. What can we expect from the soon-to-be 29-year-old for the rest of the year? Well, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that if you are in an OBP-league, he may be one of your league’s most underrated players. the bad news is that–you guessed it–Dietrich loses a ton of value in non-OBP leagues. Further, Dietrich loses a ton of value if walks is a category. So why would a player be so much more valuable in a league that tracks OBP but not walks? The reason may surprise you.
Since entering the league back in 2013, Dietrich ranks 65th among active hitters in OBP. However, if you sort by walk percentage, Dietrich plummets to 130th among the same qualified players. So, he must have a high batting average then, right? I mean, how else could someone rank 65th in OBP but 130th in BB% unless their batting average was nearly elite? Well, Dietrich’s career .257 BA ranks 116th among the same players, so that can’t be the reason, either.
So just how is Dietrich getting on base more often than Manny Machado but only walking as often as Adam Duvall and only gets a hit as often as Jordy Mercer? The answer lies in Dietrich’s amazing ability to put himself in harm’s way at the plate. *Ugh, he’s one of those guys* you scoff. We can all think back to our playing days out on the diamond and that one kid who knows his only chance to get on base is to get hit by a pitch, so he crowds the plate as much as he can and relies on the almost guaranteed 20-grade command of his little league opposition.
But alas! Here is a picture of Dietrich’s typical setup at the plate. Notice how he is in the center of the batters’ box with his hands out in front, but not over the plate in any way (looking at you, Rizzo). Also notice how his feet are in a fairly open stance, which is not what you would expect from the player who leads all of baseball over the past five seasons in HBP per at-bat. Yes, Derek Dietrich really is that good at getting hit by pitches, and unlike your little league nemesis, he can also do damage when the ball is in the strike zone, so he is far from a one-trick pony.
So just how is Dietrich able to get hit by so many pitches? The answer is really quite simple; he is a BAMF. The reason I am giving him the nickname “Diehard” is it not only works with the alliteration, but he essentially becomes John McClain when a ball is headed in his direction. In fact, the definition of a ‘diehard’ is “a person who strongly opposes change or who continues to support something in spite of opposition.” Just look at how little he moves when a 92 mph fastball heads straight towards him. How about this one, where an extremely avoidable 79 mph curve lands with a direct shot to his right knee. Here’s another, this one is nearly headed towards his face. Barely flinches. Need more? This one was a few weeks after the earlier one off his knee, and you can see he does actually try to get out of the way of this one, seemingly learning his lesson from letting the previous one hit that knee. But he still gets plunked, and what I love about him is that not only does he have zero protective gear on, but he never once shows any emotion. He gets beamed, drops his bat, jolts a quick glare at the culprit, then takes his base, the base he earned, through blood, sweat, and tears. The base he deserves for being a diehard at the plate.
Although the Marlins are, well, the Marlins… there is a reason they are leading off a guy with 4 career steals and a career walk-rate under 7%. Why? *Cue Brad-Pitt-as-Billy-Beane voice* He gets on base, and in the most painful way possible. Some may argue that getting hit by pitches is not a skill and that he has just been lucky thus far, and while there is definitely an element of unpredictability involved, durability and toughness are skills to be celebrated. Cal Ripkin, Jr. didn’t just luck himself into playing 2,632 games in a row, and that’s why we call him the Iron Man. While Double-D will never have the career of Ripkin, he is the best player in all of baseball when it comes to getting hit by a pitch, and as a savvy fantasy owner, you can use this to your advantage. Dietrich has above-average power as evidenced by his 55 career homers, including 11 in just 311 at-bats this season. Combine his current .180 ISO and .292 BA with his elite talent of getting in the way of pitches, along with his multi-position eligibility, and you have all the ingredients for a surefire sleeper for the second half. It is time fantasy owners learn: when a pitch comes hurling towards Derek Dietrich, it’s Yippie-Ki Yay all the way down to first.