Teams Adjust and Dozier Slumps
Dozier arrived with the big club and begin to hit above many analysts’ expectations. Through his first 49 plate appearances, he was hitting .298/.327/.489 with five extra base hits including two home runs. Regression, unfortunately, would come rapidly as he would be unable to sustain that early pace, sliding into a 6-for-41 (.146) skid since May 18.
This is not an unexpected turn of events for a young player. Anecdotally, when Boston’s rookie Will Middlebrooks pounded the ball all over New England, teammate, veteran and Sweatiest Man of the Year finalist Kevin Youkilis noted that while Middlebrooks’ production was impressive, the real challenge was yet to come.
"He's done a great job, and he's going to have to continue that because, where he hits now in the order, they're going to go at him. A couple times you've seen it, guys are trying to pitch him a little bit more. He's done a really good job of plate discipline. I know somebody said he didn't have any plate discipline. But I've seen him take a lot of good pitches.”
When Dozier, like Middlebrooks, first arrived to the major league level the book on him was rather thin. Like a tangled shoelace knot, teams tried to pick him apart by simply attacking the middle and seeing what works. Clearly, judging from Dozier’s Pitch F/X swing zone from Dozier’s first 11 games, opponents were throwing stuff over the heart of the plate a bit more frequently:
So, when Dozier demonstrated some success, teams adjusted their plan on him. While Dozier proved he could handle the stuff over the middle of the zone, the opposing teams’ advanced scout would soon begin to crack Dozier’s code. He would be pitched away more often. Pitchers would elevate their fastballs that he would chase. He would see more sliders off the plate that we would chase:
Dozier, who showed a decent amount of balance at the plate in the minors (151-to-168 walks-to-strikeouts), has not practiced the same restraint he had in the past. While he did not show a wellspring of discipline during his hot stretch, just a pair of walks compared to eight strikeouts, Dozier would have a 1-to-12 BB-to-K ratio during his most recent 44 plate appearances bringing his BB-to-K total to 3-to-20 in 93 plate appearances.
This, as Youkilis pointed out to the Boston media, was just the pitfalls of success:
"The better you do, they're going to try to find more ways to get you out. That's why there's guys in the stands getting paid to figure out how to get you out.”
To some degree, this is what happened to Chris Parmelee. Parmelee’s September outburst drew attention from opposing teams and they tailored a game plan that would stymie the first baseman this spring. Young hitters like Parmelee and Dozier need to adjust with the competition.
Specifically for Dozier, offensive progress means trying to re-calibrate his swing zone. If pitchers are going to continue to pound away, make sure you start going with that pitch instead of turning it over (CC: Danny Valencia). If they are trying to get you to fish, try to wait for something in the zone (which is always easier said than done). Being a successful everyday contributor means being able to make adjustments quickly.
Now we will see if Dozier has a response for his opponents.