Every season, unexpected players enjoy a huge April and either become hot waiver wire pickups or become surprise mainstays in your fantasy lineup. Guys like Chris Colabello, Emilio Bonifacio, Dee Gordon, Aaron Harang, and Alexei Ramirez weren’t high (or even present) on many draft boards during the offseason, but all five have been top-50 fantasy players in ESPN leagues to begin the year.
A year ago, we saw Yuniesky Betancourt, Lucas Duda, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Patrick Corbin, and even Vernon Wells dominate in the early season. Some of those players sustained their respective performances and became above-average players throughout the year, but others quickly tapered off and became irrelevant. The goal in April is determining which performances are ones you can trust and which players you should bail on when the going first gets rough.
Brian Dozier has been overlooked this spring because he’s being dragged down by a .219 batting average, but he’s actually the second-ranked fantasy second baseman and has even more value in on-base percentage leagues. He is the only player in Major League Baseball with at least five stolen bases and at least five home runs. Furthermore, the 27-year-old currently benefits from batting leadoff for the Twins, which means he is also racking up the runs. He leads Major League Baseball with 19 runs scored.
That’s all beautiful, but again, the trick is sussing out whether he’s going to be a top-10 fantasy second baseman going forward or if he’s more a fourth-tier guy as he was last year. He was the 14th-ranked fantasy second baseman in 2013, ranking behind Martin Prado and just ahead of Howie Kendrick. In other words, if you’re a Dozier owner, should you be looking to flip him while his value is high or should you keep him plugged in your lineup everyday and reap the benefits?
To be fair, in baseball I believe every player should be available in the right deal, especially in fantasy baseball. But my immediate reaction is that Dozier’s performance has a chance to stick this year. He’s not benefiting from an unsustainable BABIP, and while his HR/FB remains rather high, he showed legitimate power last year and is backing it up with encouraging trends. Finally, if he’s going to continue to bat atop the Twins’ batting order, the runs should continue to be there and he should have more opportunities to run than he has in previous seasons. Essentially, Dozier owners should stomach the low batting average and appreciate the production in other areas.
I’m particularly interested in whether the power spike — which is even increased from a year ago — is legitimate or if it’s an early-season fluke that should be expected to significantly regress, as well as whether his .219 batting average will increase.
The power numbers immediately appear fluky because he’s rocking a 19.2% HR/FB rate. The question isn’t whether Dozier is going to maintain that lofty of a HR/FB rate, though. He’s clearly not going to hit 40+ bombs, but should owners expect him to be a threat to hit 20+ homers? If he continues his current batted-ball mix, I think he could have a chance. His 50.0% fly ball rate is the highest of his major-league career, which means he’s giving himself more opportunities than ever before to hit homers. Such a high fly-ball rate will likely impact his ability to hit for a higher batting average, but if the power numbers continue, that’s a decent trade off for fantasy owners.
Despite the high fly-ball rate, I’m actually intrigued by Dozier’s potential to hit for a better batting average than he’s historically shown. His bugaboo has always been right-handed pitching. He hit .219/.282/.367 against righties a year ago, but through the first few weeks of the 2014 season, he’s hitting .255/.410/.532 against righties. And while I’m not interested in putting huge predictive value on those numbers — as it’s only been 61 plate appearances — the fact that he’s finding any increased success at all (especially in the power department) is encouraging. If he can be passable against righties and rebound from his brutal early-season performance against lefties, that batting average could sneak to the .250 range. And for a guy who’s on pace to easily eclipse a 15-15 season and score plenty of runs, such an increase would simply allow Brian Dozier to not have an anchor dragging behind him in terms of his fantasy value.
In short, I’m not advocating for Dozier owners to bend over backwards to sell high. I still think there’s value in Brian Dozier throughout the remainder of the season, and it could be higher than what many of us expected coming into the season. Of course, if the right deal comes along, pull the trigger. Just don’t settle. Second basemen who could threaten to hit 20 homers and steal double-digit bases don’t grow on trees, even if the batting average is tough to swallow right now. And if he continues to pile on the runs, Dozier is a top-10 second baseman this year.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).