Friday, January 8, 2016

What If Dozier Is Done?

Recently, Fangraphs released their yearly ZiPS projections for the Minnesota Twins. As with most years, the results weren't incredibly favorable. On the offensive side of things, the projections see Minnesota hitters in a relatively good light, it's the pitching where the most is left to be desired. There's one player though that provides a pretty big potential cause for concern.

Enter Brian Dozier.

On the surface, things aren't all that bad for Dozier. Projections have him as a repeat 3.0+ fWAR player with over 20 homers and 30 plus doubles. From a statistical standpoint, that would once again put the Twins second basemen among the best in the big leagues at the position. It's never really been about what Dozier has done though that is the concern. Instead, it's what may come, and when.

If there's something that stuck out to me more than anything in the ZiPS projections provided by Fangraphs, it goes well beyond any statistical numbers. Comparisons are a fickle science (and they really aren't a science at all), but the name next to Brian Dozier's made me pause. Dan Uggla.

Unfortunately, it isn't 2010. If it were, we'd be talking about the .287/.369/.508 slash line Uggla. The Florida Marlins (that's right not Miami) second basemen that launched 33 homers and drove in 105 runs. No, it's not 2010 though. Instead, this Dan Uggla is the guy who hasn't sniffed the Mendoza Line since 2013. He hasn't hit more than 10 doubles in a season since 2012, and a 16 home run output a season ago was about the only thing that's gone right for a guy who's bounced between three teams in two seasons.

So what does that have to do with Dozier? Fangraphs still sees the Twins second basemen contributing a .244/.318/.437 slash line. He's still projected to be one of the best players in the Twins lineup. Heck, Dozier is coming off of his first season an an All-Star. Again, it's probably not as much about what is, as what's potentially to come from the Mississippi product.

A season ago, Fangraphs wrote about the concerns for Brian Dozier as a hitter. He's consistently been a dead-pull guy at the plate, and barring adjustments, he's struggled for periods relying on fastballs. That may have not been any more prominent of a narrative than it was a season ago.

In 2015, Dozier pulled a ridiculous 60.2% of balls he put in play. using the opposite field 19.7% of the time during his career, his 15.6% in 2015 was a new low. What Dozier did do a season ago was strike the ball more effectively, generating "hard" contract 29% of the time. Regardless of what his efforts generated, Dozier experienced a different approach by opposing pitchers for the first time in his career.

After seeing less than 60% of pitches be fastballs for the first time in 2014, pitchers threw Dozier a career low 53.2% pitches of that variety. He was also dealt a career high 11.3% of pitches registering as changeups. A significant shift in philosophy when it comes to getting Dozier out, pitchers saw what could be the beginning of a concerning trend for the Twins All-Star second basemen.

Having made some adjustments, but undoubtedly going through growing pains, Dozier struggled. For the second season in a row, he faded down the stretch, but it's the final numbers that may be the most concerning. Being pitched differently, Dozier owned a 21.0% strikeout rate, the highest of his career, and a 4% jump from where he was during his debut season of 2012. As expected with the increased strikeout rate, Dozier whiffed a career high 148 times, and set a new Twins record (don't worry, Miguel Sano will likely break it in 2016). In and of itself, that's an issue. Combined with the fact that Dozier walked just 61 times, generating an 8.7% walk rate (a nearly 4% drop from 2014), it was a less than perfect storm.

Steamer projections actually see Dozier producing a better average and on-base percentage in the year ahead, albeit with decreased power totals, but he'll be entering his age 29 season. Five years in the big leagues under his belt, it's fair to assume there's one or two more worth of solid production in him. What's unfortunate is that leaves the Twins with a question in 2018.

A season ago, Minnesota inked Dozier to a four-year, $20 million extension. It's a low risk deal that bought out arbitration years from the Twins best player. Should things play out as they are trending however, Minnesota may be looking at needing to re-up with a player that has exhausted what capable production, and going forward is exactly as predicted.

For now, the toughest part of the equation is what to do with the prospect waiting in the wings, Jorge Polanco. No doubt not a shortstop (seriously look at those numbers), Polanco is a major league ready bat that could be counted on at second base. The Twins don't have room for him, and asking him to bide his time for two more years could stunt development. As a trade chip, there's no doubt positive there, but that also leaves the Twins exposed in regards to Dozier's situation.

In short, Brian Dozier is going to remain a productive member of the Twins (and arguably one of the team's best players) for at least the next year. What could happen beyond that point is a scary downturn that the Atlanta Braves know about all too well. Dozier has had the deck stacked against him before, but unless pitches continue to come in high and tight, adjust to the slow paced, corner dusting changeup is going to need to be his next feat.

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