Padres Place Minor Faith in Brian Dozier

Between 2014 and 2017, Brian Dozier took more major league plate appearances (2,807) than any other player, posting a .348 wOBA and hitting 127 home runs in the process. That performance was good for 18.9 WAR, which was the 11th-best mark posted by any hitter during that period and behind only José Altuve among second basemen. Last fall, he won a championship with the Washington Nationals. This weekend, he reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Padres.

That sequence probably overstates the degree to which Dozier’s stock has fallen. After a catastrophic 2018, his time with the Nationals was a modest success. He brought his offensive performance back to just about league average (99 wRC+), largely on the back of improved selectivity at the plate, and lifted his defense from “atrocious” (in 2018) to “mostly unimpressive” (his career norm). That all added up to 1.7 WAR and a share of a title. In most years, it might also have turned into a major league contract (you predicted a two-year deal worth $18 million).

But Dozier will be 33 next year and this year’s second base free agent class was unusually deep. Eleven men younger than Dozier have signed major league contracts at the position this offseason — most notably Mike Moustakas, César Hernández, Jonathan Schoop, and Starlin Castro — and that meant the competition for Dozier’s services was likely rather slim. In San Diego, he’ll enter a second-base mix that already includes younger competitors Jurickson Profar and Greg Garcia, with non-roster invites Gordon Beckham and Esteban Quiroz also nipping at his heels. It won’t be easy to win regular playing time.

Not easy, but not impossible. The same profile that gave Craig hope last winter that Dozier would bounce back from his disastrous 2018 (which he did) suggests that the man may have a few good seasons left in him. After bottoming out at 86.7 mph in 2018, Dozier’s average exit velocity actually exceeded his career mark at 88.3 mph in 2019 (again likely a result of better discipline inside the zone) while his 19 degree launch angle helped send 20 baseballs out of the park in just 482 plate appearances. If Dozier comes into camp fully healthy, he’s probably a better hitter than Profar.

And if he doesn’t? There’s nothing but upside here for San Diego. Even if they decide to keep Profar on at second base (A.J. Preller has now acquired him twice, including this offseason), Dozier could have a positive role to play as a righty off the bench. Even during last year’s modest overall performance, he posted a .373 wOBA against left-handed pitchers (in contrast to a .312 against right-handers), and his career figures suggest that’s not a fluke. Profar’s strong against lefties too, but Dozier’s somewhat weaker defense — though it’s a close race — may make him a more sensible choice off the bench. Either way, acquiring both has locked in the better of the two options for the Padres. That’s hard not to like.

On the whole, and even given the tight second base market, I’m a little surprised to see Dozier with a minor-league deal this spring. Perhaps he really wanted to play in San Diego. Or perhaps the market was just that difficult. Either way, unless something goes horribly wrong for him in the next few months, I’d expect to see him getting a fair amount of major league playing time in 2020, in San Diego or elsewhere, as he works to return to the form that made him a star in Minnesota for almost a half-decade.

Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.

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Dozier actually was able to get his walk rate to 12.7% last year, giving him the impressive feat o an OBP 100 points higher than his AVG… although he did only hit .238, so maybe not as impressive. Still, Doz is heading in the right direction.