As Brian Dozier began a new month with his new Los Angeles Dodgers, it was apropos that Dozier would hit a single, double, and home run in his first game. For Dozier, the Dodgers, and specifically Yasmani Grandal walking off in the bottom of the 10th, August 1 was a magical sort of night. The Dodgers broke a three-game skid to overcome the Brewers 6-4. regarding momentum, an establishment of tone for the month of August. Having just passed the trade deadline and tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the National League West, August represents a fresh start amid a long season – the line between exhaustion and giving the remainder of dwindling energy.
Los Angeles now has Manny Machado, Arizona now has Eduardo Escobar; two players who plug glaring holes to add that last substantive energy. Los Angeles, however, also obtained Brian Dozier – a second baseman who has simply regressed in hitting. He is in a season-long lull, hitting .229 with a .415 SLG, and a 95 wRC+ after finishing at .271, .498, and 125 in 2017. He has never relied on the luck of high BABIP and lucky placement, always an extremely successful hitter for the Minnesota Twins on his own merit. He simply fell flat in a flat batting order.
While not an objective point of analysis, Dozier might just need a change of pace in a new town to start finding the ball again. Open comments to the media regarding Minnesota being ‘comfortable’ and Los Angeles being a team in the race ‘rejuvenating me [Dozier] as a player’ provide surface-level follow-up for the ‘new city – new player’ philosophy.
Considering that Dozier is in the last year of his contract makes him only more of an enigma. The ‘contract-year’ is traditionally when batters inflate their statistics on a bad team for a massive contract in their later years. (Tradition in free-agency, being broken and a topic much written about). With Dozier doing the complete opposite, assuming he has the ability to rejuvenate his career, Los Angeles might be able to hide his genius and buy-low in free-agency. They have attempted to trade for Dozier the past two seasons, hence trading for Dozier has given a subtle chess piece to the Los Angeles front office for the 2019 season.
The importance of Dozier in the Los Angeles lineup is not about dazzling power. While chess piece might be a degrading term, for Dozier, it is a complement to its procedural efficiency. Second base has been Los Angeles’ worst position and Dozier will plug what has been a sloppy turnstile in the batting lineup.
On a micro-level, Dozier’s enigma of a collapse is across the board. He is making 11 percent more contact outside and three-percent less inside contact but is still contacting around 82 percent on the fastball. The only difference, a fall to a .259 from a .298 average. Despite making more contact on sinkers, 83.2 to 86 percent and two-percent less swinging-strikes, he is only hitting at a 126 wRC+ from a 171 wRC+. (And, yes, that is still above average, but a fall for Dozier).
The slider, a pitch never hit for average, has seen seven percent less outside-swings (26.6 to 19.9 percent) and a subsequent drop in outside-contact (60 to 51.2 percent). The result has been 52.4 percent in-field fly-balls, up from 22.2 percent. The worst pitch for Dozier this year has been the curveball, seeing a pitiful .054 average and -50 wRC+. This comes even as he is swinging less at the curve (39.6 to 32.2 percent).
The only pitch Dozier has seen an improvement on is the changeup, hitting at a .333 ISO (.128 in 2017) and a 178 wRC+ (120 in 2017). The main emphasis has been him attacking inside the zone five percent more. This is the same strategy which Dozier held in 2016, when he attacked the inside changeup at 69 percent and hit for a .338 ISO.
The subtle change in Dozier, however, is evident in his attack of the changeup. In 2018, Dozier has been attempting to hit opposite field for changeup power, with incredibly precise hits to right field. He also has gotten lucky on three infield hits. In 2017, however, Dozier was comfortable in pulling changeups to the left-field. While this has been a positive trend for the changeup, on a meta-level, Dozier’s fascination with hitting opposite is putting him on pace for more outs.
The following is a side-by-side comparison of balls resulting in outs for Dozier (per Baseball Savant), with 2018 on the left and 2017 on the right. He is avoiding pulling the ball, and as a result, has patterned his hits into a persistent pattern within a strangely linear line. The same comparison done on balls hit into play with no-outs is further evidence of Dozier attempting to hit balls to opposite field. In short terms, he is attempting to create distinct power by aiming the ball instead of just continuing to comfortably pull.
Conjoining the theory that Dozier will be better on a better Los Angeles roster with what can be termed as ‘futile desperation’ in attempts to hit opposite the field leads back to the subtle change within each micro-pitch. While the meta-level comparison is little changed for swinging percentage, very small, but important tweaks, in Dozier swinging outside exist. Hence, he is trying to walk more.
In other terms, Dozier has been on a bad team, and knowing so, has been attempting to take less risks outside so he walks more while also trying to create more emphatic power by targeting opposite field. He has been trying to mitigate Minnesota’s inefficiencies by playing tighter himself. While one game is hardly a good sample size, there may be an underlying psychological shift in Los Angeles which allows Dozier to relax and comfortably attack the ball.