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Brian Dozier and Khris Davis: two surprising sluggers

Brian Dozier and Khris Davis are both having career years, but which has been more surprising?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Dozier and Khris Davis are both having career years and have passed the 40 home run threshold in 2016. Who has had the more surprising 40 home run season? Dozier, the Minnesota second basemen, who had a previous career high of 28 last season? Or Davis, the Oakland left fielder, who had a previous career high of 27? Let’s take a look.

Brian Dozier

As of Monday, Brian Dozier has established career highs in a multitude of categories. Dozier has already set career highs in home runs (41), wRC+ (141), wOBA (.385), and fWAR (6.1). All of this has been accomplished in fewer plate appearances than 2014 and 2015. Ryan Romano took a look at the evolution of Brian Dozier as a hitter a few weeks ago here at Beyond the Box Score.

Also, Dozier has, so far, set career highs in two batted ball categories - hard-hit percentage (35.4) and fly ball percentage (47). Clearly Dozier is hitting the ball harder and putting the ball in the air more, leading to a surge in home runs. When comparing his first half to his second half, the percentages look like this:

Hard % - 28.6 to 44.4

Fly Ball % - 46.5 to 47.7

The jump in hard-hit percentage by 15.8 percentage points is one that is extreme and leads me to think there must be more to how hard Dozier is hitting the baseball. This takes me to Dozier’s BABIP. Before the 2016 season, Dozier had a career BABIP of .273. At the All-Star break this season, Dozier’s BABIP was .258 - below his career and perhaps a bit unlucky. From the All-Star break on Dozier has a BABIP of .335 - still nothing too extreme, but clearly much better than the first half and well above his career.

Khris Davis

Khris Davis perhaps is less surprising than originally thought. Last season in only 392 at-bats with Milwaukee Davis hit 27 home runs, a home run every 14.5 at-bats. As of Monday, September 19th, in 520 at-bats Davis has 40 home runs, a home run every 13 at-bats, almost on par with last season.

Continuing with rate statistics, let’s look at HR per game by ballpark. In the American League, the home of the Oakland A’s, Oakland County Coliseum, is the toughest ballpark to homer in based on HR per game from the ESPN Home Run Tracker, coming in at 1.85. However, that has not deterred Davis this season. He has 19 of his 40 home runs at home, almost an even split.

Unlike Dozier, Davis has actually stayed consistent with his previous performance, but only with some improvement. While Davis has set a new career high in home runs and fWAR (2.5), he has stayed consistent in Fly Ball percentage and pulling the baseball. Davis’ Fly Ball percentage is currently at 40.3 percent, even with his 2015 percentage, both tied for his career high. Davis’ Pull and Center percentages are just about even at 37 percent, consistent with where Davis has hit the ball in his career. 24 of his 40 home runs have gone to high strength of pull to center. Here is what the Davis Home Run Tracker looks like from the ESPN Home Run Tracker:

Brian Dozier and Khris Davis are both having career years and hopefully starting to become even more dangerous hitters in the future for their respective teams. Davis seems to have stayed consistent with his earlier career performance, but as is the natural progression of development, he has further strengthened his strengths; additionally, he’s played in more games.

Dozier on the other hand seems to have outperformed his previous career totals in a way that is unsustainable. While both 40 home run seasons for Dozier and Davis are surprising, Brian Dozier’s 40 home run season is the most surprising. His breakout gives the Twins options to either keep him as a pillar in their rebuilding offense, or trade him as they try to restart on the farm.

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Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Minor League Ball.