Brian Dozier Pulls Himself Out Of Slump
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA TODAYDozier, as anyone who has followed the team even for a second could tell you, has transformed into a dead-pull hitter. Last year he led baseball in pull-happy tendencies by taking 62 percent of all batted balls to the left side. In fact, dating back to 2009, it was the pull-happiest season on record. Think about that: Over the past seven years, no one has been as much of a yanker as middle infielder Brian Dozier.
“Why don’t I hit more balls to right?” Dozier asked prior to the 2015 season in the midst of a conversation about his hitting success. “Why do you want to go out to right when the shortest distance is to left?”
With that, Dozier began a season in which he hammered out a career-high 28 home runs...but also fell off the face of the earth in the season’s dog days. Even as others in the organization have criticized it, he is unabashedly unapologetic about his approach. Not everyone was satisfied with his mindset at the plate. Manager Paul Molitor had discussed the topic with KSTP’s Darren Wolfson this spring, raising questions about how the team feels about Dozier’s offensive identity.
“It’s kind of maybe caused a little confusion as where his ultimate value offensively is going to be,” Molitor said. “Do I sit back and try to hit more home runs? Do I still try to spray the ball around and be a good base runner and score runs?”
From the Twins’ perspective, the second baseman/two-hitter isn’t suppose to pull the ball all the time. They see the position as someone who slaps a pitch the other way when there is a runner on first, moving that runner along even if it means recording an out at the plate. Dozier’s play was often viewed as selfish and the team’s announcers were quick to point it out as such.
Like many others, Tom Brunansky watched as Dozier struggled with pitches on the outer half, hitting just .185 in the second-half last year when pitchers went away. This past spring training Brunansky shared what he felt was ailing Dozier’s swing and what the pair were doing to rectify it. At no point did he discuss using the entire field or going the other way. Simply put, Brunansky wanted to see Dozier drive the ball on the outer half into any part of the field.
“On the middle-out pitch it’s like [the barrel] gets there and then it tries to finish really quick. We’ve talked about extension of the barrel through the zone a little bit more,” Brunansky said. “He’s always had great plate coverage, it’s just, on that pitch out there, he sees it, the barrel gets to it but it never finishes.”
The two would have long discussions on hitting philosophy and Dozier would just smile or roll his eyes playfully when they talk of using the entire field would come up. He emphasized that the prolonged slump of 2015 opened Dozier’s eyes to the possibility of altering his swing.
“He looks at me and laughs, and he looks at me and makes some comments,” Brunansky said about getting through to Dozier about modifying his swing. “But we have a relationship enough were we trust each other.”
When the season started, Dozier faced a new challenge: a defensive shift.
Teams moved their second baseman to the shortstop side of second base to combat Dozier’s pull-heavy tendencies and then would pepper the other side of the plate, hoping he would fall right into their trap. In 45 of his 106 April plate appearances, he came to the plate facing this alignment. Shift or no, Dozier did not hit: He batted .205 with the shift and he batted .214 without a shift.
By May, Dozier and Brunansky had found a new problem that they felt needed correcting. Film study had revealed that Dozier had moved up too close to the plate, causing him to pass on some better pitches on the inner-half.
"I didn't even know I was doing it, but I got into the habit of having my feet almost on the white line over the plate," Dozier told MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. "Some of the pitches that were close to hitting me, I realized were actually middle-in or over the plate. So mentally, it got me in the habit of trying to cheat on inside pitches. And I was swinging at balls way off the plate that I thought were on the black. So it was totally different than last year."
Even if it was mere inches in the batter’s box, cheating for pitches on the inner-half would cause him to overpull or miss the sweet spot of his bat on pitches inside that he would normally crush. Plus, it made the outer-half unhittable.
Despite the attempted adjustments, by May 23rd Minnesota Twins’ All-Star second baseman was hitting under .200 and relegated to the bench. His offensive season was an unsightly mess and it opened the floodgates for mounds of criticism what became viewed as a stubborn approach. With each plate appearance, more condemnation of his methods.
“It’s pull mode, (swinging) out of the zone and trying to do too much,” Ryan told reporters. “It’s basically everything we saw in August and September. They bunch you on the left side. He’s hitting pop-ups in the air, and they aren’t going over the fence like they were last year. That means he’s probably not getting a pitch he can handle.”
At the deepest, darkest depths of his season, Dozier turned a corner. On May 25th he was back in the starting lineup and tagged a hanging curve from Kansas City’s Dillon Gee into the second deck at Target Field. He followed that the next day with a deep double at Safeco off of Felix Hernandez. That kicked off ten consecutive games of reaching base and Dozier’s average began to rise.
Dozier, however, didn’t pull out of his funk by going the other way. He was able to find success by pulling the ball MORE.
Certainly Dozier saw success when he did drive a few pitches for extra base hits into the right-center gap. And he was gifted a double after flaring a ball down the right field line that could have been caught had the outfield not been shifted around to protect against his pull tendencies. Several of those pitches were down-and-away that Dozier actually drove -- a sign that the work with Brunansky to keep the barrel in the zone longer was paying off.
In short, Dozier is back to who he has been in the past. For the month of June, Dozier is hitting .333/.413/.580 while pulling the ball at a 63 percent clip. He has addressed the issue with his swing and it did not have to do with going the other way. The hand-wringing over his extreme pull tendencies needs to stop.