Brian Dozier’s Incredible Turnaround

Brian Dozier is a streaky hitter. We know this to be true, much like the world is round, or the sun rises in the east. In the last two seasons, he’s pushed the boundaries of what I thought ‘streaky’ could entail. About halfway through the 2015 campaign, Dozier’s production fell off a cliff. Check out his slash lines by month:

  • April ’15 (95 PA) – .220/.305/.336 (.671 OPS), .146 ISO
  • May ’15 (121 PA) – .287/.355/.630 (.985 OPS), .343 ISO
  • June ’15 (121 PA) – .287/.355/.556 (.911 OPS), .269 ISO
  • July ’15 (110 PA) – .206/.282/.433 (.715 OPS), .227 ISO
  • August ’15 (120 PA) – .216/.275/.387 (.662 OPS), .171 ISO
  • September ’15 (137 PA) – .197/.270/.295 (.565 OPS), .098 ISO

The batting average dropped down around the Mendoza line, while his power evaporated by the month. The really scary thing was the way Dozier began 2016:

  • April ’16 (106 PA) – .191/.276/.340 (.617 OPS), .149 ISO
  • May ’16 (92 PA) – .215/.315/.316 (.632 OPS), .101 ISO

From July 2015 until June 2016, Dozier hit .205/.264/.354 (.628 OPS) in 565 PA. He cost the Twins 16.5 runs in that span, compared to a league-average bat. For fantasy purposes, the 17 homers he hit in those 565 PA didn’t come close to making up for his category-killing .205 AVG. This downturn was so extreme, and lasted for so long, that I started wondering if the 29-year-old had hit a premature decline.

When the calendar turned to June, Dozier’s extremely patient fantasy owners were finally rewarded with an offensive outburst unlike any other in his career:

  • June ’16 (115 PA) – .369/.435/.728 (1.163 OPS), .359 ISO
  • July ’16 (116 PA) – .242/.319/.505 (.824 OPS), .263 ISO
  • August ’16 (123 PA) – .307/.352/.711 (1.063 OPS), .404 ISO

Goodness. In those 354 PA, Dozier cranked out a .307/.367/.652 line, good for a 1.019 OPS. I know I’m running the risk of being repetitive here, but look at these two samples side-by-side:

  • 7/15-5/16 (565 PA) – .205/.264/.354 (.628 OPS), 17 HR
  • 6/16-8/16 (354 PA) – .307/.367/.652 (1.019 OPS), 25 HR

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what the heck happened here. Not surprisingly, his hard-hit rate is soaring into the stratosphere:

  • April – 23.7% Soft, 27.6% Hard
  • May – 21.9% Soft, 23.4% Hard
  • June – 18.0% Soft, 33.7% Hard
  • July – 12.4% Soft, 30.9% Hard
  • August – 11.8% Soft, 47.3% Hard

Digging a bit further, I pulled up his heat maps, sorting by ISO per pitch. Here’s a crystal-clear look at how Dozier’s turned it around. First off, check out that 565-PA sample from July ’15 through May ’16:

Dozier ISO bad sample

Dozier was only hitting the ball with authority when he saw pitches belt-high over the heart of the plate. Honestly, if you can’t hit those pitches, you’re probably not a major-league baseball player, so at least he was doing that much. But then we turn our attention to the 354-PA sample he’s accrued since June 1:

Dozier ISO good sample

If you’re a pitcher, where do you even try to attack Dozier now? He’s punishing darn near every strike he sees, and plenty of the balls too.

There’s got to be some sort of mechanical adjustment in here, right? I was hoping you’d ask that, because the answer is yes! For comparison’s sake, I chose videos of two Dozier homers, both of which came against Royals righties in Kauffman. First, we have this shot from April:

Now, here’s one from earlier this month:

The differences aren’t too tough to spot. The tentative, bunny-hop step Dozier was using early on in the season now seems to have a purpose. His weight is more evenly distributed, his timing is smoother, and he’s incorporating his core strength more effectively. For a closer look, I freeze-framed each video at the exact moment just before Dozier starts his swing.

Dozier April HR Dozier August HR

April                                               August

The big change is where he’s starting his hands. He’s brought them in tight to his body, with the bat held up straight, as opposed to keeping his hands back. This allows Dozier to get the barrel through the zone quicker, which goes a long way toward explaining the spike in hard contact, and his increased power on inside pitches.

In the last three months, Dozier created 29.4 more runs than a league-average player, based on Weighted Runs Above Average. For reference, Dozier’s wRAA in his breakout 2014 campaign was 16.0. Saying he’s never produced like this before is a heck of an understatement in that context.

It seems a good bet that Dozier will continue to put up numbers for the remainder of 2016, which would probably lock him in as a top-five fantasy second baseman for the season. The question I’ve yet to find an answer for is how to value Dozier going into 2017 fantasy drafts.

In this current stretch, Dozier is probably the most productive 2B in fantasy, but even if he finishes strong, where should we expect him to slot into our drafts next year? I would certainly slot Jose Altuve ahead of him, but would you rather draft Dozier or Daniel Murphy? How about Dozier or Robinson Cano?

Second base in general is becoming an increasingly offensive position. Last season, just five 2B produced more than seven roto points in standard 5×5 leagues. This year, that number has doubled to ten. With so many solid starting options, Dozier’s year-to-year volatility should factor into the equation more than it would at a shallower position.

All that said, aside from Altuve and probably Cano, I’m having a hard time coming up with any second basemen I’d clearly rather have for 2017 than Dozier. I sure didn’t think I’d be saying that three months ago.





Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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Cybo
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Cybo

I think I’d still rather have Travis or Russell for next year.