This Dozier Recipe May Be a New One
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsTo date this season, Dozier owns a .225/.287/.384 slash line and has hit just five home runs. There was exactly one month between his 4th and 5th home runs on the year, and there are just 11 total extra-base hits to his name. Given that we’ve seen a similar blueprint time and time again for the Twins second baseman, it’s not time to panic. That being said, this season seems to have a new recipe in regard to how pitchers are attacking the Twins star, and in the way he reacts.
Looking back over the past couple of seasons, pitchers have continued to make adjustments to Dozier’s dead pull strategy. Pitching away as opposed to up and in, the 606 pitches he’s seen this year have been more densely located in the low and away quadrant of the strike zone than at any point previously in his career (as evidenced in the graph below). Being pitched low and away isn’t exactly surprising for a guy that can do damage on balls thrown up and in. Right now though, it’s about what Dozier is doing with those low and away pitches.
The unfortunate reality is that he’s swinging at them, and probably too often.
On the year, Dozier is chasing 24% of the time, while swinging through pitches 7.8% of the time. The former number is in line with last season, while the latter is slightly lower. He has upped his zone swing percentage to 64% (from 62.5%), but there’s really nothing too negative with his percentage swing profile. If we look at the quality of contact, things change just a little bit.
As much of a pull hitter as he’s turned into, Dozier hasn’t been that drastic of a fly ball guy. His launch angles have hovered around the high 12 or 13 degree mark on base hits, although this year the average has dipped down to 11.9. Combine that with an exit velocity that’s sitting at a four-year low of 90mph, and it’s no wonder why the 29.5% hard hit rate is a low water mark dating back to 2015. In summarizing the batted ball output, we’re seeing Dozier hit the ball more softly, at a less optimal launch angle, more often this year. It’s definitely why he owns just a .243 BABIP on a .225 average. By trying to pull pitches low and outside, he's only able to reach the middle of the field, as opposed to his desired left side.
So, where can all of this be corrected? It seems that patience may be a virtue that Dozier has gotten away from just a little bit in the early going this season. Instead of forcing pitchers back up and in where he’d like pitches, he’s obliged in swinging at balls not conducive to success with his current approach. With 12 walks through 32 games, he’s on pace for roughly 20 fewer than a season ago. The strikeout numbers are also down slightly, and it too looks like a reflection of not working counts. In 2017, Dozier was ahead in the count during 272 plate appearances, while also seeing 116 full counts. This season he’s on pace for just 223 plate appearances where he’s been ahead in the count, and only 91 times will he have pushed the count full.
As a leadoff hitter, Dozier has always been miscast. His home runs largely go as solo shots, and he doesn’t have the traditional mindset of forcing the opposing pitcher to work early. Preferring to hit in the one spot, it’s been a fine approach while he’s going good, but would regress significantly if this were to become the new norm. Getting back to being a choosier hitter in terms of pitch location is a must, and it should go a long way toward sparking a turnaround the rest of the way.
It’s relatively silly to ever expect Brian Dozier to be an on-base machine. His walks are largely generated on the premise of him being pitched around or carefully to, when he’s going well. If that’s not happening though, there’s a lot less reason for opposing pitchers to be afraid of challenging him. Dozier can get back to stinging the ball by working counts and getting pitches he’s more able to do something with.
We should see the change take place in due time, but the hope would that it would turn around sooner rather than later. Eduardo Escobar and Eddie Rosario are pacing the Twins lineup right now, but getting bigger contributions from a bopper like Dozier would be a very nice addition.
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