Dozier's Defensive Dilemma
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson- USA Today. Image of Brian DozierHis 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."
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.
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.
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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