Brian Dozier Is Enjoying Another Second-Half Surge
There wasn't a whole lot worth remembering with regard to the Minnesota Twins' 2016 season. Enduring a 103-loss campaign will do that to you.
The one bright spot through it all, though, was a tremendous performance in the power department from Brian Dozier. The veteran second baseman enjoyed a career year that included a .268/.340/.546 triple slash, which helped lead to a 131 wRC+ in 691 plate appearances. He also smacked 42 homers, putting him among the single-season all-time leaders in this category at his position.
However, Dozier was only able to accomplish this because of a Giancarlo Stanton-esque power surge in the second half. After hitting 14 bombs prior to the midsummer classic, he cranked 28 over the wall to break the 40-homer mark.
While this season's power surge hasn't been on that same level, Dozier has used a quietly tremendous second half to get his 2017 back on track, along with keeping the Twins in playoff contention as the calendar flips to September.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
When we say Dozier's performance following the 2016 All-Star break was crazy, we weren't lying. Check out how his OPS, Isolated Power (ISO), BABIP, wOBA, and wRC+ compared between the first and second half.
As great as this run was, it was hard to believe he'd be able to sustain this production over a full season's worth of plate appearances. After all, he had never posted an ISO higher than .209 or hit more than 28 homers in a single season heading into 2016. So, considering he posted a .354 ISO with 28 homers in the second half, it was only natural to think that he'd come back down to Earth a bit.
That's what he did prior to this year's All-Star break. The below table takes a look at the same stats from above to note the difference between these two periods of time.
He's only hit 15 homers so far in the second half, which makes reaching last year's number unlikely, but he's actually been slightly better this time around with regard to overall production. Dozier's offensive profile is rather similar when looking at his statistics from a year-to-year basis, but there is one noticeable change going on with him this season.
Where Improvements Have Been Made
One of the consistent parts of Dozier's game is his ability to take a walk and generally limit strikeouts despite his power potential. Entering 2017, the veteran boasted a 9.1% walk rate and 19.3% strikeout rate for his career.
That walk rate has mostly been supported by his 2014 season, which produced a single-season career-high mark of 12.6%. He failed to get above 9.0% in each of the following two seasons, but is currently on track to break that streak thanks to his current 11.0% walk rate. And while his 20.1% strikeout rate is a little higher than his career mark heading into 2017, it's still pretty good -- of the 22 qualified hitters with 30-plus homers at this point, only 7 have a strikeout rate lower than Dozier's.
What has been the driving factor for this spike in walk rate is a drastic decrease in chase rate (O-Swing%). The below table compares his chase rate, swings on pitches inside the strike zone (Z-Swing%), and the corresponding contact rates since 2015, which have been the three most powerful seasons of Dozier's career.
That drop in chase rate has also been accompanied by a lower contact rate on balls outside of the strike zone, and since his contact rate on strikes hasn't changed nearly as much, we can presume that he's at least spending more of his time offering at pitches that give him a higher chance of success.
Something else that should be noted is his consistency with regard to quality of contact. While his current 33.9% hard-hit rate is slightly below the 34.7% mark he posted last year, there hasn't been a huge difference between the first half and the second half. In 2016, this number went from 28.6% prior to the All-Star break to 41.8% afterwards, but it's been more consistent this year (33.1% in first half, 35.3% in second half).
Although his 41.7% fly-ball rate has taken a bit of a dive (47.7% in 2016), he's making the most of the pitches he is lifting. After posting a 39.5% hard-hit rate on fly balls in 2016, he's on track to once again set another single-season career high (43.2%). It's also encouraging that his .609 ISO for this batted-ball event is at least in the same ballpark (pun intended) as the .637 mark he produced just a year ago.
A big question heading into this season for Dozier was what his "normal" would be. We've seen two versions of himself -- the guy who can consistently hit around 25 homers, and the other than could surpass 40 dingers. While it was basically a lock that he'd regress from that 2016 campaign, it appears as if he'll fall in the middle of these two extremes with regard to his production.
And, once again, he can thank a tremendous second half for getting him to this point with about a month left to play in the regular season.