This post was written by Zach Mariner. Follow him on Twitter here.
When he was cut by the Yankees in January, Chris Dickerson was a 31-year-old utility outfielder who had never seen 300 plate appearances in a season, and had only seen at least 100 three different times.
Selected by the Reds in the 16th round of the 2003 first-year player draft, Dickerson spent five years fighting through injuries while toiling in the minors before making his major-league debut with Cincinnati on August 12, 2008. But, after just 31 games, a stress fracture in his heel forced him to miss the rest of the season, setting the tone for what has been a disappointing career.
Dickerson’s best season came the following year in 2009 (thanks to great defensive numbers), when he started 51 games through the first four months of the season before hitting the disabled list on two separate occasions late that summer. He finished the year with a .275/.370/.373 line.
During spring training in 2010, Dickerson voiced his frustration to reporters after Drew Stubbs was assumed the Reds’ starting center fielder, saying “I guess I’ll just have to go out and hit .450 this spring.” He only managed .288, and was traded to the Brewers for Jim Edmonds in August. In 25 games with Milwaukee, he drove in five runs with a line of .208/.271/.264. A week before Opening Day in 2011, he was traded to New York for Sergio Mitre.
It was during that same spring training in 2010 that Reds manager Dusty Baker summed up Dickerson’s career in a nutshell: "Dickerson has as much ability as anybody, it's just a matter of him staying healthy, the same thing I said (in 2009). People want to know why he didn't play every day, and that's because I wanted to keep him healthy with his history of injuries."
Since the start of 2010, Dickerson’s played in just 146 major-league games and 145 minor-league games. The Yankees cut him due to an abundance of left-handed outfielders.
Aside from struggling with injuries and running into a little bit of bad luck, the primary reason for his up-and-down career isn’t tough to figure out: he gets on base (.342 wOBA), but has trouble making contact (26.0 K%).
All of that made him a perfect fit for the Baltimore Orioles and general manager Dan Duquette, who’s picked up several outfielders in similar situations over the past two years.
Each of these guys has had a troubled career, but they all also have the potential to help the Orioles in some way or another (even if that mostly means providing depth). Dickerson was the second of these six players to get the call this season, after Steve Pearce made the 25-man roster coming out of spring training.
Dickerson spent his first six weeks with the Orioles — who are 7-3 when he’s been in the starting lineup — serving in that same utility outfielder role, starting roughly once a week and playing sparingly as a late-game defensive replacement. However, he’s started six out of the past seven games since Nolan Reimold hit the DL with a hamstring tear. Seeing as it may take a few weeks for Reimold to make his way back into the lineup, Dickerson will have an opportunity to continue to showcase his value to this organization.
In 43 at-bats this season, the lefty is hitting .326 with three home runs. The sample size is small, and the numbers are somewhat inflated after his 3-for-4, two-homer night on Tuesday against the Yankees. But, he does have a .352 career OBP, higher than Reimold (.329), Pearce (.311) and even Nate McLouth (.332) — although his spot in the lineup against righties is pretty secure. Beyond that, Dickerson’s wOBA comes in higher than that all three of his mentioned teammates, for both their careers and 2013.
Now, don’t expect what you’ve seen from him so far to continue, because he probably isn’t going to hit .300 this season — or hit a home run every 14 at-bats — but his ability to draw walks (10.6 career BB%) and occasionally steal bases (28 in 35 career attempts) makes him valuable at the bottom of the lineup, at least against right-handed pitching (.294 career wOBA against lefties).
More than anything else, what Dickerson brings to the table defensively has the potential to make him a permanent fixture in this lineup. His career utility zone rating outranks almost every Baltimore outfielder in nearly every outfield spot.
His prowess and versatility in the outfield, along with his speed and ability to get on base, make him a pretty solid fit to continue to hit out of the No. 8 spot and play wherever he’s needed in the outfield against righties (assuming either McLouth, Jones, or Markakis is serving as the DH that night). With Reimold hurt for the time being, Dickerson will probably split time with McLouth, Pearce, and Danny Valencia in the DH/OF role against lefties. His high strikeout numbers (22.7 K% in 2013) are a liability, and rank higher than every other player mentioned, except for Reimold so far this season — but again, that could change once the sample size grows. However, as long as he continues to get on base (at least at an average rate) he’s still an upgrade. Dickerson is by no means an all-star, but he is the best available option going forward.
Dickerson won’t ever replace Jones or Markakis in the lineup, no matter how much of an upgrade he is defensively. But he’s been making the most of his chances in the outfield as Jones fills the DH spot while dealing with soreness in his groin. If Dickerson continues to impress Buck Showalter, he could see more and more meaningful playing time, especially if Reimold can’t get it going at the plate once he comes off the DL.