Mired in a prolonged slump in the second half, Dozier recorded five hits including a legitimate opposite field home run (as rare as unicorn eggs for him) and a double. Other would-be hits were taken away by the stalwart Cleveland defense but the process was there -- he was hitting the ball hard.
A catalyst at the top of the order, the Twins have been sorely missing his contributions at the plate in the season’s second half. Once capable of dropping home runs in bunches, Dozier has struggled mightily to even elevate the ball. Similar to his 2014 season, his power potential disappeared late in the year. Is this, as the late Yogi Berra would say, deja vu all over again?
With the offensive numbers, steady defense and media darling status, it would be only a mere formality before he would be selected to participate in baseball’s midsummer classic. But something happened in Cincinnati. Rancid Skyline Chili, perhaps. Or maybe he drank straight from the Ohio River. Either way, when the season’s second half started, Dozier slid slowly into an offensive funk.
Looking over Dozier’s splits between the first half and the second half tells the story that you already know. His slash line dropped across the board meaning he wasn’t getting as many hits, he wasn’t getting on base and he wasn’t hitting for power. Moving to two indicator stats on the far right, we know why. Dozier was not hitting the ball as hard and struggled to elevate the ball leading to the drop in power numbers.
Those are the numbers which explain what you have seen or felt when watching Dozier over the last two months. It is as if his at-bats have been replaced by a slightly better Kurt Suzuki and no one is saying anything about it.
Dozier denies being hurt -- no more so than anyone else who has played almost every game at this point in the season, anyway -- but he did tell reporters that something is happening with his swing that he is trying to fix.
“I won’t go into much detail, but I’m having trouble getting (extension),” Dozier told the Pioneer Press’s Mike Berardino last Sunday. “I can take getting out. I get out a lot. Everybody does. But pitches that I’m supposed to hit off the wall, I’ve been struggling with due to a couple of things. I’ve been trying to find ways around it. It’s starting to feel better, but the past couple of weeks I’m having trouble getting extended, getting my top hand through the ball.”
For the second straight season, Dozier’s power has disappeared after July. Most telling this year is the ground ball rate. As you can see in the chart above, Dozier’s worm-burners have increased greatly over the last few months. At the beginning of the year, the grounders that he would hit would most frequently come on pitches that were outside of the zone -- those that he was fooled on or trying to protect in two-strike situations. As of late, Dozier has been beating pitching in the strike zone into the ground.
Dozier’s swing is unique. Royals pitcher Chris Young, a hurler who works up in the zone for a living, toldFangraphs.com’s Eno Sarris last year that Dozier because of his level swing plane he will “yank that high pitch all day long.” Dozier’s skill at dismantling high fastballs is unparalleled and part of that is due to his swing. Whereas a significant portion of the game’s more prolific power hitters let the barrel drop or take a longer path to the ball, Dozier’s swing is compact and he does not allow his hands and bat to drop.
For posterity, compare Dozier’s swing to that of Torii Hunter:
Setting aside the fact that they are two different hitters on two different pitches, watch their hands and then the barrel of the bat. Dozier’s swing was tailor made to handle pitchers up in the zone. For Dozier, the swing plane can get tangled on pitches lower in the zone -- he is hitting a career .175 on pitches in the lower third of the strike zone -- but his seems even more susceptible on pitches that wind up lower than he anticipated.
For example, in the season’s first half Dozier went off on pitches regularly on even counts (i.e. 0-0, 1-1 and 3-2) nabbing 27 hits in those situations. Still maintaining the same aggressiveness in those counts, he has collected just eight hits while creating more outs. What has changed is the pitches he has swung at. In the first half, Dozier hunted pitches up. More recently, those swings have been middle-in or substantially lower in the zone.
So there is an element of teams adjusting to him and firing the occasional wrinkle or keeping the ball down in those counts. Like this example in the recent series against Houston. Dozier, attempting to maintain an aggressive approach with Byron Buxton on third, committed to swinging at the first pitch of the at-bat and was thrown a curve.
Dozier mentioned that he is struggling on pitches that he is supposed to hit off the wall and the data confirms that. That area is the section between the elevated portion of the strike zone and the bottom of the zone. From May to mid-July, Dozier had hit nine of his home runs on pitches that were in the middle third of the zone. Since then, he has just two home runs and, as you can see in the GIF above, a ton more ground balls. Dozier provided a vague diagnoses on his swing to reporters, citing his inability to achieve extension and having issues with his top hand. His sudden spike in grounders -- particularly on pitches in the middle of the zone -- would confirm that type of problem with the top hand.
So what is the driving factor behind this offensive coma? There is no one, clear answer. There is an element of pressing combined with pitchers trying to keep him off-balance in counts he grew comfortable. Dozier’s swing issues has generated more grounders. And while he says he is not hurting or tired, there is still no question that players have wear and tear. Then you just have angry Regression Gods that have nothing better to do but make a hitter miserable.
Overall, Dozier is fine. He is not striking out an inordinate amount of times or having terrible at-bats -- and he is still able to pop off on a high fastball as witnessed in the last series against Cleveland. That said, the Twins have just 10 games remaining and are struggling to keep their heads above water in the postseason hunt. They need some life from Brian Dozier.
[All data from ESPN/TruMedia]
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