The SI.com Debate Series will pit two of our writers against one another on opposing sides of a decision many fantasy owners will face during their drafts. In this installment, Michael Beller and Jon Tayler debate Corey Seager and Brian Dozier.
Michael Beller makes the case for Seager over Dozier…
I’m going to come right out and admit that Jon’s guy has the advantage to start the season. I mean, have you seen what Dozier has done the last two seasons? The guy has 76 homers and 34 steals in 2016 and 2017 combined. The worst season of his career was when he put up 18 homers and 14 steals in his first full season, and his career has been on a steady upward trajectory ever since. He has improved as a complete hitter, as well, and is no longer the rate-category risk he used to be. No matter which projection system you favor, you’re going to see Dozier penciled in for somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 homers, 100 runs, 85 RBI and 15 steals, to go with a .260/.345/.490 slash line. Those thresholds are a challenge for any player to reach, but they feel like floors for Dozier.
So, yeah, Dozier is good. Jon’s got himself a great candidate to win this one. Here’s the thing, though. My guy is A) already great, B) still very young, and C) almost certainly getting better. Dozier may be the better fantasy player right now, but Corey Seager is making up ground. And like a stalking horse worth its salt, Seager will pass Dozier sooner rather than later.
Let’s start with A from the previous paragraph. Seager is already great. He has spent two full seasons, and a small part of a third, in the majors, totaling a .305/.374/.502 slash line. He has 52 homers and 81 doubles, a walk rate of 9.6% and a strikeout rate of 20%. He won the NL Rookie of the Year in unanimous fashion in 2016, finishing third in MVP voting that season, as well. The guy was billed as the next great Dodger, and he immediately become the genuine article upon his first day in the majors. As I said in our shortstop primer, Seager could get no better the rest of his career and waltz into Cooperstown in about 20 years.
That leads right into both B and C. We’ve seen a lot of Seager the last two seasons. That will happen when you’re one of the best players on a team that goes to the NLCS in consecutive years. All that Seager on your TV with all those October Hollywood nights as the backdrop might obscure the fact that he turns 24 years old about a month after the season begins. Seager was the 18th overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, he flew threw the Dodgers farm system, and he was one of the best players on an NLCS team four years after his high school graduation. The guy has already come so far, and he still has so much more natural growth ahead of him, to say nothing of the learned growth a player of his caliber is capable of as he enters his mid-20s.
That’s where C comes into play. The list of player who were as good as Seager by their 24th birthday and never got any better is awfully short, if it even exists at all. We already saw strides in Seager’s game last year. His walk rate jumped three full percentage points from the previous season to 10.9%. He swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone, cutting his o-swing rate to 29.1% from 32.2%, displaying a growing understanding of both the strike zone and how pitches want to attack him. As Seager gains a great command of the zone, he’ll be able to turn the page from the early part of his career and, at least in theory, hit for more power.
Seager took two steps in that direction last year, one natural and one learned. First, his hard-hit rate surged to 44%, the natural growth of a player with his immense skill. Second, he upped his fly-ball rate to 33.1%, the learned change for a player looking to create more value with his bat, especially in this power-happy era. As Seager embraces both, the 30-homer mark becomes more in focus. The bet here is that he hits it for the first time in his career this season.
Seager is an already elite player who entered the majors with an inner-circle Hall of Fame career as a realistic best-case scenario. Given what he has already accomplished and where he is from both natural and learned growth standpoints, a significant leap could be in the cards this year. Seager is going to leave a of players in the dust, so Dozier and his backers shouldn’t feel bad at all. He’s still an excellent player, and a worthy fantasy selection. In this debate, however, he’s just a beautiful loser.
Jon Tayler makes the case for Dozier over Seager…
At some point in your draft, someone will pick Brian Dozier, and you’ll experience a combination of regret and anger that it wasn’t you making that choice. You’ll also probably have forgotten that Dozier even existed. That’s okay: He isn’t exactly a memorable player, even despite all the dingers he’s collected over the last two seasons. Compared to the heralded Corey Seager, he might not stand out to you at all. But it would behoove you to make note of Dozier, because at his position (both defensively and in the draft), he can be a key piece of a championship contender.
Start with what Dozier does best: homers. A year after finishing third in the league in round-trippers with 42, the Twins’ veteran fell back in those standings a bit, going deep only 34 times last season. That may have disappointed Dozier owners, especially given 2017 being the most home-run happy year on record. But those 34 homers were still tops among second basemen, just edging out Baltimore’s Jonathan Schoop (32).
While the total dropped, it’s not as if anything materially changed for Dozier, whose home-run-to-fly-ball rate was virtually the same (from 18.4% in 2016 to 16.8% last year). The big difference was that Dozier didn’t put the ball in the air quite as much, as his fly-ball rate fell roughly five points. Should that have you worried? His launch angle remains unchanged, and that 42.6% fly-ball rate was still top-30 among all qualified hitters last year. Plus, he gets to play half his games in the hitters’ park that is Target Field.
What matters, though, is that Dozier’s overall value barely dropped despite losing eight homers and nearly 100 points in slugging percentage; his 125 wRC+ in 2017 was just a smidge off 2016’s 131 figure. How did he do that? By drawing more walks. Dozier’s free-pass rate jumped nearly three points last year, from 8.8% to 11.1%, upping his on-base percentage nearly 20 points. He did that while keeping his strikeout rate flat at 20% and cutting down on his o-swing and contact rates. In other words, he was more patient and offering less at pitches outside the strike zone—aka the balls that are less likely to turn into hits and homers. So even without breaking the 40-homer mark, Dozier was still bringing you plenty of value.
If you go with Dozier, you’re getting a good overall player and locking in the most power at the position. Yes, Schoop or Rougned Odor could overtake him in that department, but either of those guys—particularly the latter—will likely be a drain on your rate stats. And while Schoop and Odor will come cheaper in a draft or auction, Dozier is fairly priced at a current ADP of 35, or right at the end of the third round in a 12-team league. In terms of other hitters around him, you’re looking at Dee Gordon (34), Jose Abreu (37), and Alex Bregman and Justin Upton (43). No one in that group can match Dozier’s power, and none of them offer it at a premium, top-heavy position.
Your options at second base thin out rapidly after Dozier, too. If you weren’t able to get either of Jose Altuve or Jose Ramirez, and don’t play in a morally bankrupt league that allows second-base eligibility to Anthony Rizzo, passing on Dozier means talking yourself into Gordon at his insanely high ADP (and forcing yourself to invest in power elsewhere), or waiting for the next tier featuring Schoop (64), Daniel Murphy (65) and Robinson Cano (71) in rounds six and seven. Those are all fine options, but none of them is as solid an all-around player as Dozier is, particularly when you consider that he’s going to toss 15 to 20 steals into the mix as well; he’s a particularly savvy buy in that category.
Here’s something you might not have realized either: Dozier has the advantage on Seager in four categories (home runs, RBIs, runs and steals), and they’re virtually even in on-base percentage. Seager does have more upside, and crucially, he’s younger; the one worry with Dozier is that, at 31, he’s beginning to slide into the back half of the aging curve. But that’s more a concern with dynasty leagues. In your standard re-draft league, don’t let age be anything more than a number. Remember, too, that shortstop is a deeper position than second base. If you let Seager slide at his ADP of 33, you can still get a quality player like Xander Bogaerts (75), Didi Gregorius (105) or Addison Russell (all the way down at 250). Those guys aren’t as stable buys as Seager, but they offer a solid 75–80% of his production at a fraction of the price.
Seager is the sexier name, but don’t let the brand fool you. Dozier gives you everything he can at a position that becomes harder and harder to fill as your draft goes on. Power may be cheap, but that doesn’t mean that you should scrimp at second base. Go with Dozier, and be happy that, when his name gets called on draft night, you’ll be the one penciling him into your lineup.