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2017 Player Profiles: Brian Dozier

Can he possibly put up another season like 2016? What can we expect in 2017?

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

If you want to catch up on all the previous 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.

Today’s analysis victim is a well known one in fantasy circles. Unless you are a die-hard Twins fan, though, you probably didn’t watch him regularly in August and September. Without watching him, though, you probably heard about his performance. I even got to witness his red-hot hitting in person on September 4, when he hit one of his 42 round-trippers against the White Sox.

The powerful second baseman, known for his three-true outcomes approach and power-speed combo is none other than Brian Dozier. Oh, yeah, I suppose you already knew that. It’s even in the title! Anyway, Dozier put up a crazy season line this year, doing most of his damage in the second half, when he was one of the best hitters in baseball. Hey look! A table just sitting here, begging to be analyzed! See how nutty his second half was?

2016 42 104 99 0.268 0.34 0.546 20% 8.80% 18.40% 0.28 18
1st Half 14 47 43 0.246 0.335 0.45 15.90% 10.30% 11.90% 0.258 7
2nd Half 28 57 56 0.291 0.344 0.646 24.40% 7.20% 25.50% 0.306 11

He matched his career high in homers (from 2015) in the second half alone! In 2016, he set career highs in hard hit %, HR, slugging, average, ISO, and fly ball %. He also set a new high in HR/FB%, which isn’t shocking with that home run total. What happened here?

Well, his plate discipline actually got worse in his crazy second half. His K% went up and his BB% down. And not by a small amount. Weird. His career-high BABIP was driven mostly by that second half number, which is not a high number for most hitters, but for him it is. His previous high was 0.278. He is a dead pull hitter, so teams love to shift on him, driving down that BABIP. His BABIP is especially troublesome when combined with that 25.5% second half HR/FB ratio, which was very lucky. If he kept that up all season, it would be fourth in baseball behind only Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, and Nelson Cruz. He doesn’t have the same power as those guys, in spite of his 42 HR this year.

Ok, so his second half was clearly driven by some luck on batted balls, but how much of the actual power production in 2016 was real? Let’s compare some stuff to 2015.

FB% Hard% IFFB% Pull% SwStr% Avg FB/LD Exit Velo
2016 47.70% 34.70% 13.20% 56.40% 9.10% 94.4
2015 44.10% 29.20% 19.70% 60.20% 9% 92.5

He hit the ball hard more often, so that’s a good sign for a true power surge. He hit fewer infield flies (but still far too many), so that’s a true batting average and BABIP increase. More fly balls generally means more homers for a guy like him, so that checks out. He didn’t swing and miss more often, so once again, his average seems more legit. Oh, and his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives went up by a good amount. That’s very good. His MLB rank in terms of exit velocity (thanks, Baseball Savant!) went from 197 in 2015 to 96 in 2016. Still not elite, but much better. He ranked #39 in baseball this year in # of barrelled balls (balls that were hit square on the sweet spot), so that’s another feather in his cap.

Let’s look at some fun, colorful charts!

In the first one, you can see he clearly improved his exit velocity on fastballs this year. His velocity against the other two types also went up, but not as noticeably. In the second chart, it is clear that he hit more fly balls against lefties than ever before. As a right-handed hitter with good power, that is a good thing. His performance against righties in terms of number of fly balls stayed about the same. All his gains were against southpaws.

After all this, I’m still not sure what to say. He clearly benefited from good luck in the second half and his BABIP and HR/FB ratio will be much lower than those second half numbers in 2017. However, true gains in hitting flies against LHP, hitting the ball harder (especially against fastballs), and fewer pop-ups show real growth.

Fangraphs has metrics called wFB, wCU, wCH, etc. that show a hitter’s weighted runs created (a comprehensive offensive stat) versus different pitch types. In 2016, Dozier set career highs in wFB, wCH, and wCU. Fastballs, change-ups, and curves were his favorite targets this year. He showed huge improvements over 2015 against all three pitches. He has always had trouble with sliders, and that continued. However, he clearly developed this year by improving against all three of those pitch types.

To add to all these stats, we can read some words that the man himself told to Derek Wetmore of ESPN1500 in Minneapolis in the spring:

He added that it’s not a new and concerted effort to hit the ball to right field. He’s still cool with hitting the ball to left and center, but he’s aiming to gear his swing to allow him to hit a breaking ball away, whereas in the past he might have been so pull-conscious that he left himself vulnerable to good pitches on the outer half of the plate.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I have been working on training the path of my swing better,” Dozier said.

“I hear it all the freaking time, which is kind of dumb to me: ‘[to hit for] higher averages you’ve got to use the whole field.’

“But that’s not that case,” he said. “The case is training your swing in order to cover breaking pitches off [the plate outside], fastballs on the black, stuff like that that you can still pull if you want to, it’s just training the path of your swing. It’s not training to hit the other way.”

So, he made some changes to his swing this spring in order to cover the outer half of the plate better. Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well and he struggled in April and May with an OPS below 0.700. Sometimes, swing adjustments take time to settle in, so maybe he just needed a couple months to get used to it. In June, he started to heat up and Mr. Wetmore once again gathered some intel to try and figure out what happened.

So it was interesting to hear Brunansky say that this Dozier – the one we’ve seen in June, who is pulling almost everything and taking no prisoners in the process – is the one the Twins’ hitting coach envisioned when they were getting their work in together under the Florida sun in March.

“Sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom and then admit to it,” Brunansky said in the radio interview. “And then you can start working your way out.”

“Everybody asks about what he’s doing differently. I keep going back to – this is who we saw in spring training. This is the mindset that he had in spring training, the drills we were doing in spring training. Now, it’s taken him a little bit of time to get into that groove, but this is who I pictured seeing the whole year,” he said.

I don’t know if this explains everything and I encourage you to read the full articles, but it seems like it just took him some time to handle a new approach, even if his pulling tendencies never changed.

The last charts, I promise, will hopefully show that his work paid off.

2015 is the first one, 2016 is second. Look at the much larger number of dark red squares. Pay special attention to the ones one column from the right edge of the strike zone. Three squares went from pink in 2015 to dark red, showing that he was able to do more damage with pitches away. That was his goal and it seems like he was successful. I promised no more charts, so you will just have to trust me that his plate coverage heat maps from April to June 1 and from June 2 on show an even bigger increase in slugging against outside pitches than the 2015 and 2016 ones do.

Conclusions! Summary! Projection!

Dozier hit 42 homers. He will not hit that many again in 2017. Dozier hit the ball harder than ever before and embraced his pull-happy approach while improving power on outside pitches. Dozier made adjustments and those showed up after a two-month period Those swing changes and some very good luck helped him to a nutso second half.

In 2017, here’s the kind of performance I expect: 0.250/0.330/0.470, with 30 HR, 14 steals, 93 runs, and 75 RBI. That’s still a top tier second baseman, but below the 2016 version of himself. I like his adjustments, but I think that will mainly serve to keep his power from declining much from 2015 and boost his slugging % a little from his early career numbers in the low 0.400s. He finished as the #5 2B on ESPN’s player rater in 2016. I see him being in the 7-8 range in 2017. Tschus!