Derek Dietrich's Rise From 29-Year-Old Spare Part to MLB's King of Swag

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2019

Cincinnati Reds' Derek Dietrich celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run in the first inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Sunday, May 5, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Aaron Doster/Associated Press

Once upon a time not so long ago, Derek Dietrich toiled in the MLB shadows. Now, suddenly and improbably, he's thrust himself into the spotlight.

Though he sometimes performed like a solid platoon player, Dietrich was largely a middling utilityman for the Miami Marlins from 2013 to 2018. That's about as close to professional sports obscurity as anyone can get.

When the Cincinnati Reds signed Dietrich to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training in February, it registered somewhere between a "meh" and a yawn.

Less than four months later, the 29-year-old is the toast of Cincinnati and one of the coolest—and most polarizingstories in baseball.

Through 56 games, Dietrich has hit 17 home runs and owns a 1.073 OPS. It's early June, and he's already eclipsed his career home run mark of 16, which he set last year. With the usual grains of salt applied, he's on pace for 49 homers. 

In addition to the impressive numbers, Dietrich is dishing personality aplenty.

When a swarm of bees caused a delay at Great American Ball Park, he dressed up as an exterminator to entertain the fans. When the lights went out during a contest against the Athletics in Oakland, he became an electrician alongside Oakland's elephant mascot:

Cincinnati Reds @Reds

Baseball player by day, electrician by night. 👨‍🔧 https://t.co/SXsGXHIQRX

Oh, and how about the eye-black mustache he sported while donning a 1911 throwback jersey?

He also admires his home runs with borderline-excessive aplomb, which has ruffled the feathers of MLB's old-school, unwritten-rules club.

"I can't stand him," Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster John Wehner said on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan (h/t TribLive.com's Tim Benz). "I don't understand why you have to do that. It's different if you're a Hall of Fame player, you're a 60-homer guy, you're an established guy. Nobody ever heard of him before this year."

Will Dietrich stop doing his thing because of the grumbling? Don't bet on it. After more than a half-decade of anonymity with the Marlins, he's clearly relishing his moment in the sun.

Here's the bigger question: Can he sustain his stats? There are no guarantees, but signs point to yes.

Gary Landers/Associated Press

Dietrich's hard-contact rate has jumped from a career average of 33 percent to 41.4 percent. However, his batting average on balls in play is only .220, compared to a career average of .303.

Despite his impressive early results, he's actually been unlucky.

The lefty swinger is still largely a platoon player, as he was with Miami. He has only 16 at-bats against southpaws. But he could improve in that department, as well.

In those 16 at-bats, he's collected four hits, including a double.

"[It's about] how comfortable I feel here and how the Reds just let me be myself and do what I've always known I'm capable of doing from day one when I stepped into the big leagues," Dietrich told reporters after he clubbed three home runs against the Pirates on May 28. "They believe in me and have given me an opportunity. Really, I think that's all I really needed along the way."

Gary Landers/Associated Press

The Reds are in last place in the National League Central and may be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline. There's virtually zero chance they'll deal Dietrich, who is under club control through 2020. If anything, he's an extension candidate.

Maybe you don't love his antics, though they undeniably inject mirth into a long season. Remember when Bryce Harper urged his fellow players to make baseball fun again? Dietrich got the memo.

Sure, there's a fine line between fun and unsportsmanlike showboating. And baseball has a way of humbling even the greatest players.

But if you aren't tuning in to watch Dietrich's turn in the spotlight, you're missing a pretty dang good show.

It's exuberant. It's improbable. It features bees.

Mostly, it's swag personified.


All statistics current entering play Tuesday and courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.