On June 1, 2019, Derek Dietrich was inexplicably one of the best hitters in the majors. In the first two months of the season, Dietrich hit 17 home runs in 145 plate appearances. He had a 163 wRC+ and a .426 wOBA which ranked him 10th and 7th in the majors respectively. The utility player went from getting non-tendered by the Marlins and signing a minor league deal with the Reds to rubbing statistical shoulders with Mike Trout. It almost didn’t matter what Dietrich did for the remainder of the season. He almost ensured himself a job in 2020 and beyond. Almost.
On Wednesday, Dietrich was invited back to the Cincinnati Reds as a non-roster invitee. Dietrich’s fall was as rapid and unexpected as his fall. From June 1 and on, Dietrich hit for just .117/.294/.227 for a 48 wRC+ and a .250 wOBA. It wasn’t the most extreme first half/second half split in history. It was merely the 17th worst second half by tOPS+ (min. 70 plate appearances).
The end result was something resembling a normal Dietrich season. He wound up with a slash line of .187/.328/.462 with a 102 wRC+, which aside from the low batting average is right in line with what he did in his final two years in Miami. This also made him just the fifth player in major league history to have an OPS+ of 100 or more while falling below the Mendoza line.
Neither first-half Dietrich nor second-half Dietrich was the real Dietrich, of course. The perfect storm of a hot month, the juiced ball, and Great American Ballpark created his MVP-level first half. His second-half struggles were likely the result of some bad luck and some health issues. He dealt with shoulder pain from at least July onward, and he finally had surgery at the end of the year.
Assuming his shoulder is healthy, Dietrich shouldn’t have much trouble making the big league roster this year. He can play multiple positions even if he doesn’t play any of them particularly well, and, 2019 excluded, a dependable bat. At the very least, he’s added insurance in case Eugenio Suárez isn’t ready for Opening Day. Suárez underwent shoulder surgery of his own at the end of January to remove lose cartilage. When Suárez returns, Dietrich may not have a path to a starting job, but he can get plenty of playing time by spelling Mike Moustakas at second, Jesse Winker in left, and Joey Votto at first.
If, for whatever reason, Dietrich doesn’t stick with the Reds, he should find an opportunity with another team. Bench players who are good for 1-2 wins a season shouldn’t be taken for granted. That’s especially true for teams that play in the NL Central where the top four teams in the division are projected to be within seven games of each other.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.