How Brian Dozier Put Together a Season for the Ages

Yes, it’s true that this is the year of the second baseman. As a group, second basemen are putting up better offensive numbers than they have in nearly a century, and are outhitting their defensively challenged counterparts in left field for the first time in the history of the live-ball era, dating back to 1920. And yes, it’s true that power across the sport is nearly at an all-time high. The league’s power output has returned to peak steroid-era levels, with this year’s isolated slugging percentage and home runs per plate appearance trailing only the year 2000 as the most power-laden season in the game’s history.

Those trends are real, and they should help shape the way we evaluate hitter’s performances in 2016. But don’t let those trends fool you: Brian Dozier is truly having a season for the ages.

The Minnesota Twins’ second baseman clubbed three home runs against Kansas City on Monday afternoon, bringing his season total to 38. Only Mark Trumbo has hit more homers than Dozier for the season; only David Ortiz has a higher ISO. Dozier’s homered eight times in the last week and has been baseball’s most valuable player in the second half according to WAR. His .298 ISO is the highest unadjusted figure in the expansion era (1961-present) for a second baseman and the highest by any second baseman not named Rogers Hornsby in baseball history.

And while we know to take that unadjusted figure with a grain of salt due to the aforementioned trends, Dozier’s power output is historic even after being adjusted for context:

Best Power Output by a Second Baseman, 1961-Present
Year Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ ISO LgISO ISO+
1976 Joe Morgan 599 27 .320 .444 .576 184 .256 .106 242
1973 Davey Johnson 651 43 .270 .370 .546 147 .275 .122 225
1981 Bobby Grich 404 22 .304 .378 .543 167 .239 .113 212
1990 Ryne Sandberg 675 40 .306 .354 .559 142 .254 .128 198
1979 Bobby Grich 609 30 .294 .365 .537 141 .243 .132 184
2016 Brian Dozier* 591 38 .279 .350 .576 141 .298 .163 183
1974 Joe Morgan 641 22 .293 .427 .494 162 .201 .112 179
1989 Lou Whitaker 611 28 .251 .361 .462 131 .210 .121 174
1989 Ryne Sandberg 672 30 .290 .356 .497 139 .206 .121 170
1992 Ryne Sandberg 687 26 .304 .371 .510 148 .206 .122 169
*Active

Not since peak-Ryne Sandberg has a second baseman hit for power the way Dozier has this season, and Dozier’s overall batting line goes toe-to-toe with any line the Cubs’ Hall of Famer ever put up. Last year, Dozier was barely a league-average hitter. Near the end of May, he was batting .199 with a paltry four home runs. Now, he’s muscling up alongside Hall of Famers.

Our own David Laurila spoke with Dozier about his approach last month, and Dozier spoke like a hitter who understood not only how to properly gauge player evaluaton in 2016, but how to properly gauge his own strengths. “You have to figure out what type of player you are — what type of hitter you are,” he said. “Once you find that, you stick with it. You can try to make adjustments throughout your career, but you should never lose sight of your strengths.”

Sticking with his strengths and making small adjustments to maximize those strengths is exactly how Brian Dozier has put his name alongside some of baseball’s all-time great second baseman in the power department. Dozier, of course, is a hitter of extremes. He’s got baseball’s highest pull rate. He’s got baseball’s fifth-highest fly-ball rate. Put those two together, and you wind up with this:

Plate appearances ending in a pulled air ball

  1. Brian Dozier, 27.1%
  2. Stephen Vogt, 26.2%
  3. Nolan Arenado, 24.3%

Nobody pulls the ball in the air more than Dozier. To gain a little more perspective about what goes into that approach and how it works, I present the following image, showing some of Dozier’s tendencies since 2014 (all from catcher’s perspective):

Dozier_14-16

We’ll work across that from left to right. On the left, ground-ball rate, by zone, with red indicating more grounders. The grounders come when Dozier swings away, and low. The air balls come when Dozier swings inner third, and up. Dozier wants the air balls, because of that middle image, which documents isolated slugging. His power output, naturally, is at its highest on those inner-third pitches where he can get the ball in the air. The third image, showing runs above average per pitch, is the culmination of the first two: the outer third is not Dozier’s friend. The inner third is.

We know Dozier’s strengths. Dozier knows Dozier’s strengths. But now, back to his quote about making small adjustments to maximize those strengths:

DozierSwingProgression

That’s Dozier’s swing rate by year. In 2014, the first year in which he was an above-average hitter, there wasn’t a clear plan of attack. The swings were kind of all over the place, and even when he did swing inside, he too often swung low. In 2015, he became more aggressive, but he became more aggressive everywhere. Still too many swings on that outer third which led to ground balls and weak contact. And then you see this year. Pitchers are attacking Dozier low-and-away as often as ever, but he’s not biting. Instead, he’s focused all his attention toward that inner third. A pitcher’s approach against a batter only works if the batter lets it.

To put numbers to that image:

Brian Dozier’s Swing Distribution, 2014-16
Year Pitches OUT Swings OUT Swing/Pitch OUT Pitches IN Swings IN Swing/Pitch IN InsideSwing%
2014 1919 723 37.7% 1024 423 41.3% 36.9%
2015 1871 814 43.5% 959 462 48.2% 36.2%
2016 1545 614 39.7% 825 409 49.6% 40.0%
SOURCE: BaseballSavant
Swing/Pitch OUT: Percentage of outside pitches swung at
Swing/Pitch IN: Percentage of inside pitches swung at
InsideSwing%: Percentage of swings dedicated toward inside pitches

Dozier told our own Eno Sarris back in June about the tee work he does to focus on the inside pitch. It’s similar what Carlos Correa does: put the tee as far inside as possible to where you can keep the hands close to your body and still get extension. A related screengrab from the second of Dozier’s three Labor Day dingers:

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 12.26.44 AM

The pitch is on the inner half, as so many of Dozier’s home runs have been this year. The hands are in close to the body and the barrel is still extended, as they always are. The ball off his bat landed in the seats thrice, as it had 35 times prior. And Dozier’s name crept up alongside a group full of Hall of Famers in the power department, as precisely no one could have expected at the season’s start. It’s good to know your strengths. Even better to act on them.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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rosen380
Member

OPS+ is OPS adjusted for both league and park — ISO+ appears to be for league only, correct? if so, is it possible to incorporate park factors into this, or would it make such a small difference that the list would be largely unchanged?

rosen380
Member

Sticking with only the league adjustments, but adding in CF/SS/C…

262 1961 Mickey Mantle
260 1965 Willie Mays
242 1972 Johnny Bench
245 1964 Willie Mays
242 1976 Joe Morgan
241 1969 Rico Petrocelli
230 1979 Fred Lynn
229 1962 Willie Mays
227 1964 Mickey Mantle
226 1994 Ken Griffey Jr
225 1997 Ken Griffey Jr
225 1973 Davey Johnson
223 1993 Ken Griffey Jr
223 1970 Johnny Bench
223 1972 Carlton Fisk
223 1978 Gorman Thomas
223 1979 Gorman Thomas
223 1976 Rick Monday

second-pot
Member
second-pot

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2016-neutral-batting.shtml

Adjusts every stat for year and park factor. You can google “year neutralized batting” with any year to get all of the player’s fully adjusted stats, including SLG and BA (and therefore ISO).