As a scrappy, gritty, [insert dog-whistle term here] underdog who plays the right way, Brian Dozier hasn't seen much attention from the media. It probably doesn't help that he plays for the Twins, whose lucky hot start has already begun to fade — the Royals have passed them in the AL Central standings, and they now have a 17.5% chance of making the playoffs. His style of play and team notwithstanding, though, Dozier's become one of the better players in the game.
Among qualified second baseman, Dozier's 145 wRC+ ranks second, behind the surprising Jason Kipnis. When measured by WAR, Dozier moves down a place, his 2.6 wins trailing only Kipnis and the also-surprising Dee Gordon. (Second base has evidently been the breakout position for 2015.) So how has the man who never appeared on a top prospect list pulled this off?
The transformation has very little to do with plate discipline: Dozier's 2015 walk and strikeout rates (9.9% and 19.9%, respectively) haven't moved much from the preceding years, in which they sat at 9.3% and 18.4%, respectively. He also hasn't accumulated significantly more hits on balls in play — the .287 BABIP he currently sports doesn't improve much upon the .272 mark he put up heretofore. No, Dozier's breakout comes from one element of his game: power.
In the minors, Dozier never had much clout. Across four seasons, he compiled a .115 ISO, which translated to a -0.20 ISO z-score (from Chris St. John's JAVIER). His first taste of big-league action saw him stick to that trend, posting a .098 ISO in 346 plate appearances to conclude 2012. Then, he decided to switch things up. Over 2013 and 2014, his .172 ISO ranked a respectable 43rd in the majors, ahead of guys like Robinson Cano and Buster Posey.
A few different factors caused this change. First, Dozier put the ball on the ground a lot less often; his ground ball rate fell from 41.2% to 37.5%. He also started smacking the ball to left to a much greater extent, with a 48.1 Pull% that dwarfed his 2012 figure of 39.6%. Breaking down the former mark by batted-ball type reveals an interesting split: Only 32.8% of his fly balls went with his swing, but 49.7% of his line drives did — a much higher number than before, when he pulled 34.6% of them. This distribution helped him rack up extra-base hits on liners, in addition to the home runs he knocked on flies. And twelve extra feet of distance on his fly balls (278.0 feet average, up from 266.2 in 2012) didn't hurt.
In what areas of the strike zone did Dozier inflict the damage? Via Brooks Baseball, he offered more at high stuff...
...and, as Chris Young noted, he made those swings pay off:
(Noting this trend, pitchers began to target Dozier low and away:)
We've thus seen how Dozier went from below-average power to above-average power. But how did he make the jump from the latter to the ranks of the elite? Not many hitters can post a superb .273 ISO, as Dozier has done so far. And lo, he has once again altered his profile, to precipitate this improvement.
First of all, he's pulled everything. 62.6% of his balls in play have gone to left, the highest rate in baseball by a massive amount. He's yanked 47.2% of his fly balls, and 69.4% of his line drives; each of those represents a large increase from the prior two seasons. The quantity of those air balls has shot up as well, as he's only put the ball on the ground 25.8% of the time. His pulled line drives have turned into doubles and triples, and his pulled fly balls — the distance on which has bumped up to 284.1 feet — have left the ballpark.
Deeper digging reveals two fascinating elements of this change, which might make it last. There's first the matter of Dozier's swing approach; as discussed above, it had already notably evolved. But with the world continuing to avoid pitching him high...
...he's begun to hit for most of his power on lower pitches:
Swinging far more at those pitches (and, to a lesser extent, all pitches) has certainly helped:
Opponents adjusted to Dozier, so Dozier adjusted right back. The transformation doesn't end there, though: Dozier has shifted his position at the plate, in a possibly meaningful way. Observe this still of his batting stance from 2014:
Then compare that with this still, from 2015:
From these representative images, it appears that Dozier moved his left foot inward as he stood in the batter's box. Because he takes a step with that foot before taking a cut at the pitch, this means he'd have to move that foot less far when he made that move. I'm no Dan Farnsworth, but to me, this seems like a noteworthy change — one that might have led to Dozier's otherworldly results thus far.
Dozier has hit the snot out of the ball this year, and he's done so by switching several key facets of his game. With his output as phenomenal as it has been, the Twins can't expect him to do much more. The outward appearance might give off one impression, but his power gives off another.
. . .
All data as of Monday, June 15th, 2015.
Ryan Romano is an editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles on Camden Depot and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.