Over the weekend, I got a text from an acquaintance that simply stated, "Why is everyone so excited about a guy who can't hit .250?" I just assumed this was an anti-Joe Mauer text, but thinking more closely, I realized that he was referring to Brian Dozier.
Wait, of all the players on the Twins this year, is there a guy less rip-worthy than Dozier? Phil Hughes and Eduardo Escobar are in his neighborhood, but Dozier has been one of the best players in the entire league. He came into this week fifth in AL fWAR among position players. He's been a good hitter, a good fielder and a good baserunner. Why would this former friend of mine question his performance like that? In a text no less!
If I had to explain for him, I guess the batting average is a little hard to reconcile. Dozier owns a career .241 batting average with over 1300 plate appearances under his belt. It appears that while Dozier is a valuable hitter, he's likely to average about one hit per four at-bats. Of course, many of his plate appearances end with him not making an out and he has solid power, so does the batting average really matter that much?
He was in the top 25 in on-base percentage and slugging percentage at the beginning of this week; he clearly knows what he's doing with a bat. The odd thing is that he has greatly increased his power and on-base skills in 2014, but his contact has not improved. Maybe it will come later?
Dozier's career BABIP (batting average on balls in play, basically his batting average if you take out home runs, strikeouts and sacrifice flies) is .269. Among active players, that ranks 13th from last. Among the 12 players with lower BABIPs, none combine Dozier's power and speed.
It's odd that Dozier's BABIP is so low, but it doesn't seem reasonable to use that as a data point to explain a future spike in batting average. While the league does generally have a BABIP around .300, research shows that players establish their own baselines. Dozier may always be a low BABIP player.
Dozier's BABIP helps to explain his low batting average, but explaining his low BABIP is challenging. Watching him play, he does hit the ball hard. He has power. He's not slow. He sees the ball well, as evidenced by his 14% walk rate.
His batted ball rates aren't crazy either. His line drive rate is right about league-average. While his fly ball rate is somewhat higher than average, that doesn't fully explain why his BABIP and BA are so low. He does pop up a lot, about 14% of the times he makes contact, about four points higher than league-average. While that might explain some of his BABIP issues, it doesn't seem like enough to get the entire picture.
The real question is: who cares? Using FanGraphs' wRC+, Dozier ranks in the top 35 in all of baseball. wRC+ basically measures a player's total offensive value and then weighs it to compare with the league average while also adjusting for the league, era and different parks. It's a great stat and Dozier is among the best in baseball by that measure. If Dozier is a great hitter, is it worth nitpicking? Shouldn't we focus on more fun things?
My primary goal is to put the "fun" in FUNBaseball. Dozier's odd contact ability leads to some interesting factoids that can be easily found if you have Baseball Reference's Play Index and a disproportionate amount of free time to spend on such an endeavor. With that said, here are a few interesting Dozier-related items I scrounged up.
Dozier is currently hitting below .250 and is on pace for a roughly 6 WAR season. If he can maintain those numbers, he'll become just the 12th player in MLB history to post a 6 WAR, sub-.250 BA season. He'd join Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr., Ron Santo, Mike Schmidt and Barry Bonds (oops, just kidding).
Andrelton Simmons accomplished this feat in 2013, but did so with one of the finest defensive seasons in MLB history. In fact, if Dozier maintains his current WAR pace, he'd post a 6 WAR season with a sub-1 defensive WAR ranking. None of the 11 players on this list had a defensive WAR lower than 1.5.
Dozier is also on pace for a 30 home run and 30 stolen base season. If he can do that with a sub-.250 batting average, he'd be the first player to ever put up that combination of numbers. Oh, you hate round numbers and arbitrary starting points? Fine.
I lowered the threshold to 20/20, a feat Dozier should reach easily. Only 22 players have hit below .250 and posted a 20/20 season. Chris Young, B.J. Upton, Howard Johnson, Jimmy Rollins and Mike Cameron all did it twice. Bo Jackson and Eric Davis, two of my favorite players, are on the list. That same Mike Schmidt season from the last paragraph is there again. Dozier would be the only one to go 30/30 though. I'm trying to tell you that Brian Dozier is better than Mike Schmidt.
Dozier is also on pace for 100 walks and 100 strikeouts. Only 30 players in MLB history have hit below .250 with 100 strikeouts and 100 walks. Adam Dunn has done it five times. Mickey Tettleton did it four times AND he was in Little Big League. Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison each accomplished this feat. And, well I'll be, there's that Mike Schmidt season again. Do you think Dozier can grow a mustache?
Not every Dozier factoid is batting average-reliant. Dozier is currently slugging .450 but on pace for 30 home runs. Only 12 players have ever hit 30 home runs with a sub-.450 slugging percentage. Sadly, Mike Schmidt did not make this list. Dave Kingman did three times though! Adam Dunn's back for this one too! Hawk Harrelson's there too, somehow making the list a lot more annoying and antagonistic. Dozier is on pace for 25 doubles, which would be more than any of the 12 on this list.
Due to his spot in the lineup, Dozier could finish the season with 30 home runs and only 75 RBI. Only 17 players have done this in MLB history. Alfonso Soriano and Hanley Ramirez lead this list with 33 bombs. Somehow, Rob Deer and Felix Mantilla drove in just 64 runs in seasons when they hit over 30 home runs. I think Dozier avoids this list. If you jump to 80 RBI, the list jumps to 37 players. Which is still pretty low...I guess.
I think I've done a pretty decent job explaining why everyone is excited about a guy with a .250 batting average. First, he's a great hitter even with that low batting average. Second, he's a walking statistical anomaly. Third, he's Mike Schmidt. If those three things aren't enough for you, then I'm not sure you can be convinced.