Without question, it will be an honor for him to smack dingers at his home stadium, with his home crowd, and even his own brother pitching to him, no less. The event, where the game's most prolific home run hitters get to sit on the grass, some with their families, and admire the powerful swings while listening to ESPN’s Chris Berman say "back" five hundred and sixty-five million times is a unique experience.
(Quick aside: A little word of advice that I'm fairly certain his brother Clay is aware of, the Twins’ second baseman likes to hit his home runs up in the zone:
So throw the ball there Clay, and try not to think about the fact that you will be GIF'd into eternity so everyone can laugh if you accidentally throw a pitch like 50 Cent.)
No doubt, being added to the Home Run Derby is a wonderful thing to brag about on his Linkedin page but as a fixture on at the top of the order, Dozier is expected to be a table-setter, not a home run hitter. Unfortunately for the sputtering Twins offense, he has been more of the former and less of the latter recently.
Dozier’s 65 runs scored still tops the American League but he has been plated 14 times over his last 29 games -- admittedly a product of those hitting behind him and not by his own inability to get on-base (.311 on-base percentage in that time). While he has been a solid on-base catalyst, he has not been able to carry the team like he did in the beginning of the year when he was jacking the jobs that landed him in the Home Run Derby. The power surge that helped him to 11 home runs by the end of May -- the 11th most in the AL at that time -- has slowed. What is going on?
The biggest change is his results against fastballs. Dozier, who once feasted on fastballs, is now struggling to make contact and turn them into hits, let alone home runs. From April to June 5 he hit .331/.424/.622 and 9 HRs in 152 plate appearances versus fastballs. Since then he has batted just .115/.227/.250 with two home runs in 65 plate appearances.
According to ESPN/trumedia's In-Play Heat Maps, Dozier has not performed as well against fastballs up in the zone (where he once thrived) since June 6:
Reviewing the batted ball performance, Dozier, who had once elevated fastballs thrown his direction (58% fly ball rate from April 1 to June 5), is now driving those same pitches into the ground (48% ground ball rate since June 5).
There are no real significant changes in approach by the pitchers, either. He still sees a hefty amount of fastballs, plenty still left up in the zone. His mechanics are essentially the same -- there is no loss of the Tom Brunansky-inspired timing mechanism -- but there is an uptick in the number of times he has pulled the ball, a plausible explanation for why he is having issues on putting the ball in play on the inner-half while cheating and pulling pitches on the outer-half where pitchers are targeting him.
Dozier understands the importance of success against the fastball at the major league level.
"You don't succeed at this level by hitting breaking balls," Dozier told Sports On Earth’s Howard Megdal last month. "You succeed by not missing fastballs. And that's what I had to really come to terms with. Instead of trying to hit the hanger, you stick to your plan. Those guys are good on the mound, but they're not superhuman. They make mistakes."
For the sake of the Twins’ offense, Dozier needs to start capitalizing on those mistakes again.
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