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Brian Dozier Bulldozes Preseason Expectations

I think it’s fair to see that no one saw what Brian Dozier did this year coming. And it’s not to say that Dozier was anything special, but preseason projections figured he would be pretty useless offensively. The 2013 ZiPS projections went with a .281 wOBA, while the four fans aggregate projections yielded barely more optimism with a .288 wOBA. Instead, Dozier posted a .319 mark and actually recorded the eighth best WAR among all Major League second basemen. But of course, we’re supposed to be talking fantasy here, and Dozier finished 14th in fantasy value at the position, solidly above replacement level and a surprise to nearly everyone.

In the minors, the 26-year-old Dozier flashed a bit of power and a smattering of speed, but neither of those skills at a level that would excite fantasy owners. And yet, he seemingly reached his 90th percentile projection by notching 18 home runs and swiping 14 bases. The .244 batting average wasn’t pretty, but with a league-wide average downturn in recent seasons, it wasn’t as harmful as it had been in the past.

Aside from a small sample performance at Double-A in 2011, this was Dozier’s best power output as he posted a .170 ISO and 9.9% HR/FB ratio. His 277 feet in average batted ball distance lines up near the league average and matches the mediocre HR/FB rate. So although the home run output may have been a bit of a surprise, his HR/FB rate shouldn’t tumble too far, if at all.

The bigger risk to his home run total would appear to be his fly ball rate. At 41%, his FB% ranked 20th in all of baseball. It’s a mark generally reserved for big power hitters with HR/FB rates well into the teens, of which Dozier is not. With only 874 at-bats in the books, we aren’t sure yet if Dozier is a true talent fly ball hitter or if we should expect some regression next season. But given the type of hitter he is and where he ranked in the batted ball type rate, odds are that he slips below 40% and therefore has fewer opportunities to knock balls over the wall.

However, the one positive that would result from a decline in fly ball rate relates to his BABIP. He posted a lowly .278 mark, but his xBABIP was a more palatable .317. That xBABIP actually surprised me given his fly ball tendency and penchant for hitting pop-ups. What offset those negatives though were an infield hit rate that ranked sixth in baseball. The ability to beat out routine ground balls that normally would go for outs if a slower runner had been at the plate would certainly inflate a BABIP. A decrease in fly ball rate would help offset any drop in infield hit rate, giving him a real shot at pushing that BABIP above .300. Reducing some of the loft in his swing might help cut down on his pop-ups as well.

One potential explanation behind the low BABIP is that Dozier is a serious pull hitter. His pull rate is nearly double his opposite field rate and batted ball direction has not yet been incorporated into the xBABIP calculator (but hopefully will soon!).

Dozier makes excellent contact and his SwStk% suggests a better strikeout percentage next season. In fact, he posted the 29th lowest SwStk%, but only the 95th lowest K%. Something has to give and given much better strikeout rates in the minors, my bet is on that. The possibility of improved strikeout skills combined with BABIP upside gives him a real chance to enjoy a significant batting average boost next season.

Surrounded by a weak Twins offense and a bad overall team, it’s likely that Dozier’s final season numbers would surprise most. While he doesn’t have much power or speed upside, he does have several avenues to improve his batting average. He should still come cheap enough to be worth a draft selection, with downside of 15/10 that still sits comfortably above replacement level.