Locking Up Brian Dozier

It’s the early days of spring training, with the exhibition games just kicking in, and “the best shape of my life” stories still fresh in our memory. It’s also the latter days of contract extension season, with many players expressing their desire to put such talks on hold once the real games begin. One potential extension candidate who may soon be locked up for the intermediate term is Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier. His is an interesting case; this is no flashy, long-time high-end prospect we’re discussing here. Dozier has kind of crept up on people, quietly becoming a better major league player than he was a minor league prospect. Who and what is Brian Dozier, and is he the type of player to whom the Twins should make a major commitment?

One fact that is not in doubt is that Dozier was an exceptional pick in the 8th round of the 2009 draft out of Southern Mississippi, signing after his senior season. He was a starter from the get-go at Southern Miss, their regular shortstop his last three seasons. This was no tooled-out mega-prospect; Dozier was a ballplayer, the grinder type that a club hopes can learn to handle the wooden bat at the lower levels of the minor leagues. He was pretty young for his class, not turning 22 until May 15, a trait that has proven to correlate with professional success for both college juniors and seniors. Basically, the Twins were getting a junior age-wise, while paying him a discounted senior rate in the draft.

Though Dozier did bat a solid .298-.370-.409 in just over 1600 minor league plate appearances, those numbers aren’t quite as impressive as they seem. First, they’re influenced significantly by the gaudy .353-.417-.438 line he put up straight out of the draft in the rookie level Appalachian League. Even more importantly, in that and all of his other minor league seasons, Dozier was not among the younger players at his minor league level. He didn’t notch his first Double-A at bat until age 24, in 2011, though he certainly did perform well once he got there, unfurling a .318-.384-.502 line at New Britain.

Each season I compile an ordered list of minor league position player prospects based on their offensive performance relative to their league and level, adjusted for age. It basically serves as a follow list, with traditional scouting methods then utilized to fine-tune it. 2011 was the only year in which Dozier qualified for this list, at #185. Many defensively-oriented major league shortstops and catchers ranked near that level on my minor league list. Dozier was not seen as a future MLB shortstop in the minors, however, nor was he seen as particularly defensively-oriented. For him to start in the majors, his bat, and particularly his power potential, needed to develop.

And develop it has. Brian Dozier hit all of 16 homers in 1613 minor league plate appearances, but has already hit 47 in the major leagues in barely more major league plate appearances, hitting 23 in 2014 alone. How has he done it, and what is the near-term prognosis for his performance going forward? Let’s take a deeper look at his offensive game by analyzing his 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by ball-in-play type data. First, the frequency information:

FREQ – 2014
Dozier % REL PCT
K 18.2% 98 49
BB 12.6% 162 92
POP 14.4% 178 97
FLY 31.4% 110 72
LD 19.0% 90 21
GB 35.3% 84 16

Though Dozier did strike out 129 times in 2014, he did so in 707 plate appearances, which ranked among AL leaders. His K rate percentile rank of 49, therefore, was quite acceptable for a reasonably powerful hitter. His ability to draw a walk is arguably his foremost offensive strength; he posted a 12.6% walk rate, good for a percentile rank of 92. He is not afraid to work a count, and put up a very low swinging strike rate of 5.9%.

His BIP frequencies, however, are just as unimpressive as his K and BB rates are impressive. He ranked among MLB leaders in popup rate at 14.4%, for a 97 percentile rank. Most big popup guys are big power guys, and with all due respect, Dozier doesn’t quite fit in that category. His line drive rate percentile rank is also quite low at 21. That isn’t a huge deal, as liner rates fluctuate much more than those of other BIP types, and he did post a 62 mark in 2013. What is a bit worrisome is the imbalance between his fly ball (72) and ground ball (16) percentile ranks. Dozier is on the verge of becoming one of the very few players in any given year to hit more fly balls than grounders; such hitters’ performance (such as Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez in 2013-14, to name two) tends to decline significantly the next season.

To this point, we have not taken BIP authority or direction into account. As we shall see, both are pretty central to what Dozier is today and could be tomorrow. Next, let’s get a better feel for his BIP authority by taking a look at the production by BIP type data:

PROD – 2014
Dozier AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.243 0.764 101 98
LD 0.713 0.885 111 109
GB 0.272 0.333 135 127
ALL BIP 0.301 0.520 97 96
ALL PA 0.237 0.335 0.409 113 111

Dozier’s actual production on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and it’s converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure then is adjusted for context, such as home park, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation.

On the surface, Dozier’s actual 2014 performance seems to be fairly well supported by his batted-ball authority; the contextual adjustments for each BIP type are quite small. His actual 101 REL PROD on fly balls is adjusted slightly downward to 98 ADJ PRD, with fairly similar adjustments for liners (from 111 to 109) and grounders (135 to 127). For all BIP combined, his actual 97 REL PRD and 96 ADJ PRD marks are almost identical. Adding back the K’s and BB’s gives him a solid boost to a 113 REL PRD and 111 ADJ PRD. In a vacuum, Dozier’s actual 2014 numbers give a very accurate portrayal of the underlying granular data.

But there’s a catch. Brian Dozier has now established himself as one of the most extreme pull hitters in the game. I have developed a fairly simple statistic called “pull ratio”. It is calculated separately for fly balls, line drives and ground balls. For a righthanded hitter, it is (number of balls hit to LF + LCF)/(number of balls hit to RCF + RF). A typical righthanded hitter might have a pull ratio of a little over 1:1 on fly balls, about 2:1 on liners, and 4:1 on grounders. Dozier’s marks were 2.35 for fly balls, 3.17 for liners, and 6.20 for grounders in 2014.

Extreme pulling is generally a hallmark of a player harvesting power near the end of a career, when it’s basically all that he has left in his offensive game. The most comparable 2013 pull factors were posted by the likes of Jonny Gomes, Raul Ibanez, Chris Young and Andrelton Simmons; three guys who appeared cooked in 2014, and another who is struggling to find an offensive identity. Dozier didn’t become an extreme puller to extend his major league career; he did so just to have one, at least as a regular, in the first place.

What is the potential harm in this approach moving forward? It comes in several forms. First, even though he’s righthanded, infield shifts await Dozier. He batted .272 AVG-.333 SLG on grounders in 2014, above MLB average, and it was supported by solid BIP authority. That assumes a typical defensive alignment, however. At the very least, one would expect infield overshifting to cut Dozier’s grounder production to MLB average (.245 AVG-.267 SLG), which would cut his overall ADJ PRD from 111 to 106. A drop in grounder production to say, .200 AVG-.220 SLG, might be a perfectly reasonable expectation for an overshifted extreme puller; that drops his overall ADJ PRD even further to 99.

That isn’t the biggest risk related to his extreme pull tendency. First of all, let’s temporarily forget about the existence of LCF in the above pull ratio calculation. Ignoring that field sector, Dozier’s fly ball pull ratio would be 1.41, and his grounder pull ratio would be 4.60. He is an “extreme extreme puller” who hits an inordinate number of batted balls toward the LF line. Sit the third baseman on the bag, and his 10 ground ball doubles go away. Dozier hit an incredible 52 fly balls to the LF sector in 2014 — more than Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout combined. He hit 22 of his 23 homers to that sector, with the other one barely in the LCF sector. A great deal of them were of the “just enough” variety, in HitTracker parlance. This too, is the mark of a hitter whose power isn’t built to last.

Why is this a big deal? For part of the time I was with the Mariners, Jose Lopez was a regular infielder. He too hit almost all of his homers to the exact same spot, to his extreme pull side. Lopez had more raw and useable power than Dozier, Dozier a superior eye. Pitchers develop a book on such hitters, and over time will give them nothing they can pull for distance. Hitters must then adjust, or perish. Unfortunately for such hitters, extreme pulling is quite often their last adjustment. Dozier has not shown an ability to hit a ball even reasonably hard the other way in the air, on a line, or on the ground. Pitchers are going to pitch him away, and all Dozier is going to be able to do is draw a walk……for a little while at least, until that skill begins to decline as his ability to inflict damage erodes.

Every club needs Brian Doziers in their system. He is an overachiever who has constantly figured it out as he has advanced, through college, into the minors, and then into the major leagues. To become a starter at that level and have some success, he has had to totally sell out to the short term fruits of extreme pulling. Pitchers are now likely to have the last word. To borrow a contemporary nightly news sound bite, one doesn’t know whether a deal is bad until the particulars of that deal are known. There are certainly terms which would make a Dozier deal look good from the Twins’ perspective. Chances are, though, that a long-term deal for Dozier would look at 2014’s 23 homers and 4.6 WAR as a base expectation rather than the career peak that it more likely represents, and that wouldn’t likely end well for the Twins.

We hoped you liked reading Locking Up Brian Dozier by Tony Blengino!

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newest oldest most voted
KK-Swizzle
Guest

Wow, this is a really fantastic combination of scouting and projection. It seems like Steamer and Zips have caught onto some of these factors as well, as he is expected to regress back to his merely above average 2013 numbers. Thanks for the insights!

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

I disagree with this. The projections regress Dozier’s BB% considerably. If he can sustain his walk rate from last year, he’ll beat the projections on that basis alone.