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Milwaukee Brewers Free Agent Targets: Derek Dietrich

A utility man without much defensive utility, Dietrich can at least hit from the left side. Would the Brewers be able to hide his glove enough to make him an effective second base stopgap?

MLB: Miami Marlins at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

With the failed trade and non-tender of Jonathan Schoop, second base looks to again be an immediate need for the Milwaukee Brewers — even if it’s just a short-term fix until Keston Hiura proves he’s ready (if you’re willing to believe the organization) or he clears the Super Two deadline (if you’re being cynical).

That likely means any second base help the Brewers consider this offseason will also have to provide value somewhere else once we get past the first couple months of the season. Naturally, that draws some attention to the glut of super-utility types on the free agent market this winter — especially considering David Stearns’ soft spot for versatility when it comes to his reserve players.

Derek Dietrich could be an interesting option for the Brewers, although admittedly, he leaves a bit to be desired defensively. Still, with plus defenders all across the diamond, perhaps the Brewers again roll the dice in hopes of generating a little bit extra in terms of offense.

Dietrich is a free agent after being designated for assignment by the Miami Marlins before the team even reached the deadline to tender him a contract and risk paying him nearly $5 million in arbitration. While that isn’t a crazy amount to pay a solid offensive player like Dietrich, this is the Marlins we’re talking about, and the team looked to go, ahem, younger rather than keep Dietrich for his last two years of arbitration.

The 29-year-old hit .265/.330/.421 in 149 games for the Marlins last season, clubbing 16 home runs. His 109 wRC+ was his 5th season in a row with an above-average wRC+ (although he’s only received significant playing time in the past 3 years), and the bat has been good enough to make him above replacement level every year he’s appeared in the big leagues despite those defensive concerns. He was worth 0.8 fWAR last year despite appearing mostly at first base and left field, losing the positional bump he typically got by appearing at second base.

As a left-handed bat, he could conceivably team up with Hernan Perez to form a pretty effective offensive platoon at second base, as he hit .274/.342/.420 against right-handed pitching last year and .259/.343/.434 for his career. He absolutely should not be allowed to face left-handed pitchers, though, hitting just .232/.299/.373 against them during his Major League career.

He’s typically posted slightly below-average walk rates — his career BB% is 6.8%, but that fell to 5.3% last year — and he strikes out about 22% of the time, but he’s been able to get the ball to fall in when he does make contact with a career BABIP of .308.

How does he pull it off? Launch angle and flyballs, baby. He averaged a launch angle of 15.7 degrees last year, putting him just behind Jesus Aguilar (16.1 degrees) and tying him with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt and Trevor Story. Sure, that in itself doesn’t tell us much, but when you combine that with an average career flyball rate of 38.5% (league average was 34.4% last year) and a groundball rate of just 40.7% (league average was 44.8%), it’s clear he keeps the ball off the ground.

When Christian Yelich left the cavernous Marlins Park for the cozy left-handed hitter dimensions at Miller Park, there was plenty of dreaming about what he’d be able to do with his power numbers — and we saw how that turned out. Unlike Yelich, Deitrich likely wouldn’t have to adjust his swing to take full advantage of that Miller Park effect. He already swings with an above-average uppercut and keeps the ball off the ground. It wouldn’t be a shock to see that 10-15 home run power in Miami turn into 20-home run power in Milwaukee -- something the Brewers haven’t had at second base since Rickie Weeks (and no, I won’t count Travis Shaw). It may not be totally indicative of what would happen, but if you’re reading and thinking “it seems like he always homers against the Brewers,” you aren’t far off — he has 5 career home runs in 18 games at Miller Park.

Of course, like Weeks, that offensive firepower from second base — if the Brewers were to put him back there — would come at the sacrifice of some defense. The metrics have not been kind to him no matter where the Marlins stuck him, and while you can defend him by saying he was never kept in one spot quite long enough to build a decent sample size, the human scouting apparently also backs that up. Dietrich hasn’t seen considerable time at second base since 2016 when he played 585 innings there — the equivalent of only 65 nine-inning games. He had -3 Defensive Runs Saved there that year, and was limited to only 63 defensive innings at second base in 2017 and 14 innings last year.

He hasn’t been much better at third base (-4 DRS in 817.1 innings in 2017) and his move to left field was disastrous as far as DRS goes, with an almost incredible -15 runs saved. To say the least, that’s not the kind of defense you want from a utility player. For the sake of comparison, in limited sample sizes Hernan Perez graded out at +3 DRS in the outfield, +2 at shortstop, even at third base, and -2 at second base. If you’re looking for a bright spot, if you can call it that, an optimistic observer might say he’s only slightly worse at second base than Scooter Gennett. There’s also the possibility those defensive issues could be hidden a bit considering the Brewers’ use of shifts and the presence of Orlando Arcia at shortstop and Lorenzo Cain in center field, depending on where Dietrich plays in the field on any given day.

David Stearns hasn’t typically been one to ignore defense, especially when it comes to his bench players. But if for some reason Eric Thames isn’t on the 25-man roster next year, the team may need a left-handed bat off the bench if only for pinch-hitting spots. Dietrich could at least fill that role nicely, especially if Stearns was able to snag him on a one- or two-year deal for less than the $4.8 million he was projected for in arbitration. He’s already cleared waivers when he was designated for assignment, indicating nobody is really interested in paying him that much, so the potential is there to maybe steal some left-handed production at a discount rate this winter.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs and