At the end of May, Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier was batting a sad .214/.259/.299 and providing little reassurance that he would be able to consistently hit major league pitching. Since then, however, Dozier has been on fire offensively and has posted a robust .254/.340/.492 line with 10 home runs in his last 270 plate appearances.
This turnaround has been amazing for Dozier, but it has not been entirely unexpected. In the spring, Dozier showcased new mechanics that should have helped create a more firm platform out on his front foot as well allow him to open up his hip to better. Once the season started however his production remained static.
Hitting coach Tom Brunansky is familiar with Dozier after working with him for several seasons in the minor leagues and tinkering with his swing. Brunansky admitted earlier in the season that his approach is about getting hitters to have a feel for the swing rather than replicate something visually. Dozier’s problem, Brunansky diagnosed, was his timing.
So, as 1500ESPN.com’s Brandon Warne found out from Dozier and Brunansky recently, the second baseman began plotting on ways to improve his timing at the end of May:
In layman’s terms, Dozier was starting his swing way too late. This means that his lower-half was beginning late with the pitcher’s rhythm and that his path to the pitch was going to be tardy. In spite of having a solid base, Dozier’s swing was well behind of where he needed to be. Dozier himself admitted he found that he was behind several fastball in May that he should have been able handle.
Although Dozier speaks towards the point of the foot strike, his timing was thrown off earlier than that – when he first would begin his swing at the foot lift:
While facing this low-90s fastballs from left-handed pitchers, we see that Dozier’s front foot lift begins much later in May (LEFT) than it in August (RIGHT). In the first instance, Dozier received a fastball middle-up and instead of pulling the ball, his timing is behind and he fights it off towards the right-center field gap.
The next images are of his foot strike – the point where his front foot lands in his strike. Take notice where each pitch is in the examples. In May, the pitch is already on him. In August, the pitch has just been delivered. The latter gives him ample opportunity to read the ball and react instead of fighting off pitches.
The same trend can be found for Dozier versus right-handed pitchers as well. In this example of earlier season versus late season, we see the same pattern – Dozier is beginning his swing much later.
Why is Dozier’s timing a huge issue? For starters, it means a better command of the strike zone as it gives him a longer (relative) look at each pitch. No longer does Dozier have troubles with in zone fastballs as his bat does not drag through the zone late. Now he’s driving balls all over the zone, particularly on the inner-half.
Notice in this heat map below that prior the end of May (LEFT), Dozier was struggling to do anything with pitches inside the strike zone. After May (RIGHT) Dozier was doing damage on those same pitches and was turning on those thrown inside (a location he struggled to do anything with prior to June). Since his and Brunansky’s work, that area of the strike zone has been one in which he has been most productive.
While Dozier’s heat map shows how well he’s done at the plate, but his spray chart shows how well he’s succeeding after the ball has been put into play. Advertised as a pull-ball hitter in the minor leagues, Dozier has not fulfilled that potential at the big league level. It is easy to conclude that part of what was impeding him has been his timing issue. As you can see in his spray chart below, prior to May (LEFT) Dozier did not hit much down the line. After making changes to his timing mechanism, Dozier’s ability to pull the ball greatly increased. Here you see that the bulk of his hits since June 1 came down the left field line:
Clearly, a vast majority of his hits have gone to the left side as he exhibited a significant amount of power to boot.
Combined with his stellar defense, Dozier’s offensive turnaround as made him one of the team’s top contributors at a position that has become increasingly more offense-oriented in recent years. It may seem like a completely subtle change, but timing – even fractions or fractions or seconds – can be vital to a player’s swing. Credit both Dozier as well as Brunansky for this surge.