What’s baseball about? Is it about premier athletes vying in an intense competition that requires absurd feats like “making a small ball curve in weird ways” and “trying to hit a thrown ball with a bat when you have milliseconds of reaction time?” No! What? Who cares about that. Baseball is about variance, and while sometimes that variance works out in your favor and you get that all-important hit of dopamine... sometimes the variance just sucks. Welcome to Alex Dickerson’s 2022 season, everyone.
For many, the Braves signing Alex Dickerson in the lead-up to the 2022 season was a snoozefest move. The 31-year-old had less than 2 career fWAR in about 1,000 PAs. But I was excited: here was a guy with a career xwOBA above .340 that the Braves got for basically free for a DH spot that had to be filled by somebody. Suffice to say, that excitement turned to ash in my mouth... but hopefully not yours.
Dickerson was released in late November by the Giants. The Braves signed him to a non-guaranteed, $1 million deal, with that payout becoming secured if he made the major league roster... which he did.
What were the expectations?
While Dickerson’s long-term role on the club wasn’t immediately clear, it seemed that he would at least serve as a stopgap at the DH spot before Ronald Acuña Jr.’s return from injury. On Opening Day, the Braves started Eddie Rosario in right, Marcell Ozuna in left, and Dickerson at DH in the eight-hole.
Performance-wise, Dickerson probably wasn’t going to provide a lot of overall value (his nickname is “Grandpa” because of how many surgeries and health issues he’s had, and he can’t really play the field), but he was expected to hit. He had a 113 wRC+ for his career and seemed like a fine, low-cost option to hit righties (115 career wRC+), even if his aggregate value was probably going to be in the 0.5-1.0 WAR range due to being anchored to the DH position.
Suffice to say, everything went terribly for Dickerson. Through his first 15 PAs (that’s not a lot of PAs!), he had a .374 xwOBA (yay) and a .151 wOBA (very not yay). After a few more bad PAs, he was at a .316 xwOBA and a .103 wOBA, and that was more or less the end of the Alex Dickerson experiment. He started each of the team’s first seven games against righties, but then the team decided they’d rather have Ozuna at DH and Orlando Arcia or Guillermo Heredia in the outfield, and that was that. Rosario going on the shelf gave him a few more starts, but he was designated for assignment before the end of April.
Dickerson wouldn’t come back up. He finished his season with a 14 wRC+ (.189) wOBA due to some massive xwOBA underperformance (.289), though it should be noted that after the full extent of his 36 (yes, just 36) PAs, his xwOBA was no longer good, either. When you combine that with the fact that he played just one inning in the field and therefore incurred the DH penalty, he finished with -0.4 fWAR. Stupid variance.
The Braves eventually outrighted Dickerson to Gwinnett, where he amassed over 350 very problematic PAs, only managing a 91 wRC+ in the process. He elected minor league free agency in October.
What went right? What went wrong?
Given that he got just 36 PAs of rope, and was plain bad in the minors, not a lot really went right for Dickerson. His hard-hit, barrel, and solid contact rates remained above-average in that small sample, and he chased less than ever before... but everything else was pretty horrid.
Probably the biggest killer for Dickerson was that he wasn’t able to do much of anything at Gwinnett. Had he raked there the way an above-average, experienced hitter would be expected to, he could’ve found another opportunity with the Braves, or even another team in need of DH assistance midseason. Instead, he languished, and is an even more speculative add for 2023 at this point.
He did hit this tiebreaking homer on April 23 (and added a walk later in the game)... but the Braves lost the game, 9-7:
Amusingly, this longball, Dickerson’s first and only as a Brave, was hit under 93 mph. Of the 24 balls he put in play, this was only the 13th-hardest, and 11 of the 12 hit harder than this went for outs.
On the flip side, and as an exemplar of his awful stint, the April 10 game was brutal for him. Dickerson struck out to end the second in a tie game with a man on. In the fourth, the Braves were down by four with two on and two out, and Dickerson hit a 101 mph lineout to Joey Votto at first base. He followed that with a 330-foot lineout to kick off the seventh, and ended his day with this rally-killing double play ball in the ninth, with the tying run on deck:
That was pretty much his season in a nutshell.
The good news is that Dickerson didn’t play that much in 2023, so his projections haven’t taken a huge tumble, at least not yet. Steamer has him pegged for a 97 wRC+ with the usual DH-esque (non-)defense next year. The bad news is that a 97 wRC+ with his inability to play the field does not make for a useful player.
Someone will snap Dickerson up just like the Braves did last year. Hopefully his 2023 goes better.