Taking a look at last year’s most valuable baserunners, not a lot jumps out as being unusual. You’ve got Jacoby Ellsbury, who stole 52 bases. You’ve got Eric Young and Elvis Andrus, who each stole at least 40. You’ve got Mike Trout, who stole 33 and, like, isn’t a human. And then you’ve got Alcides Escobar, who has stolen 35 in the past and still managed to swipe 22 despite having the lowest on-base percentage in baseball.
Thing is, baserunning value doesn’t come solely from successful and unsuccessful steal attempts. That is a big part of it, yes, but there is something to be said about the ability to take the extra base that a less aggressive or less aware baserunner might not take. Matt Carpenter only stole three bags last year and was more valuable on the bases than speedster Alejando De Aza, who stole 20.
When you think of Brian Dozier, you probably don’t think of a burner. You probably think more along the lines of “non-prospect middle infielder with surprising power and mediocre on-base skills.” Now, Dozier did steal 23 bases in his first season-and-a-half in the big leagues and his 12 steals already this year are tied for fourth. However, that’s half as many as Gordon and they have nearly identical baserunning values. That’s only one more steal than Andrus , and Dozier’s baserunning value is nearly double Andrus’. Dozier clearly is doing something besides stealing bases that is making him the most valuable baserunner in the American League.
Using the incredible, amazing Baseball-Reference Play Index, I was able to identify 25 instances this season in which Brian Dozier took an extra base. Some of them were ordinary, but some were not. Let’s take a look at some of the ones that were not:
OK, this one’s not really out of the ordinary, but that’s why I’m getting it out of the way now. Brian Dozier does this, like, all the time. It’s one thing to go first-to-third on singles to right field. Dozier goes first-to-third on singles to center, regularly. I could have put five or six examples of this exact thing happening, but that would just be silly. Just trust me when I say if someone hits a single to the outfield and it’s not a hard liner to left, Brian Dozier is probably going to just put his head down and go first-to-third.
Again, it’s one thing to tag and advance when the ball is hit to the opposite side of the field. Far less often do you see a guy tag and advance to the base which is closest to the outfielder that caught it. Now, to be fair, the ball hit to Desmond Jennings was pretty deep in center and Michael Brantley was moving back when he caught his. But it’s more about the fact that Dozier is able to recognize these things and know his speed well enough to take the extra base.
Here we have a couple of ground ball singles to left field in which Dozier scored from second. These are the type of things that, when they happen in the midst of a game, can easily go unnoticed. But when they happen repeatedly over the course of a season, they really add up. Neither of these are super aggressive displays of baserunning, but they were hit to corner outfielders, who are closer to home plate than the center fielder, and not everyone scores these runs that Brian Dozier scored for the Twins.
Now for the fun stuff:
Here, Manny Machado almost makes an incredible play at third base to prevent a Brian Dozier infield hit. However, “almost incredible” sometimes become troublesome when you have to stretch the limitations of your physical ability to do so. That was the case for Machado on this play, and the ball skips away from the first basemen, though just barely. I don’t know if Dozier didn’t realize how little the ball actually skipped away, or if he just felt like being aggressive. Either way, it worked out and he turned a slow chopper to third into a double.
Here, Wade Davis decidedly did not have to stretch the limitations of his physical ability to make this play, yet it still resulted in an error. Again, the ball really didn’t skip that far away. Again, Brian Dozier didn’t care and took the extra base anyway. This one resulted in a run that he scored from second base when the ball barely made it to the pitchers mound.
Here we find, again, Brian Dozier scoring from second on a ball that never left the infield. This one happened just last week. Now, I don’t know how much baserunning goes into pre-series scouting reports, but if it does, Asdrubal Cabrera should have known that one of the most aggressive – and successfully aggressive – baserunners in the league was on second base. Either way, Cabrera gave up on the play and turned his back on home plate just long enough for Dozier to manufacture a run with his legs.
*BONUS* BONEHEAD YASIEL PUIG GIF:
This one doesn’t say much about Dozier, as pretty much anyone in baseball would have scored from third on that. What’s humorous is Puig, in the first inning of a 0-0 ballgame, bypassing the cutoff man and throwing all the way home, nearly from the warning track, allowing every runner to advance in the process.
So what about the times Dozier has been thrown out? Surely, with a baserunner as aggressive as Dozier, he is bound to misjudge a ball or his own speed every now and then and cost his team an out. Let’s look at all the times Dozier has made an out on the bases this year:
And that’s it. The first one, Dozier was originally called safe until Don Mattingly successfully overturned the call with a challenge. Either way, it wasn’t the fault of Dozier being overaggressive or really Dozier’s fault at all. Nothing you can really do in that scenario. The second one, Dozier got a little aggressive, but the Twins had just taken a 1-0 lead in the 10th and he was likely running on any ground ball contact. It was a mistake, but it wasn’t an entirely costly mistake given the situation.
So there you have it. That’s how a guy like Brian Dozier can be among the most valuable baserunners in the MLB despite not being a premier base-stealer. There is being aggressive, and there is being smart with your aggression. Dozier has been able to take the extra base as often as any player in baseball and only has one real mistake to show for it. Last season, Dozier impressed with his surprising power. This season, the power has continued, but what he has done on the bases may be even more impressive.
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