Monday, June 15, 2015

Brian Dozier Is Entering Elite Territory

Earlier this season, the Minnesota Twins signed second basemen Brian Dozier to a four-year, $20 million extension. In doing so, the Twins locked down their star second basemen into the foreseeable future, and bought out some of his arbitration years in the process. Now over a third of the way into the 2015 season, the contract that seemed to be a slam dunk, has turned out to be exactly that in the early going.

Despite Dozier being a fan favorite, and one of the Twins best players, there was some initial criticism of the Twins decision. While the contract did buy out arbitration years, the Twins failed to eat away at any free agency time Dozier would have. In doing the deal this way, Minnesota was locked into a $5 million average annual value until 2018, but Dozier would then be able to be immediately eligible for free agency.

Minnesota was seemingly banking on Dozier being a highly productive player over the course of the next four seasons, while hoping that the loyalty paid early on may offer them a hometown discount when and if that was needed in the long term. So far, both sides are putting their best foot forward.

Obviously it's still extremely early in the life of the contract, but Dozier has broken out even bigger in 2015. After looking the part of an All-Star in 2014, the Twins second basemen owns a .265/.346/.538 slash line this season, all career highs. He leads the team in HR (13), runs scored (51), on base percentage (.346), slugging (.538), on base plus slugging (.883), hits (63), doubles (20 which also leads the American League), triples (3), and walks (27).

It's pretty easy to suggest that Dozier is off to a good start, but to put it into even further context, where he may be going is all the more impressive. As Twins Daily's Nick Nelson notes, Dozier is on pace for 53 doubles, 34 HR, 133 runs scored. Those are marks no Major League Baseball second basemen has topped since 2011. Through just 61 games in 2015, Dozier has been worth 2.6 fWAR and is on pace for a 6.4 fWAR (previous career high is 4.8 in 2014).

Heading into the season, one of the biggest worries for Dozier was his tendency to sell out and pull the ball.  Tony Blengino looked at Dozier's pull tendencies for Fangraphs and suggested he may be about to quickly decline from a ceiling he had reached. So far, the Twins second basemen has stuck with the same process, and the results have followed suit.

In 2015, Dozier has pulled a career high 62.6% of the balls he has put in play. However, Dozier has also recorded a 30.5% hard hit percentage, which is also a career high. While Dozier is hitting just 14.4% of his balls in play to the opposite field (a career low), he's supplemented it by hitting a career high 26.3% of balls in play as line drives.

On top of being great across the board in 2015, Dozier has actually silenced critics in regards to one of his most common knocks. Discredited for having an often low average (which matters very little), Dozier has actually struck out a career high 19.9% this season while batting .21 points above his career mark.

At this point, it's pretty apparent Brian Dozier has been nothing short of spectacular at the plate for the Twins. He's been the power hitter they didn't know they had, and he's gotten it done in multiple facets of his plate appearances. On the defensive side of things, Dozier isn't too shabby either.

Errors haven't been an issue for Dozier since moving from shortstop to second base following the 2012 season. This season, he has just one in 61 games, putting him on pace for 2.5 on the season (would be a career low). He currently has been worth one DRS (defensive run saved) while being on pace for a career best 1.9 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating runs above average per 150 games).

Looking at what Dozier has been compared to the rest of the major league second basemen, he ranks behind only Jason Kipnis (3.7 fWAR) and Dee Gordon (2.8 fWAR). He is out-slugging both players by at least .034 points and leads all second basemen in home runs (next closest is Dustin Pedroia with 9).

Taking a top down view and assessing everything as a whole, Fangraphs puts Brian Dozier's current value in dollars at $21.2 million, or roughly $1 million more than the entirety of his four year contract. Whether you adhere to advanced analytics or not, the eye test has corroborated the numbers this season, Brian Dozier is very good. At this point, it looks like the Twins got a steal, and if this continues for even half of the contract, both parties are in a place to benefit greatly from one another.

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