Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Ascent of Brian Dozier

     On August 8th, 2012, Brian Dozier went 0-4 in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. It was typical of Dozier who had struggled almost the entire time since coming to the big leagues in early May, batting just .234/.271/.332. He was sent down to Triple-A after the game.
     Lots of people figured he be heard from again, not because he had been so awful that he would never be called up again, but because there have been hundreds of guys like him in every organization: Pedestrian prospects who can't make it in the big leagues. After he spent the rest of the year in the minors, something weird happened: Dozier went into spring training as the favorite for starting second baseman. Alexi Casilla had held the position the year before while Dozier was at shortstop. The season began with Dozier on board as the second baseman when something even weirder happened: Dozier did well. He wasn't spectacular by any means but he was good enough that nobody questioned his job security. He finished the year with a batting line of .244/.312/.414 and 18 homers.
     Dozier was even better the next year, being more selective at the plate, improving his walk rate by over 4%. He also became just the sixth Twin to have at least 20 homers and 20 steals in the same season. Now, in 2015, Dozier's is one of the top second basemen in the league and is likely to make his first all-star team. That begs the question: what changed?
     Dozier's hitting for more power this year than any other season of his career by far. His .529 slugging percentage is not only a career high but over 100 points higher than his second highest mark of .416. In fact, he's on pace to set career highs in homers, RBI and doubles as well. Yes, I'm completely aware that he was on pace for 36 homers at the all star break last year, but just because he cooled off in 2014 doesn't necessarily mean he will this year.
     All the power numbers can be attributed to the fact that he's just hitting the ball harder this year. His 33.1 hard hit rate is a career high and ranks second among all second basemen.
     Whenever someone makes big improvements in the hitting department, a lot of times it can be credited with the player being a smarter hitter. He's not just concentrating on hitting homers, he's just putting the bat on the ball and using all fields. Dozier's doing the exact opposite. He's pulled 65.3% of balls this year, a career high. He's also being more aggressive, swinging at 44% of all pitches, up from 38.3% of last year. While his on base percentage has gone down slightly because of that, and he's striking out more often it has brought up his average up 26 points.
     Unfortunately for the Twins, Dozier's power surge has coincided with him batting leadoff, keeping him from driving in many runs. But while the numbers say he should be hitting in the middle of the lineup, there's a case to be made for keeping him in the leadoff spot so he can keep his routine. Also, Dan Gladden likes it when he hits leadoff homers so he can bring up the Twins all time leadoff home run leaders and talk about himself more. So there's that to consider as well. It's a tough decision with no right answer.
     He's one of the best second basemen in the league (and I didn't even mention his fielding) and had a bizarre journey getting there. Now he'll likely be an All Star. All after his miserable play as a 25 year old rookie. 

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