Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Brian Dozier's Next Accolade

What a week, and what a night. Brian Dozier sent walkoff blasts into the stands for the Twins. He had hopes of winning the Final Vote. He was beat out by a Royal, and then, he was the only one that mattered. Following his 8th inning blast, the Twins Dozier was the only second basemen in the All Star Game to record a hit. As great as those events have all been, Dozier's next accolade is in a different category altogether.

As the second half kicks off, Dozier and the Twins have their eyes on another prize. In the thick of the AL Central race, and in position to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, both Minnesota and Dozier have plenty to play for. Team accomplishments aside though, Dozier has the opportunity to push himself into the center of the MVP discussion.

For periods of time throughout the season, it's been fair to question whether Dozier could keep it up, or if what we were seeing was real. Now with 88 games under his belt, the question becomes whether he can finish what he's started.

As it stands, Brian Dozier has accumulated a 3.3 fWAR mark, good enough for 19th in Major League Baseball. In the American League, he is behind just Mike Trout, Jason Kipnis, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Lorenzo Cain, J.D. Martinez, and Miguel Cabrera. To put it lightly, that's some pretty elite company.

Current production has Dozier on pace for career highs in both batting average and slugging percentage. He's also looking at projections of 47 doubles, five triples, 35 home runs, 91 RBI, and 122 runs scored. Each of those totals would be career numbers for the Twins second basemen and it wouldn't be particularly close.

Now being the MVP requires extraordinary numbers. Brian Dozier has done great things for the Twins this season, but how does he stack up to 2014 AL MVP Mike Trout's production? Trout had 39 doubles, nine triples, 36 home runs, 111 RBI, and scored 115 runs. To put it into context, Dozier is right in the ballpark.

Of course Dozier isn't the only AL player having a great 2015, and there's still the uphill battle of continuing to produce. As mentioned above, Dozier trails seven players in fWAR at the halfway point. Of those, it's fair to argue that five players won't be on playoff teams (Indians, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Tigers). That gives the Twins and Dozier an opportunity to capitalize on.

A year ago, Dozier got off to a blistering start as well. His .242/.340/.436 slash line with 18 HR and 45 doubles was respectable in and of itself. The biggest difference in the 2015 first half is Dozier's slugging nearly .100 points higher, and while still hitting home runs, he's driving the ball for doubles as well. The slide Dozier went on last year may be related to the Home Run Derby, but regardless, it turned his season from elite to great.

Looking at some of his swing percentages, Dozier may actually be poised to continue his torrid pace. Sure, he's still pulling the ball a ton (a career high 62.4%) but he's also hitting line drives at a career best 24.6%. On top of that, Dozier's fly ball ratio while up, has contributed to a career best 14.7% HR/FB ratio (meaning just over 14% of his fly balls are deposited into the seats). The number helping Dozier the most though is his hard hit ratio. A career best 32.5%, the Twins second basemen is making great contact nearly one third of the time.

There's no doubt Dozier's MVP prospectus relies upon a perfect storm. First and foremost, he must continue the strong pace he has been on. That would appear doable as he has been steady rather than streaky all season. Secondly, the Twins absolutely need to make the playoffs (and overtaking the Royals would be a huge bonus). The MVP is an individual award, but should Dozier help bolster the lowly and unassuming Twins to the postseason, it would only boost his credentials. Finally, his feats would need to be acknowledged amongst those voting.

Should the first two scenarios play out, Dozier would likely be staring a Mike Trout sized showdown in the face. Trout is no doubt the best player in baseball, but is he the most valuable? Take him away from the Angels and they are still a playoff team. This season, Dozier has been the driving force behind the Twins, and may be exactly how to define MVP.

At the end of the day, er season, the scenarios will no doubt play themselves out. for now though, halfway in, Brian Dozier has positioned himself in a great spot to capitalize on an opportunity. While you sit there and wonder why his average isn't higher, make sure to kick back and realize it doesn't matter and you're watching one of the best in the game.

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