Inside Brian Dozier's incredible power surge and his quest for a home run record
- Every day seems to bring with it another home run for the Minnesota Twins second baseman, who now has a chance to set a new mark for the most ever by a player at his position.
Amid the rubble of the Twins' awful season, Brian Dozier has provided a rare bright spot. On Tuesday, Minnesota's second baseman homered for the fifth straight game, continuing a remarkable power binge that has him on the verge of setting a new American League record and within striking distance of establishing a new major league mark.
Though not a prototypical slugger, the 5'11", 200-pound Dozier had shown robust power for his position prior to this season. After hitting six homers in an 84-game rookie campaign in 2012, he set career highs in each subsequent season with totals of 18, 23, and 28 homers from 2013 to '15. After tying Neil Walker for the major league lead among second-sackers in 2014, he led the position—and the upstart 83-win Twins—last year. With 13 homers in his past 19 games, he now has 39 for the year, second in the majors behind Mark Trumbo's 41.
With 37 homers as a second baseman (the other two came as a DH), Dozier is within range of the single-season record for the position:
|Rogers Hornsby||1922, Cardinals||42|
|Davey Johnson||1973, Braves||42|
|Ryne Sandberg||1990, Cubs||40|
|Alfonso Soriano||2002, Yankees||39|
|Alfonso Soriano||2003, Yankees||38|
|Brian Dozier||2016, Twins||37|
|Jay Bell||1999, Diamondbacks||36|
|Bret Boone||2001, Mariners||36|
|Jeff Kent||2002, Giants||36|
|Aaron Hill||2009, Blue Jays||36|
The highest total by any player who spent a majority of his season at second base is 43, by Johnson in 1973 (one came as a pinch-hitter). By that standard, Dozier has already matched Soriano for the AL record with 39.
Dozier's total is the highest by any Twins player besides Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who holds the club's top six single-season totals since the franchise moved from Washington to Minnesota in 1961, with a high of 49 coming in '69. Roy Sievers' 42 for the Senators in 1957 represents the franchise's highest non-Killebrew total; with 23 games remaining, Dozier could supplant that.
Until the All-Star break, Dozier was actually behind his 2015 pace, having hit 14 homers through the team's first 88 games. Once the season resumed, however, he hit five more in the last 16 games of July and then bashed another 13 in August, the most by any player in a month since Edwin Encarnacion's 16 in May 2014 (Nelson Cruz and Bryce Harper also hit 13 in May 2014 and May 2015, respectively). Dozier has hit seven home runs in September, including the first three-homer game of his career in Monday's 11-5 loss to the Royals. He's also gone deep in seven of the past eight games, and with 25 longballs since the All-Star break, he’s tied for 30th among players during the wild card era, which dates to 1995. Jose Bautista's 30 home runs in 2010 is the highest second-half total in the past decade, while Mark McGwire’s 37 in 1999 is the record.
Alas, Dozier's binge has come amid the latest dismal chapter of an already-dismal season for his team. The Twins have gone just 2-17 during Dozier's 13-homer binge, and they ended August with a 13-game losing streak, their longest skid since 1982. At 51-88, Minnesota owns the majors' worst record, and it is on pace to for 103 losses, which would eclipse the '82 team's 102 losses for a new low since the franchise moved to the Midwest.
Still, the 29-year-old Dozier has done impressive damage thanks to an in-season mechanical adjustment. As FanGraphs' Scott Strandberg noted while comparing Dozier's swing to where it was in April, "The big change is where he’s starting his hands. He’s brought them in tight to his body, with the bat held up straight, as opposed to keeping his hands back. This allows Dozier to get the barrel through the zone quicker, which goes a long way toward explaining the spike in hard contact, and his increased power on inside pitches."
Via Brooks Baseball, the contrast even from Dozier's 2015 when it comes to punishing pitches on the inner third of the zone is eye-opening. Here it is in terms of isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average):
While pitches up-and-in have remained a problem for him, Dozier has a .563 ISO on inner-third pitches with which he's made contact this year, compared to .260 last year; his slugging percentage against those pitches is .931, more than double last year's .455. Going by the middle third vertically, he's slugging .983 this year, compared to .525 last year. In terms of pitch selection, he has continued to destroy sinkers with which he's made contact (.664 SLG with 11 homers last year, .633 with eight homers this year) while improving markedly against four-seam fastballs (from .482 with 12 homers in 2015 to .734 with 19 homers in '16) and changeups (from .338 with one homer last year to .717 with five homers this year).
Dozier was a career .240/.314/.411/100 OPS+ hitter coming into the season, but now he’s hitting .278/.349/.580 for a 145 OPS+ and 6.0 WAR, numbers that all represent career highs; he's second in slugging percentage, sixth in OPS+ and eighth in WAR. While Twins and their fans would probably just as soon erase most evidence of their dreadful campaign, Dozier's power surge is one aspect worth remembering.