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Dozier's Defensive Dilemma

Brian Dozier was able to call himself an All-Star for the first time in 2015. He's gained national attention after competing in the 2014 Home Run Derby and after hitting a home run to help the American League win the 2015 All-Star Game. He's slowly become one of the Twins most valuable players as he has entrenched himself near the top of the team's line-up.
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson- USA Today. Image of Brian Dozier
His value to the organization has been clear in recent years. He's ranked in the team's top three for rWAR from 2013-2015 and he led the team in that category in 2014. Dozier has also led the team in home runs in each year during that stretch.

For Twins fans, it's easy to get excited about his play. His presence in the line-up has been a jolt the team has needed at different portions of the season. However, offense is only one part of the game and his defensive game has been in decline.

As Dozier started his rise to stardom in the Twins line-up, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) started to use a defensive index to help decide portions of the Rawlings Gold Gloves.

According to the SABR website: "The SABR Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts. The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by noted sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended built by SABR Defensive Committee member Chris Dial. The two metrics included in the SDI originating from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by committee member Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating."

2013 Season
By the end of the 2013 season, Dozier ranked as the third best second baseman in the American League according to the SABR Defensive Index (SDI). Dustin Pedroia won the Gold Glove and compiled an 11.6 SDI. Dozier's 5.5 SDI was 1.4 points behind Ian Kinsler for second place. There were only seven second basemen that scored in positive territory on the SDI.

In 734 chances at second, he was charged with six errors for a .992 fielding percentage, a career-best mark. This was seven points higher than the league average for second basemen. However, defense goes deeper than fielding percentage. His defensive runs saved above average (Rdrs) was nine, another career high. Some other Sabermetric fielding numbers weren't as kind to him. His Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average (Rtot) was -2.

2013 was his best defensive season as a big leaguer and it was Dozier's first full season playing second base so this was quite the remarkable feat.

2014 Season
Dozier dropped down the SDI rankings in 2014 as Pedroia won his second consecutive AL Gold Glove. Ian Kinsler actually ranked higher than Pedroia in the final SDI rankings and Howie Kendrick rounded out the top three. Dozier slipped all the way to eighth place in the American League with a -0.7 SDI, the sixth worse mark out of qualifying second basemen.

During his second season at second base, Dozier showed some regression as he was charged with 15 errors in 751 chances. His .980 fielding percentage was four points lower than the league average. Dozier's Rdrs dropped 9 runs and his Rtot dipped nine 10 runs from -2 to -12.

Although his defense wasn't at the bottom of the league, there was a clear decline from the positive numbers he compiled in 2013. He would need to make some changes going into 2015 because he was trending in the wrong direction.

2015 Season
For the first time in the SDI era, a second baseman not in the top two was awarded the Gold Glove. Jose Altuve's 4.6 SDI ranking was less than half of the league leader Ian Kinsler (10.7 SDI) but Altuve was still awarded the top defensive award. Dozier continued his decline to the bottom of the league as he finished with a -6.1 SDI and only ranked ahead of two qualified players, Robinson Cano and Johnny Giavotella.

Dozier's fielding percentage went back up to .990 (8 errors in 767 chances) while the league average was a .983 fielding percentage. However some of his other numbers compared differently when looking at his previous seasons. His Rdrs was negative for the first time as he posted a -5 mark but his Rtot was slightly better at -8.

There is some hope for Dozier. At the end of the 2014 season, Altuve was the lowest ranking second baseman according to SDI with a -10.2. This mark was 2.5 points lower than the competition. In one season, Altuve improved by 14.8 SDI points and was rewarded with the Gold Glove.

Dozier makes some tremendously athletic plays but some of this results from him not being able to get to balls that are near the edge of his range. The best second basemen made the routine plays look easy and can stretch their range to meet a specific play.

If Dozier wants to be considered one of the best second basemen in the game, his defense is his biggest weakness. He has the opportunity to improve, and solving this defensive dilemma could help the club to continue trending in the right direction.

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26 Comments

How many games did Dozier play in his best season versus last year?

 

The eyeball test tells me that Dozier tends to wear down about All Star break.

 

It makes me wonder if Mr. Dozier would benefit from a few more days off.

    • glunn, Reider and wsnydes like this

It's puzzling that a player that's younger than Kinsler and Pedroia is getting worse in defensive metrics. It would be interesting to understand if the Twins have been positioning him any differently. They had an inexperienced 1B beside him in '14 and were making more IF shifts in '15 under Molitor. 

    • glunn likes this

Maybe this is an indication that a trade could be a possibility...not this year, but after the 2016 season.  With Polanco waiting in the wings it's an interesting consideration.

    • glunn, beckmt, Don't Feed the Greed Guy and 1 other like this

 

How many games did Dozier play in his best season versus last year?

 

The eyeball test tells me that Dozier tends to wear down about All Star break.

 

It makes me wonder if Mr. Dozier would benefit from a few more days off.

 

I think this is a really interesting point. Most of the focus has been on his offensive decline late in the season. That's certainly glaring: a drop from .841 to .631 in OPS 1st to 2nd half last year, and from 19 HR to 9.

 

But what if this decline was health related? What if he was playing banged up? Wouldn't that affect his fielding as well?

 

Before I tried to interpret the decline in his season by season fielding stats, I'd want to see them broken down month by month, or at least 1st half vs. 2nd half. 

 

If he fielded well in the first half of the season and then declined, I'd speculate it was health related and be optimistic he could rebound.If not, I'd speculate the three year arc was meaningful.

 

Anyone know where to find split stats for fielding?

 

Either way, a few more days off seems a wise precaution.

    • glunn likes this
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nicksaviking
Dec 28 2015 12:30 PM

"Dozier makes some tremendously athletic plays but some of this results from him not being able to get to balls that are near the edge of his range."

 

This makes total sense to me just using the eyeball test last year. However I think Dozier actually got to most of these balls near the edge of his range, but one recurring image of Dozier for me last year is him getting to a ball but not making a throw. Either he couldn't make a clean transfer or most often, he had no chance of beating the base runner so he held onto the ball.

 

I've always been a bit of a skeptic on some of the defensive metrics as I just find it hard to believe that they can account for the numerous un-thought of variables. They're definitely useful and I don't discount them, but can anyone tell me if any of them can differentiate between Dozier making a play at the edge of his range against Ryan Howard instead of Billy Hamilton?

    • glunn, ScrapTheNickname, bluechipper and 3 others like this

Dozier's winters in Haiti don't seem to provide for his physical stamina in the second half of the season. While fulfilling to him, it isn't providing well for his being in good enough shape to last a whole season. Perhaps he should hang with Berrios some and get in condition that might help him as a ball player in his ball playing years.

I think dozier's love of the slide into pop up throw significantly limits his range compared to running through the ball or diving. However he's more on balance for his throws so i dunno what the net is.
    • glunn and nicksaviking like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Dec 28 2015 03:14 PM
With the swings from year to year on established players it makes me question the reliability of the defensive metrics.
    • Seth Stohs, scottz, gil4 and 2 others like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Dec 28 2015 03:43 PM

 

I think dozier's love of the slide into pop up throw significantly limits his range compared to running through the ball or diving. However he's more on balance for his throws so i dunno what the net is.

Right. Sometimes you just need to accept a guy's quirks as long as he's getting the job done.

    • glunn likes this

I think Dozier is one of the top defensive 2B in baseball. 

 

I also think he should take more games off. 

    • glunn and Reider like this

I think you have to be really careful with defensive stats - we talked a lot about this last year with the Hunter signing.Depending on what defensive stat you want to use, he might be good or bad - fangraphs UZR went from negative to positive last year while b-r went from positive to neutral.And a lot of people have warned about the reliability of one years worth of defensive data, as well.

 

A WSJ article last year put a lot of this into perspective: "Inside-Edge, a baseball analytics company that provides data to major-league teams, brings a big-data approach to scouting. Instead of just using a spray chart to calculate a player’s defensive value, their scouts watch every single play from every single team—twice. And by taking positioning into account in grading the difficulty of plays, Inside-Edge scouts not only found that the range of many players was being overstated, but so too was the overall importance of defense in preventing runs.

 

The major revelation: The quality of a fielder doesn’t matter on most plays. Inside-Edge partner Kenny Kendrena says 24% of plays are almost always hits and 62% are almost always outs. The remaining plays where defenders can really distinguish themselves are so infrequent, he said, that the success in converting them can distort a fielder’s true skill."

 

I think Dozier's defense at second base is good enough - he passes the eye test but isn't a gold glover. 

    • glunn, gil4, kab21 and 1 other like this
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jorgenswest
Dec 28 2015 04:20 PM
The 4% should be discounted. for example it is 40 points of batting average. We have also seen how defense has helped the Royals.

It is important to avoid any players who cut into the 62% that are almost always outs. When the Twins had Kubel, Willingham, Colabello, Parmelee and Arcia in the outfield a few years back, they weren't getting those 62%.

Dozier is likely getting most of the 62% and some of that extra 4%. The outfield of 2013-2014 was a liability and a dilemma. Dozier isn't either.
    • glunn and h2oface like this
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EddieMatthews
Dec 28 2015 04:45 PM

It's not saber metrics, but it sells tickets.  When a guy can hammer a high fastball into the left field stands, or make a sliding or diving stop of a hard smash and get the out, the fans love it.  That's why they vote on their all star ballot for a guy like Dozier.  

 

Does it add to the win column?  Good question.  It's obvious that Dozier (and Plouffe for that matter) have great fan support despite their K-ratio, low batting average, and BARISP.  It gets tough for the management to address the need to build a quality roster when it means that developing "stars" power in the short term may not meet with developing a winning lineup in the longterm.  

 

So should we trade Dozier or Plouffe or Gibson to make the team stronger?  Of course.  Just be careful how high a pedestal they have been placed on the prior year.

    • glunn and Platoon like this

 

The major revelation: The quality of a fielder doesn’t matter on most plays. Inside-Edge partner Kenny Kendrena says 24% of plays are almost always hits and 62% are almost always outs. The remaining plays where defenders can really distinguish themselves are so infrequent, he said, that the success in converting them can distort a fielder’s true skill."

 

 

A different way of looking at this is 12% of the plays are then determined by fielders capabilities.  In a typical (?) game, 40 AB with 10Ks means 30 balls in play.  12% of that is about 4 plays / game.  This is about 640 plays per year.  How many times is a close game decided on one play made or not made.  I think it is quite a few.  As an example the 2015 World Series outcome is probably changed based on 3 plays that the Mets failed to make.  Cespedes not catching the inside the park home run leading off the 1st game.  Murphy's error.  Lucas Duda's throwing error.  There is also the failure to pick off the runner at 2nd in one of the games.  

 

Over a course of the 162 game season, winning 10 games is very significant.  

    • glunn, Blake and Platoon like this

 

A different way of looking at this is 12% of the plays are then determined by fielders capabilities.  In a typical (?) game, 40 AB with 10Ks means 30 balls in play.  12% of that is about 4 plays / game.  This is about 640 plays per year.  How many times is a close game decided on one play made or not made.  I think it is quite a few.  As an example the 2015 World Series outcome is probably changed based on 3 plays that the Mets failed to make.  Cespedes not catching the inside the park home run leading off the 1st game.  Murphy's error.  Lucas Duda's throwing error.  There is also the failure to pick off the runner at 2nd in one of the games.  

 

Over a course of the 162 game season, winning 10 games is very significant.  

