Every MLB team could’ve had second baseman/outfielder Derek Dietrich over the offseason, and he had to settle for a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds in February. Well, we’re not even in June yet, and Dietrich has already hit 17 home runs, to go with a .720 slugging percentage.
Dietrich destroyed this moonshot for a homer on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates:
No-doubt about it shot from Derek Dietrich! 💪
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) May 28, 2019
And followed it up with three homers and six runs batted in vs the Pirates on Tuesday night:
Derek Dietrich just homered AGAIN. 😳 pic.twitter.com/I7x4OzKcN1
— MLB (@MLB) May 29, 2019
Derek Dietrich's last 6 hits:
— MLB (@MLB) May 29, 2019
The power surge is even more stunning when you dig into the numbers.
Dietrich’s 17 home runs have come in just 140 plate appearances. His Isolated Power (ISO) is far and away the top mark of MLB hitters with at least 140 plate appearances, at .466.
The 17 homers are already a career-high for the 29-year-old, topping the 16 he hit while with the Miami Marlins over 551 plate appearances in 2018.
And the .720 slugging percentage really stands out when you see it compared to the previous years. Dietrich’s previous career-best slugging percentage is .456 set in 2015. He was incredibly consistent in the SLG department in 2016-18, with a .425 SLG in 2016, a .424 SLG in 2017, and a .421 SLG in 2018. Those are solid, steady slugging numbers, but he now has a staggering 300-point jump on those numbers through two months of the 2019 season.
Now, playing home games at the arcade-esque stadium that is Great American Ball Park helps, and 11 of Dietrich’s homers have come there. There’s also the possibility that he’s benefiting from the apparent juiced ball.
Additionally, Dietrich has made a launch angle adjustment in his swing. Statcast has his launch angle at 20.5 this season, with the number never topping 16.6 in the past. His barrel percentage is a whopping 17.0, after never topping 9.0 in the past. His average exit velocity is at 88.2 mph, after never topping 87.4 mph in the past. He’s hitting the ball higher, and he’s hitting the ball harder.
Still, it’s hard to believe Dietrich will be anything close to *this* hitter going forward, particularly because very few are. For perspective, Barry Bonds had only four seasons with a slugging percentage this high.
Regression is surely coming, but Dietrich’s batted ball data and trends suggest he’s at the very least a far more dangerous hitter going forward than he ever was entering 2019. And he wouldn’t even have to play another game this season to already be an incredible steal of deal for an up-and-coming Reds team that is playing better baseball than their 26-29 record suggests (Cincinnati’s +41 run differential ranks fourth in the NL).
It will be very interesting to follow the rest of Dietrich’s season, but right now he’s one of the best power hitters in baseball after being nothing more than a mediocre slugger for his entire career.