Hello, friends. Hope you enjoyed the holidays. The Hot Stove took a break as well, but it’s heating back up again, with reports that the Cardinals are “very much in” on the Brian Dozier sweepstakes. He’s spent his whole career in the American League, and he’s been a bit of late bloomer, so outside of the 42 homers he hit last year, you may not know Dozier very well. I sure didn’t, so let’s take a look. Let’s start with his stats over the last three years:
In 2014 he had a sold season: below average strikeouts, above average walks, but bad contact numbers. Still, he was a good bit above average. He switched up his game going forward though, with his strikeouts rising while decreasing his walks, as he unlocked more power. 2015 was a year of transition. In 2016, he realized the fruits of his adjustments. The first thing of notice, was a dramatic rise in pitches he swung at in the zone, without a similar increase in pitches swung at outside the zone:
He increased his Z-Swing% by about 20%, while only increasing O-Swing% by 7.6%. But it’s not just the overall numbers, it’s where he added those extra swings, generally in the middle of the plate. Here’s a breakdown of Dozier’s Swing% from 2013 to 2014 (left) vs. 2015 and 2016 (right):
As you can see, the biggest increases are in the heart of zone as well as the inside half of the plate (I should mention Dozier is a righty). As you might imagine, most hitters do more damage on those types of pitches. Dozier is no different:
So far, we have a real effort to be more aggressive on pitches he can do damage to. An effort that has succeeded for two years now. Let’s turn our attention to his contact quality, with help from the Statcast data hosted at BaseballSavant.com. This data only goes back two years rather than all three we’re looking at, but we can still learn something. For instance, Dozier’s aggression includes a swing oriented towards doing damage through the air. He has essentially an average Exit Velocity (the speed the ball leaves the bat), but he ranks much better when evaluating just line drives and fly balls:
He placed just outside the top 20% in line drive and fly ball Exit Velocity in 2016. Does that make for a consistent 40 homer hitter? Probably not, but it does establish that he does indeed have the skills to hit for power. From 2015 to 2016, he jumped 5% of the field in terms of average EV of all batted balls, but 16% of the field when considering only flys and line drives. Again, this points to a very conscious attempt to maximize power. He’s also increased his Fly ball percentage each year, from 43%, to 44%, to 48%. Getting the ball in the air is doubly beneficial for Dozier, as he’s maintained pull rates over 50% in each of those years. All you have to do is shift against a guy that pulls a bunch of grounders.
Let’s get a better look at his overall contact quality, using the neat graphics available at BaseballSavant.com:
The left side shows proportion of batted balls, broken down by each angle. The right shows the average Exit Velocity at each angle. The left side shows a wider distribution of batted balls than I’d like to see. He hits a significant amount of batted balls above 50 degrees (the Statcast designated range for popups) as well as a lot of low angled grounders below 5 degrees, which have a poor chance of being a hit. His highest BABIP of the last three years was .280 in 2016, and this only gives us more evidence that Dozier is simply a low BABIP hitter.
He crushes the ball however, when the ball goes in the range of angles most likely to be home runs. The large majority of homers occur between 18 and 44 degrees inclusive, with peak home run possibility at 27 and 28 degrees. These seem like real adjustments, likely to be repeated in 2017. No, he probably won’t repeat a 42 homer season, but still, he’s averaged over a .230 ISO over his last 1400 plate appearances.
Over the last three years, Dozier has been worth 4 fWAR/600 PA, due to a 117 wRC+, great base-running (he’s the 8th most productive player on the bases in that timeframe) as well as about average defense relative to second basemen. He’s also been a constant part of the everyday lineup, averaging 700 PA a year. Despite that, Fangraphs’ Depth Charts expects a 3 fWAR performance in 2017 on the back of a 107 wRC+. He’s entering his age 30 season, but he also increased his Exit Velocity from 2015 to 2016, so he’s not exactly feeling the affects of aging yet.
I would say that I expect more of a 3.5 fWAR performance from Dozier in 2016. Assuming a $8.5M price of a win this year, plus 5% inflation next year, and half a win decline in 2018, we’re looking at a player with roughly $56.5M in value, who will make just $15M the next two years. So roughly a $40M Surplus Value, coming relatively soon.
The Dodgers are reportedly willing to include top pitching prospect Jose De Leon in a deal. He didn’t pitch great in his first 17 innings of MLB time, but he’s projected as a solidly above-average pitcher going forward. For context, De Leon projects for a 3.39 FIP, whereas Luke Weaver projects for 3.90. After the trade deadline, Baseball America saw De Leon as the 25th best prospect in baseball, with Weaver at 75th. MLB.com sees them as 33rd and 81st respectively. By KATOH, a projection system specifically for prospects, it’s 3rd and 75th, again with the advantage to De Leon.
Of course, the Twins have their own opinion, and maybe they feel Weaver is a better pitcher than De Leon. But chances are they don’t, which means it would probably take Weaver plus something else significant. Maybe they’d accept Kolten Wong and Luke Weaver for Dozier, which is about the most I could stomach. Six years of Weaver and say, Jack Flaherty seems a bit much to gain 1.5 wins at second for two seasons.
Harrison Bader is a bit more dispensable now due to the current Cardinals starting outfield all being under control for at least four years. Perhaps a deal of Bader, Flaherty, and Wong would interest the Twins. But it would take the Twins having a higher evaluation of Bader than the public scouting reports and projections. Weaver and Bader might get it done, but it would be nice if part of the value going to Twins involved infield help, as the Cards already have one more infielder than their roster can likely handle. Otherwise, they would need separate deals to clear up the logjam.
Ultimately, I find Dozier to be a strong and interesting player. However, I would bet against John Mozeliak and the Cardinals paying the price required. The Dodgers have an excess of young controllable talent as well as very deep farm system. They can part with a top prospect more easily than the Cards can right now. This move would make it more likely the team earns a Wild Card spot the next two years, but long-term the rotation would look worse without a major league ready Luke Weaver set to take over for Lance Lynn in 2018. If the team thought a big infield upgrade was necessary, they probably would have went harder after Justin Turner or Edwin Encarnacion. But who knows? Maybe Dozier ends up wearing the Birds on the Bat in 2017.