The article addresses that a bit - "Inside-Edge credits major-league teams for saving 179 hits over what was expected with an excellent play as of Tuesday, while bad defense was blamed for allowing 156 hits that normally would be outs.

But that seems like a drop in the bucket given that position players have had 76,112 total chances this season. Baseball’s best defensive team, the Houston Astros, has saved only 25 hits all season because of the skill of its defenders, according to Inside-Edge."

    • glunn likes this
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stringer bell
Dec 28 2015 09:49 PM

I am a Twins fan and a huge Dozier fan. I saw his defense in 2013 as outstanding and SDI agreed, I viewed his defense in '14 as much less solid mostly because he made errors on plays he should have made (and if someone questions this I will explain). In 2015, I thought Dozier's defense was pretty good, he made a few less "wow" plays, but committed fewer errors. One factor in this plummeting rating might be shifting. Because he is overshifted, he may not get to balls that fall in a traditional zone for an infielder.

 

My opinion is that Dozier is, and has been since moving to second base, a solid defensive player, but probably not elite. This specific rating shows a rapidly declining player and I haven't seen that.

    • glunn and Reider like this

 

Dozier's winters in Haiti don't seem to provide for his physical stamina in the second half of the season. While fulfilling to him, it isn't providing well for his being in good enough shape to last a whole season. Perhaps he should hang with Berrios some and get in condition that might help him as a ball player in his ball playing years.

 

He spends a week building houses and digging drainage ditches for underprivileged people in the world. Pretty sure that's a decent workout. 

    • ChiTownTwinsFan, ashburyjohn, jorgenswest and 5 others like this

 

I think Dozier is one of the top defensive 2B in baseball. 

 

I also think he should take more games off. 

Agreed on both counts.

 

I think some metrics are flat out bogus in terms of the game on the field, especially if they indicate that Dozier's play has become a dilemma of any sort.

    • Riverbrian likes this

 

He spends a week building houses and digging drainage ditches for underprivileged people in the world. Pretty sure that's a decent workout. 

 

Much better than a planned, focused and regular training regimen, you think?. I understand, and I have done something similar a couple different winters after the dreadful 2010 Haiti quake. With the trip there, the different eating and water intake, I would say not as decent a "workout" as you might think, unless you are speaking from experience instead of supposition. Quite a bit of downtime waiting for supplies (which always seemed to be a problem), etc. But then, the 3-4 weeks our group spent could be a bit different deal, but the building programs I was exposed to are all pretty similar. I think it is honorable, and certainly rewarding, just not what he needs to be doing to extend his ability to not fade so drastically as the year moves on, and certainly not a cardio workout. I don't think he is doing it this year, anway (I recall reading somewhere). Point is, he can do that for years and years after his baseball career is over. It is surely an honorable thing to participate in. The chimes are sounding for doing something different in the off season, as what he has been doing (and what some other teammates are doing, including folks like Mauer, Hughes, and Perkins) is not helping him/them last a whole season.

I think Dozier is a decent second baseman. I know decent isn't a saber metric term, but it's close. I think his diving for everything except pop ups, makes his range appear greater than it is. His arm is average. He is aggressive, and never takes a play off. I do think he struggled coming up with poor throws on steals last year. There were definitely a few that got away. Hitting? Either he will have to change his approach, or he will have to square up an extremely high percentage of the very few FB up in the zone he sees. If neither happens, you will see far more of post ASG Dozier than you would like to. There was another post about HR's which seemed to indicate that he would replicate his last two years of high 20's HR's. I just can't see that happening.
    • glunn and Todd_L like this
For years (long before sabrmetrics) I always believed that you could lump fielders into three categories: 1) elite difference makers which comprise maybe 15%. 2) guys that are difference makers because that are that bad with the glove (again about 15%). And 3) everybody else who are so similar that over the course of a season they will have roughly the same impact with the glove.

