When Brian Dozier first broke in with the Twins in 2012 he had zero power, no plate discipline, was a really bad shortstop, and looked like another meaningless triple A call-up in a meaningless season. Last season he nearly doubled his walk rate and increased his power quite a bit, and the move to 2B turned him into an adequate fielder, leading to a WAR of 2.8 for the season, ranking him 8th best in the majors among second basemen. I still wasn't buying it. But now we have this season.
Dozier has made some real, positive changes. His walk rate has gone from 4.7% in his rookie year to 8.2% last year and is all the way at 13.2% this year. Though his average has stayed nearly the same in all three seasons (.234-.244-.246), this has resulted in a marked improvement in his on-base percentage (.271-.312-.351). He has gone from a laughable option as a leadoff hitter that just told you how truly horrible the Twins were to a legit leadoff guy who leads the majors in runs scored. If he can figure out a way to get that average up you'd really have something here, but Dozier's plate discipline in the bigs has finally got up to what he showed in the minors and it's showing some real positive results.
He's done it by drastically reducing the number of pitches he swings at, both in and out of the strike zone, and he's making more contact and although his line drive rate is down those lost liners are going as fly balls rather than ground balls and they are flying to the wall and over it, driving a huge power spike. Dozier's 11 home runs this year is tops among all 2B, and his ISO took another jump this year so far and ranks #3 for the position and currently ranks above guys like Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Howard. Yes you're reading that correctly - Dozier is showing more power than those guys this year. As tempting as it could be to feel like this is a fluke, his steady increase in both walks and power without much of a change in strikeouts or average feels like this is for real. He was this player in the minors once he got comfortable, so maybe 2+ years into this thing he's grown into his batting skills. Not for nothing, but his BABIP this year is just .254, and although his career number is going to be a little below .300 because of how many flyballs he hits, that tells me he's even been a little unlucky this year - maybe there's a .280 hitter lurking in here somewhere.
But wait there's more. Turns out Dozier is a hell of a base runner. Ultimate Base Running is a tricky stat and who knows the accuracy, but attempting to award value to runners who go from 1st to 3rd on a single, end up with a double instead of getting thrown out trying to stretch for an extra base, and tagging up successfully seems like a worthwhile endeavor, and Dozier is excellent at these things. Looking at these things along with his 12 steals in 16 attempts and Fangraphs awards him 3.5 runs above replacement so far this year based solely on his base running alone. That may not sound like a ton, but Fangraphs calls anything above 4 "Great" and he's nearly there already. In fact, his current ranking is #2 in all of baseball behind Dee Gordon with the value he creates on the base paths. This isn't a fluke either, as he finished exactly at that 3.5 number for all of last season, which ranked him 26th in the majors and 4th among all second basemen.
Fielding isn't his strong suit, but since switching to second he's been adequate. Fangraphs has him slightly below average, costing the Twins one run over the course of the season with his fielding. He doesn't make many errors and turns a nice double play, he just doesn't have outstanding range. All-in-all this doesn't really hurt the Twins much, and he more than makes up for hit with his bat and base running.
Put it all together and what do you have? A second baseman who ranks #3 in WAR in the entire major leagues (behind Ian Kinsler and Chase Utley). It seems insane but he's got a really good chance at going 20/20 this year with a longshot at 30/30. More than likely the HR/FB rate will have to come down simply because it's so far above his career number, but given his steady career progression and the fact that it's not a completely ridiculous number (29 players have a higher ratio right now), it's not a guarantee. If his BABIP ticks up a bit and everything stays the same you have yourself a hell of a second baseman and one of the best hitters in the league at that position, and one only making about a half million dollars.
Fangraphs values a win above replacement at about $5 million, and with Dozier's WAR of 2.9 last year it says he was worth $13.8 mill last season, and he's already at 1.9 and $10.3 early this season. Much of his value comes from his base running, which is something that should help keep him under the radar and the Twins have him under team control through 2018 so there's no rush, but if he ends up finishing the season out as he's started it it might be wise for the Twins to get ahead of the arbitration and sign him to a deal, because I'm starting to suspect we might be looking at a Minnesota fixture at second base. And I can't believe I'm typing that, but Dozier has the look of a player who has actually developed from a project to a quality ballplayer. I know it's rare that we see something like that around here so it might be tough to recognize, but I am now a fan. Plus there's that hair.