Appreciating Brian Dozier
by, 05-05-2014 at 10:51 AM (503 Views)
Most baseball fans love a good story. Weíre suckers for the guy rising from adversity to achieve his dreams of playing at a big league level. Look to the following around Chris Colabelloís rise this season or even Andrew Albersí call up last year and itís plain to see Ė we love the underdog. While Colabelloís story is certainly one of the greatest headlines of this season, I fear we as fans are overlooking another great redemption tale taking place right at second base.
On August 14th 2012, the Twins optioned Brian Dozier, their struggling shortstop back to AAA Rochester. The move marked an unceremonious ending to Dozierís rookie season in which he burst on to the scene as the "next big thing" before quickly falling into a rut plagued by poor hitting and a multitude of errors. Through 84 games, Dozier posted a meager stat line of .234/.271/.332 while holding an atrocious 58/16 strikeout to walk ratio. He also struggled in the field, committing 16 errors and posting a below average .964 fielding percentage.
The common belief was Dozier would get a few weeks in Rochester to "fix" some issues before getting a call-up in September when the rosters expanded. Except the call never came. The Twins opted to leave Dozier in the minors for the rest of the season, a decision that spoke loudly towards the Twins attitude to the 25 years old shortstop. Dozier had been an unheralded prospect who put together one strong offensive season in 2011 Ė there was little basis to believe that he would ever develop into a regular player and his value as a utility player was reduced due to his poor fielding performance.
For many prospects, a season like Dozier experienced in 2012 would likely mark the end of their big league aspirations. Instead, Dozier took a different approach and accepted the challenge from Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire to learn a new position. He spent the offseason in the Venezuelan winter leagues working at second base prior to games and came into the spring of 2013 ready to fill a new role with the club. He won the job out of spring training and shortly thereafter, a new Dozier emerged.
Although he started 2013 a bit slow offensively, he was playing second base defense at an elite level right out of the gate.
By the end of May, his bat had caught up to his glove and Dozier became an offensive weapon to match his newfound defensive prowess. Over the final 110 games of the 2013 season, Dozier batted .259/.335/.461 while hitting 17 home runs and stealing 9 bases. He also posted an improved strikeout to walk rate of 87/43. Dozier finished 2013 with a .244/.312/.414 slash line while posting a .992 fielding percentage and reducing his total errors for the year to 6.
Even if 2013 was Dozierís ceiling, itís likely fans and the front office would both be pleased to have an above average defensive second baseman who carried a bit of offensive potential on the roster. The crazy part is Ė it looks like Dozier is still improving.
Through 29 games this season, Dozier is batting .248/.373/.462 while hitting a team leading 8 home runs. He also leads Major League Baseball in runs scored (31) and leads the AL in stolen bases (11).
A deeper look at the data shows Dozierís offensive production coincided with a new patient approach at the plate. From 2012 to 2013, Dozier doubled his walk rate (4.7% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2013) while also boosting his OPS from .603 to .726. All heís done in 2014 is double his walk rate AGAIN (16.2%) while increasing his OPS to .835. Even if his walk rate does regress slightly, it will likely come with a raise in batting average, meaning his OPS should stay relatively unchanged.
Advanced data from Fangraphs further highlights the change:
O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% 2012 Twins 34.7 % 61.8 % 48.0 % 76.0 % 89.4 % 84.5 % 2013 Twins 28.9 % 54.0 % 40.0 % 76.6 % 90.0 % 84.6 % 2014 Twins 25.7 % 48.6 % 36.5 % 70.7 % 89.9 % 82.8 % Total - - - 30.0 % 55.6 % 41.8 % 75.7 % 89.8 % 84.3 %
Dozier has greatly reduced his swings outside the zone, while being more selective at pitches in the zone as well. In short, Dozier is swinging a more selective bat, and the results have certainly been noticeable. In fact, Dozierís hot offensive start has caused some early season projections to take notice Ė requiring Fangraphs to tweak Dozierís projected WAR for 2014, for example. (Hint: itís doubled).
All of this has happened while Dozier is making plays like this:
Itís looking like the Twins have more than a serviceable second baseman that can be an occasional offensive threat. Instead, they may have one of the best defensive second baseman in baseball who could ALSO be one of the best offensive second baseman in baseball.
Itís easy to overlook Dozierís path from failure to potential Gold Glove winner or All Star Game representative since it happened right in front of our eyes. When you take a step back and look at how much Dozier has changed and developed over the past two seasons, its clear his story is one worth appreciating. The exciting part is, it appears to be far from over.