Interesting that the Twins had nobody in the elite category and maybe two in the bad category (Hunter and Susuki and they were close to the middle group)
Do these metrics take into account where the fielder is positioned? Or is 2nd base a fixed starting position and the range goes x amount left or right? I think that can skew results. If he is shading a guy 3 steps right and the play is to his left and he doesn't make it that is not due to range or ability, but to situational positioning. How is that accounted for?
    • glunn likes this

What I find interesting, is that the dip in his numbers relate to the Twins change in shifting defense.  That is where I question how the metrics fully work.  Do they measure how far the player actually moved from where they started or based on where a player normally would start a play at.  I find it strange that a player can go from 3rd best to 3rd worst in 2 seasons and still in prime of career.  

I also wonder if the metrics take into account the couple of times he cut a ball off going up the middle and threw a guy out at home.  Also, does it take into account when a ball is stopped but an out not made, but prevented a runner from scoring, or from going first to third.

I am not saying Dozier is the best in the league, and the eye test would back up a little regression in defense, but still question the defense metrics.   

    • glunn, nicksaviking, h2oface and 1 other like this

I can only think of two Twins players who impressed me defensively last season. Dozier and Rosario.

 

Dozier was fantastic the first half of the season, both offensively and defensively. After the All-Star break, he didn't seem like the same player. But neither did Perkins or Hunter (at times). After the All-Star break, Dozier was still pretty solid defensively, he just seemed to make a couple of cringe worthy errors (based on the games I watched). I don't know if he was mentally fatigued or both mentally and physically exhausted, but I'm not worried about his defense at all. His skills didn't decline. He didn't lose any tools. I agree with many other fans. It's possible that he either needs to change his off season training (which I"m sure is fine, he seems like a hard worker) or he needs more days off throughout the season or both.

 

Of course Dozier doesn't have the best range or strongest arm, that's why he's not playing short stop! But for playing second base, he does have pretty good range and he does have a pretty good arm. Dozier has this special ability to basically suck up any ball that enters his range. And not only does he pretty much stop every ball that enters his zone, but he keeps his body stable throughout the entire process and puts himself in a great position to make a good throw to first base.

 

It wasn't until 2013/2014 where Dozier really started to impress me. In 2013 I noticed defensive improvement. In 2014 I thought he was fantastic. And of course in 2015 I thought he was fantastic as well. Do not bet your money against his defense in 2016. At least not in the first half of the season. Offensively, it's fair to question whether or not he'll hit home runs in 2016, but even so, I wouldn't push the panic button there yet either.

 

Much better than a planned, focused and regular training regimen, you think?. I understand, and I have done something similar a couple different winters after the dreadful 2010 Haiti quake. With the trip there, the different eating and water intake, I would say not as decent a "workout" as you might think, unless you are speaking from experience instead of supposition. Quite a bit of downtime waiting for supplies (which always seemed to be a problem), etc. But then, the 3-4 weeks our group spent could be a bit different deal, but the building programs I was exposed to are all pretty similar. I think it is honorable, and certainly rewarding, just not what he needs to be doing to extend his ability to not fade so drastically as the year moves on, and certainly not a cardio workout. I don't think he is doing it this year, anway (I recall reading somewhere). Point is, he can do that for years and years after his baseball career is over. It is surely an honorable thing to participate in. The chimes are sounding for doing something different in the off season, as what he has been doing (and what some other teammates are doing, including folks like Mauer, Hughes, and Perkins) is not helping him/them last a whole season.

 

How long does he actually spend there?  The off-season is nearly 5 months long.  You are kidding yourself if you think right as the off-season starts they go into training mode for next season.  If he spends 2 weeks in Haiti it sure beats the guys who go on 2-3 or more weeks in Mexico or the Caribbean.  With little to no free time during a grueling 6 month season I would guess that most major leaguers, especially veterans, spend a lot more time vacationing-lounging-family time than they do training and thinking about baseball.  As easy of us to say...hey he's making $8 million it should be baseball time all the time, the reality that it isn't.


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