On the surface, 22-year-old left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson had a below average season in his first full year in Low A West Virginia. In 129 1/3 innings pitched, Dickson had a 3.90 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, to go along with 58 walks and 108 strikeouts. But Dickson is another case in the Pirates system of a pitcher who struggled in the first half of season, only to see big improvements in the second half.
In the first 3 months of the year, Dickson had a 5.02 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP in 75 1/3 innings pitched, with a 4.2 BB/9 and a 6.8 K/9. Despite his struggles in the first 3 months, from the beginning of July through the end of the season, Dickson’s performance dramatically improved. From July on, he posted a 2.33 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP, along with a lower 3.8 BB/9 and a higher 7.8 K/9.
What changes did Dickson make that led to these improvements?
Early on in the season, Dickson struggled with the same things that many young pitchers struggle with early in their careers. Dickson has a good fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch the mid 90s. He also throws a curve ball and a change-up, with both pitches having potential to be solid offerings. But Dickson needed to learn how to use his good stuff effectively.
“Its interesting, I’ve always liked his stuff,” West Virginia Pitching Coach Jeff Johnson said. “I saw it in Instructional League last year. I said wow, how the ball rotates, the movement on it, those kinds of things [along with] being left-handed I always liked it. I didn’t like the fact that he didn’t have very good command. And early in the year that hurt him.”
According to Johnson, Dickson was not throwing enough strikes in the first half. This led to his high 4.2 BB/9, but also led to many opposing batters hitting ahead in counts.
“He had to throw a lot of pitches [and] he was always behind in counts. [This led to] long innings, so that’s the biggest thing he’s had to learn.”
In order to get deeper into games and control his pitch count, the goal for Dickson was to get each batter out in three pitches or less, and keep the ball low in the zone. It’s a common strategy in the Pirates’ minor league system. Dickson recognized that this approach played a big role in his big improvements in the second half of the season.
“[I was] keeping the ball low, staying athletic, letting the defense work, [stopped] trying to miss bats, just let them hit it, and try to get them out within three pitches,” Dickson explained. “With the defense I have, whoever is out there is very capable of making the play and 90% of the time it gets done, so why not let them hit it?”
Even with his recent success, Dickson has a lot of room for continued growth. In order to command his fastball more efficiently, Dickson had to take some velocity off the pitch. His fastball was sitting in the high 80s to low 90s, down from the low-to-mid 90s where he was previously.
“We took the focus away from electric stuff, [and put it] into command on the plate, staying ahead in counts. Which might lead to one or two MPH shorter, but more effective pitches,” Johnson said. “So eventually what will end up happening hopefully is he’ll learn how to make pitches, and then he can go back and get the extra stuff when he wants it.”
Dickson has become very confident with all three of his pitches, saying that he feels he can go to them in any count. Johnson also praised Dickson’s progression with his breaking pitches.
“He’s been on the plate more. His breaking ball [is on], changeups on the plate, I mean it’s just been fun to watch that progression.”
At 6’3’’ and weighing only 180 pounds, Dickson has a projectable body type to continue to add velocity and maintain the mechanics of his delivery deeper into his starts as he gets stronger and puts on more weight. Johnson said that Dickson “got beat up a little bit physically” this season, and that his first full professional season took a lot out of him.
As the command of his fastball continues to progress and as he continues to get stronger, it would be no surprise to see Dickson add velocity while maintaining his command. Dickson says he has learned a lot about conditioning in his first year. The plan for him is to go to the Instructional League, and continue to work on his strength and conditioning during the off-season.
“I’ve learned a lot from spring training, what more I needed to do and what less I needed to do to get ready to be out on the field with weights and conditioning. I have a better idea of what I need to do more of and less of.”
Dickson has impressed the organization with good stuff since he was drafted out of Sam Houston State in the 4th round of the 2013 Draft. Johnson believes that as Dickson continues to improve his command and grow into his body, he will be a special player.
“His body is going to have to get worked on, get more strength in the off-season, and the more he keeps going out the better his command will get, and the more he’ll learn about how to use what he has. This kid’s going to be dynamite I think, I think there is a lot to look forward to from Cody.”