Wednesday, January 29, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Brian Dozier

The 2013 season was the third in a line of disappointing, consecutive 90+ loss seasons.  There was some hope at the beginning of the 2013 season, but by the end of September, the Twins had lost far too many games and generally disappointed their fans.  One player actually started off very poorly, continuing his poor play from 2012.  Then, in June, he took off and became one of the Twins' best players and a potential long-term building block for the franchise. 

The 12th most important Twins player in 2014 is Brian Dozier.

Who is he? 

Brian Dozier was a top prospect heading into the 2012 season.  Well, he was a good prospect with a lot of hype behind him, I should say.  He had an excellent 2011 season, winning the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year award and vaulting himself from 8th-round afterthought to shortstop of the future.  Dozier debuted with the Twins after just a month at AAA in May of 2012.  Dozier struggled offensively and defensively, posting a disappointing 67 OPS+ and making 15 errors in just 84 games with the Twins. 

Dozier had retreated to afterthought status and faced a position change going into 2013.  Even so, Dozier won the second base job out of Spring Training.  After a couple of rough months at the plate, Dozier came on strong in June and continued that strong play through the remainder of the season.  He finished the 2013 season with 33 doubles, 18 home runs, 14 steals and a .244/.312/.414 line that actually would look much better if those pesky April and May months weren't included.  He played great defense throughout the season and finished with 3.8 WAR (2.8 if you use FanGraphs and want to be a bummer). 

He also demonstrated excellent hair in 2013, including a brilliant hair flip immortalized in this short video clip (click here).

Why is he important?

Dozier finished the 2013 season with a 100 OPS+.  That kind of average performance is exactly what this Twins team needs!  Hold up, unnecessary sarcasm aside, Dozier was well above-average after May.  His OPS+ was in the 120 range, from June on.  Those first two months count, but the sustained above-average performance from June to September is encouraging.  If the Twins can get a 110 OPS+ from their number 2 hitter, the offense could generate a lot of runs.

Of course, if that number 2 hitter is also the team's second baseman, then we can add positional value to the equation.  Dozier can handle the defensive responsibilities at second.  Depending on which metrics you prefer, Dozier's defense was either good or very good or better.  The eye-test is on Dozier's side, as he consistently made dynamic plays and also dynamically made consistent plays.  If the Twins suddenly have a 3-4 WAR second baseman, they have a real, complete asset on their hands.

Of course, if that 3-4 WAR second baseman is also 26 (27 in May) and cost-controlled for the next five seasons, then, my goodness, what a player that would be!  Dozier could be that player.  He'll need to prove that his 2013 wasn't a one-year fluke and that he is that dynamic and valuable player in 2014.

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I hate to be the one to always bring reality into focus for everyone, but are we getting just a little excited about two good months?  Dozier was awful through April and May, meaning he had been awful for about a full season.  Yet, he was given even more time in the lineup.  Now, he took advantage of those unearned at bats and I have to give him credit for that.  However, if you look closely at his season, there are major reasons to think that he could come crashing down to Earth. 

First, his power isn't real.  It just isn't.  I'd be shocked if Dozier doesn't retire with a career-high of 18 home runs, set in 2013.  Dozier hit 11 of his 18 home runs in June and August.  In those two months, his home run to fly ball ratio was over 16%.  His career rate is 8.7%.  Basically, his fly balls went out of the park at nearly double the rate he established in 2012 and carried through the other four months in 2013.  Unless Dozier can establish a new average rate, he won't hit home runs at that rate going forward.

Oh, and if you want to believe in Dozier, don't look at his lefty/righty splits.  They'll make you cry.  In 2013, he hit .328/.408/.570 against lefties, but just .219/.282/.367 against righties.  Guess which side of the platoon he faces nearly 3 times as often?  Most of his power comes against lefties, but he faces them only one-fourth of the time.  His BABIP against lefties in 2013?  .356.  Is that sustainable?  I doubt it.  Can the Twins still sell high?  

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

I let Petey go first this time, because I knew that he would focus on those few splits that make Dozier look bad.  First, his BABIP against lefties in 2013 was .356, that I cannot deny.  However, what was his BABIP against righties?  .253.  Is that sustainable?  I doubt it.  Dozier's performance against right-handed pitching could improve in 2014, if that BABIP heads north to a more reasonable figure.  If it does, he could best his 2013 season significantly. 

I know that some will point toward Dozier's varied offensive performance by month.  He was bad in April and May, average in July and September, and great in June and August.  Which two months matter most?  Even if Dozier alternates average and great months in 2014, I'll be happy.  Why exclude the first two months?  I choose to believe that Dozier changed something or made an adjustment and it carried him to his solid performance from June on.  That makes sense to me, as he didn't have another bad month after May.

Look, there are always stats that make a player look better or worse than they actually are.  All I know is that Dozier was great from June to September and he finished the season as a nearly 4-WAR second baseman despite a very slow start at the plate.  I'm not sure he's a 5-WAR player or anything like that, but I do feel comfortable relying on Dozier in 2014 and going forward. 

What to look for in '14:

If you see the Dozier of 2013, all is well.  If the error-prone, low-contact, low-walk, high-strikeout Dozier of 2012 starts to seep in, then sound the alarm.  2013 Dozier and 2012 Dozier were very different players.  2012 Dozier was a rookie and maybe 2013 Dozier learned a lot from 2012 Dozier's experiences.  If Dozier was just going through a natural rookie transition, then perhaps he'll continue to improve as he did in his second season.  The Mike Trout experience of immediate domination is super rare.  Most players develop gradually and Dozier should be no different. 

I'll be back tomorrow with the 11th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

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