On Tuesday night, Hunter Dozier hit a grand slam off Indians’ closer Brad Hand.
Grand slams by themselves are great, but this one basically won the game for the Royals against the best closer in the AL this year.
The Royals are in the depths of a rebuild, but it’s not all misery for them. Sometimes rebuilds find something magical. Dozier is just that - he hits everything..
As our own Patrick Brennan noted back in April, there was something to like in Dozier despite a lack of production in 2018. The former first round pick had the athleticism and big time pop to be a star at third, just no real production in the front-facing numbers. It took time, as baseball often does, but the proverbial worm has certainly turned. Everyone has holes in their swing. But Dozier, when he makes contact, generally punishes pitchers:
There’s certainly a smudge of blue in that lower outside corner, but outside of that Dozier has brutalized pitches everywhere. Major league hitters can eke out a hit off a bad pitch, but few can obliterate anything thrown. In a more visceral evidence of his excellence, we have this:
That’s three home runs and a triple, on the three cardinal directions of the strike zone. That’s hard to do. So many hitters have a power zone, but outside of that one spot - low and away, an area that bedevils so many - Dozier can obliterate pitches across the zone.
Dozier is 27 years old, turning 28 this year, bordering on his baseball maturity. It’s hard to find room to project growth into him since he was basically nothing last year, and now he’s legitimately a star. If we see growth, it will be in his choice of pitches on which he decides to take a swing.
Take, for instance, the pitches outside of the zone that he took at chance at this season so far:
In an ideal world, Dozier would take a page out of Mike Trout’s book and not go after those high pitches, even if he’s demonstrated the ability to put it out of the park when he catches one high in the zone. The above chart does suggest an issue with the slider down and away, but that’s a tough pitch regardless of who you are. As he constantly is learning, sometimes the victory comes in not trying. Trout swung at sliders 52 percent of the time in his rookie year, a number that’s fallen to just 33 percent this year. He learned. Dozier is no Mike Trout, but growth is realizing what can’t be hit and simply laying off.
Dozier has been marvelous this year, and could be the center of gravity of a Royals offense as they put it all together no the next phase if their painful rebuild. Right now he’s one of the best hitters in the entire division.
WIll it hold? Is he a latter day Jose Bautista, exploding after an arrested development? The Royals hope so, whether they want to use him as a keystone for the offense or an incredible trade piece that brings back an entire farm system from a contender. Accidents, delayed development and luck are vital keys to realizing a rebuild. Dozier has been magnificent, and he’s going to be central to the Royals future. What that means, we’ll have to wait and see.
Merritt Rohlfing writes and podcasts about baseball at sites including this one and Let’s Go Tribe. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillLunch.