Last September, Corey Dickerson admitted he’d gotten into his own head during his first season with the Tampa Bay Rays. Things hadn’t gone too well. Trying to impress in a new league after putting up an .879 OPS with the Colorado Rockies, the lefty slugger scuffled early, then proceeded to tinker and obsess. He ultimately swatted 24 long balls, but the blasts were accompanied by a .245/.293/.469 slash line and a 24.5% strikeout rate.
This year has been a different story. No longer overanalyzing every unsuccessful at-bat, Dickerson is slashing a lusty .333/.382/.595, with 12 doubles, two triples, and eight home runs, over his first 39 games. He’s doing so despite having played more than half of those contests as a designated hitter, a position at which batters produce slightly worse numbers than when playing the field.
Dickerson discussed his resurgence — including his “let it go” attitude and his weapon of choice — when the Rays played at Fenway Park over the weekend.
Dickerson on rebounding from a subpar 2016 season: “I’ve kind of let it go. I’ve gone back to being me instead of trying to do other things. I’m also finally 100% healthy, which I wasn’t last year. That’s not an excuse — everybody battles through stuff — but now I can do everything I want.
“In 2015, I was hurt — I only had 200 at-bats all season — and coming off that, I kind of acted like I didn’t have any. I started off 2016 in a slump. I’d never really been a slump in my career, so I started to chase my tail. I struggled. Finally, at the end of the year, I started to let it go. I was like, ‘OK, if I get out, what’s the biggest deal? I’m going to hit .242 instead of .245?’
“You have to let go and trust your abilities. You can’t tinker too much. You can’t keep changing your stance between at-bats. Pitches sometimes dictate how you hit the ball. A pitch may move a little more than you expected, so you pop up. It’s not because of your swing. So you have to be very fine with making mechanical adjustments.”
On not trying to do too much: “I feel like I tried to do too much to get the ball out of the park last year. I was trying to force the issue instead of just seeing it and reacting. I don’t really care about homers as much anymore. That’s freed me up. It’s allowed me to just see the ball and hit the ball, because I can hit it anywhere in the park. I can trust my ability and let my hand-eye coordination work to its fullest. That’s what my biggest attribute is, my hand-eye coordination.
“This year, one of my main thoughts is staying through the baseball. Whenever I’m struggling, or if I go a few at-bats where I’m pulling off, that’s what kind of gets me back — staying through the baseball. If it’s an inside pitch, I still try to stay through the baseball. That makes me able to swing at inside strikes and not balls. And when I stay through the ball outside, I’m able to drive the ball instead of rolling over.”
On his weapon of choice: “I switched to a 271 [model bat] when I started to take off and hit a lot of homers. I was able to put more backspin on the ball. Before then, I was never really able to hit balls out oppo, and I had nine or 10 that year. It was denser wood, and a skinnier barrel, and the ball comes off it differently.
“I can hit a ball oppo farther with a skinny barrel than I can with a big barrel, but it also gives me a little less room for error. With a bigger barrel, you’ll foul a few more pitches off. You might strike out a little more with a skinnier barrel, but you’re going to have more leverage, more pop. Ken Griffey Jr., Adrian Gonzalez… a lot of guys have used super-skinny barrels. I started using a 271 in 2014, and I’ve used it ever since.
“I do switch it up now and then, depending on how I feel, how my swing feels. You can take batting practice, and one bat just doesn’t feel the same as it did last week. The weight matters, for instance. A lot goes into it.”
On hitting leadoff against righties this year: “That’s mostly irrelevant [to my approach]. The first at-bat is maybe a little different — it’s a new box and you want to be comfortable — but besides that, I treat it as a normal at-bat. Sometimes I’ll swing first pitch, but sometimes I won’t, because the pitcher might think I will swing, because he knows I’m an aggressive hitter.
“Once you go through [the order], you don’t know what the situation will hold. It could be nobody on again, but it could also be bases loaded. So there’s not really any impact there. How it has helped me is knowing that I might have five at-bats that day instead of four. I like having that extra chance to impact the game.”
On hitting against left-handed pitchers: “I’ve always hit lefties pretty well — ever since growing up — but it can be hard in the big leagues. When you get called up, you have to show that you can. That’s whether you’re considered a prospect or not. Numbers are numbers, and you have to prove yourself against lefties. People will say you stink against them, or whatnot, but sometimes that’s because you’ve never gotten consistent opportunities.
“If you’re just pinch-hitting against relievers — guys who are designed to strike you out — instead of starters who are going to be around the strike zone, it’s going to be a lot harder. That’s kind of how it is with facing lefties. Sometimes it’s not a good sample size. Once you start getting consistent playing time… that will show if a guy can hit lefties or not. I feel that’s all I needed, getting more consistent at-bats. Now I don’t even think about it. It just feels like a normal at-bat.
“I think it helps to face lefties. Sometimes, if I don’t feel good at the plate, I can face a lefty and that helps me get back on track. You have to stay in — keep your shoulder in — and stay through the baseball. It’s definitely beneficial.”
On DH-ing and not overthinking: “Going into the offseason, I was really motivated to be the left fielder, and not the DH. When I got to spring training, I focused on my fielding and my speed. Then, when I got into the season, I was DH-ing. But I anticipated I’d be playing left field some, so I focused on treating my at-bats the same way.
“I’m making sure I don’t overanalyze. If I make an out, I make an out. I don’t think about it. I started doing that at the end of last year, and I’ve kept going with it — not thinking too much, or not getting mad or upset if I have bad at-bats. Again, I’ve let it go. I know it’s a long season.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.