Repping a less than stellar.189/.279/.243 batting line through his first 44 plate appearances, the Twins’ second baseman has been extremely inoffensive and has statistically continued where he left off during following his demotion in August of last year. Despite this slow beginning, there is reasons to not lose hope that Dozier’s career will fall into a no-hit middle infielder that has plagued the Twins for the better part of the new millennium.
The first encouraging sign from Dozier is that he is (1) sporting a much improved strikeout-to-walk ratio.
This is supremely important to any future success for the middle infielder. As a minor leaguer, Dozier owned a decent 1.2 strikeouts-to-walks ratio – meaning he drew nearly as many walks as he did strikeout. When he was promoted to the majors last year, that ability to hone the zone dissipated. He took just 16 walks in 340 plate appearances while striking out 58 times - or a 3.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio – a true indicator that he was not completely comfortable at the major league level. But, through 13 games this year, he’s had a much improved walk rate and has a 1.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, closer mirroring his minor league track record.
Those few free passes in 2012 resulted in a 4.7% walk rate which placed him in the bottom third in that category. Much of that derived from overextending the strike zone (35% out-of-zone swing rate compared to the 30% league average) and having an overall overzealous approach at the plate. Again, in the small sampling this year, he’s increased his walk rate to a significantly improved 11.4% - the fifth-highest among qualified second basemen.
The story has been slightly different for Dozier in 2013. He has trimmed his swing zone down to a more manageable area (chasing just 26% of out-of-zone pitches) and has been able to fight off a high number pitches to extend his at bats. So far this year, he’s 39% of his strikes have originated from foul balls while the rest of the league’s average is 27%.
Consider this: When Ron Gardenhire put him in the lead-off spot after Darin Mastroianni was pushed to the DL on Tuesday, Dozier’s first at bat against the Angels’ Jason Vargas consisted of him fouling off five fastballs – working the left-hander over for ten pitches total. While the at bat resulted in an out, Dozier got Vargas’s pitch count rising from the get-go. In the fourth inning, he got enough of Vargas’s 0-2 down-and-dirty curve in order to see a fastball the next pitch which he drilled into right field for a base hit.
Fouling off pitches is not a repeatable skill, per se, but it has aided him in prolonging his at bats which has led to a higher frequency of walks. The end game -- more walks and high on-base percentage -- bodes very well for Dozier’s contributions for the rest of the season.
The second reason Dozier is rather than attempting to pull every pitch, he’s (2) going the other way and back up the middle.
Check out his breakdown of batted balls by direction hit from last year to this year:
|Dozier’s Batted Ball By Location|
Without question, Dozier is going the other way with the pitches that are on the outer-half of the strike zone rather than trying to yank everything under the sun. As I outlined at Twins Daily last year, opponents recognized this tendency and lambasted him with fastball away and an abundance of sliders. I concluded that analysis by writing:
“Specifically for Dozier, offensive progress means trying to re-calibrate his swing zone. If pitchers are going to continue to pound away, make sure you start going with that pitch instead of turning it over (CC: Danny Valencia). If they are trying to get you to fish, try to wait for something in the zone (which is always easier said than done). Being a successful everyday contributor means being able to make adjustments quickly.”
Here’s a still comparison of the point of impact and his improved mechanical balance. The first two images are his swings in 2013. Notice how he has a firm front side and keeps his weight back on these pitches middle-up and middle-away:
There are examples of swings that Dozier displayed in spring training, in which I advised to watch for this year. While the results have been not been there, the form is much better.
Compare those two examples to two from 2012. Both instances came against left-handed pitches, both locations were away and both wound up grounders to the left side. In both cases, Dozier’s weight gets out in front of him as he reaches for – and pulls – both pitches thrown on the outer-half of the zone. Notice, too, that his front foot comes unglued in the samples. This is creating a less than solid base to swing from.
Dozier has a much more solid fundamental approach at the plate this season - something that was not present a year ago. With a more discriminating eye at the plate and now functional mechanics in place to drive the ball to all areas of the ballpark, his numbers should steadily improve as the season progresses.