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Is Brian Dozier’s Power Repeatable?

When the offseason began, a Brian Dozier trade looked inevitable. The Twins’ second baseman was one of the majors’ most productive players last season, offering elite power, good baserunning, solid plate discipline and steady second-base defense. That all-around skill set would cost just $15 million over the next two years. So as spring training begins, why is Dozier still preparing to play for a rebuilding Twins club?

Both a steep asking price and an abundance of good second basemen hindered a deal. But these reasons may not fully explain why Dozier is still bound for Fort Myers this month. After all, negotiations often begin with high asking prices before parties find a middle ground. Plus, even though the keystone is now a good offensive position, many teams would net an upgrade by acquiring Dozier. Perhaps there was more at play — namely, doubt in the minds of club executives that the pull– and fly-ball-prone Dozier could repeat his first-rate power-hitting. Consider what Bill James said about Dozier on the second-base edition of MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” series:

“You guys are too high on Dozier. A lot of those home runs are 360-footers that just skim over the wall. I don’t buy that.”

As data from ESPN’s Home Run Tracker affirms, Dozier’s home runs are often unimpressive.

Quality of Dozier’s 2016 Home Runs
Tracker Stat Dozier’s Average Percentile, Hitters 10+ HR Percentile, Hitters 30+ HR
True distance (feet) 396.7 33rd 10th
Exit velocity (mph) 103.5 43rd 16th
Spray angle 28° 20th 10th
All percentiles are based on 2015–16 player-seasons.
Spray angle is calculated as degrees away from the pull-side foul line for both RHB and LHB.

By true distance, exit velocity, and spray angle, Dozier’s dingers often traveled shorter and at a lower velocity than his peers’ blasts, all while keeping closer to the pull-side foul line. When compared only to his power-hitting brethren — those with 30-homer campaigns — Dozier slips under the 17th percentile mark in every stat. Do the pedestrian home-run metrics hint at a coming power outage?

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The Link Between Travis d’Arnaud’s Set-Up and Struggles

In 2015, Travis d’Arnaud was one of the league’s best power hitters. His .218 ISO placed him in the neighborhood of sluggers like Joey Votto and Kris Bryant. Following the season, Steamer projected that d’Arnaud’s ISO would be fourth best among catchers, and 24% better than 2015’s league average.

But that power was absent this past year, as d’Arnaud’s ISO fell by two thirds. At .076, it was one of MLB’s worst 10 marks, ranking the Mets catcher amid weak-hitting middle infielders like Dee Gordon, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Ketel Marte. d’Arnaud’s overall output took a huge hit, as his wRC+ sank to 74 this year after reaching 130 in 2015. That 56-point plummet is among the 1.1% worst year-to-year differentials of all time (minimum 250 PA). A decline this severe is unusual — and particularly surprising for a player who looked like a burgeoning star in 2015.

How did this downturn happen? In other cases, we might point to injuries or small sample sizes, but there’s reason to think that more was at play for d’Arnaud in 2016. That’s because he struggled with a longer swing in the 2016 season, generated by his bat wrap.

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Syndergaard’s Stolen-Base Problem and the Postseason

Noah Syndergaard has reached a point of excellence this season that finds him capable (to the extent that anyone is capable) of challenging Clayton Kershaw for the title of baseball’s most dominant starter. If compelled to pinpoint the most glaring difference between the two Cy Young candidates, however, it would be this: whereas Kershaw is historically masterful at stopping the running game, Syndergaard is historically poor. The Mets’ ace gave up a whopping 48 steals this year, one of the 10 worst seasons for steals allowed since 1974, when Retrosheet’s full records begin.

The reason for Syndergaard’s struggles is clear: the 6-foot-6 righty is really slow to the plate. This has been a problem all year, making it a popular talking point for the New York media. That included speculation from John Harper a couple of weeks ago, as the Daily News writer made the case that these struggles would make Syndergaard an unwise choice to start the wild card game.

That might even raise the question of who should start the wild-card game. As dominant as Noah Syndergaard can be, his problems in controlling the running game are a consideration in a win-or-go-home scenario, where a couple of stolen bases could prove crucial.

“That would be a factor for me,” an NL scout said Friday. “Everybody says stolen bases aren’t important anymore, but then you get to the playoffs, and they can be the difference in a ballgame.

This argument that the Mets should sit the exceptional Syndergaard is suspect. But the scout’s theory is worth testing. Maybe, given the magnitude of postseason games, runners attempt more steals when it counts, and contribute more towards team wins. Let’s check.

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