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Updated: April 26th, 2013 9:51am
Warne: Brian Dozier not necessarily just a stopgap leadoff hitter

Warne: Brian Dozier not necessarily just a stopgap leadoff hitter

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by Brandon Warne
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier has embraced the leadoff role, and it has been good to him. Entering play Friday, Dozier had reached safely in 10 of 24 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter (.417 OBP).

Dozier has said previously that his level of comfort in the leadoff position stems largely from hitting there in the minor leagues. He also hit at the top of the order quite frequently in spring training.

"Everything feels really good," Dozier said. "As a leadoff hitter, you don't necessarily change your approach, but you do have to take into consideration the people you have hitting behind you. Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau...all guys who can really do damage. You have to take it upon yourself to get on base for those guys first and foremost, and everything else is secondary."

Oftentimes, when a hitter moves to a different part of the order, he'll see an adjustment in sequencing and frequency of certain pitches, obviously relative to if he's moved to a up to a premium spot, or vice versa. Dozier says that's the case -- most of the time.

"Not at the beginning of the game, no. But as the game wears on, depending on if I'm up there with runners in scoring position or the bases open, I think the pitcher looks and sees MVPs and Silver Sluggers behind me. So they might attack. It just depends on the pitcher, so you have to be knowledgeable about what each one will throw."

So is Dozier seeing more fastballs with the big guys behind him? "That's the take home, you know, probably what everyone thinks. And it's probably the truth more times than not. But at the same time, you can't guess in this league. Pitchers are pretty good, so they know a way around this stuff."

But if Dozier looks comfortable with the bat lately, he's worked equally as hard to get his leather in order.

"The biggest thing for me in the offseason and spring training was to be fundamentally sound. I kind of got away from that last year. Moving over to second, I really took it upon myself to not necessarily master the position but to try do the best I possibly can, and to help this team win. That was a good fit for me, and I feel really good."

By Dozier's admission, a huge part of his improvement has been slowing the game down.

"(The difference) is night and day really, to be honest with you. Not only defensively, but at the plate in my approach. All aspects of the game. It took almost a year to transition to that, but I took a lot from last year that helped me out."

Dozier's skipper Ron Gardenhire has taken notice.

"I don't worry about him. He just comes to the park ready to play," Gardenhire said. "I don't worry about him leading off. He's going to go up there and give you an effort. He's a competitor, and I think he learned an awful lot last year. He took his lumps, and he'll probably take a few more this year. But he doesn't have any fear, and he really loves playing second base. You can sense that. He moves really well there, and he's confident over there. He's playing decent baseball for us. I don't worry about him leading off. He's just gotta go up there, and do his thing. Play the game. Don't put too much stock into it; don't think about it. Just go play. That's how you do this."

Pacing a focus

In a Baseball Prospectus article dated Thursday entitled "In A Pickle -- Who'll Stop the Run?," Jason Wojciechowski shined light on something which plagued the Twins in 2012: opposing stolen bases.

Not only were the Twins completely victimized from a sheer numbers standpoint, the club was robbed blind -- especially in key situations -- because pitchers were notoriously slow to the plate, a fact Gardenhire bemoaned to then-Pioneer Press beat writer Ben Goessling.

GM Terry Ryan suggested it was certainly something the club looked at in the offseason, at least in the scope of just part of the big picture when it came to which pitchers the club acquired.

"I'll be frank with you," Ryan said. "We definitely looked into that. But at the same time, we had so much trouble just getting it over the plate that we couldn't really think about what people were doing on the bases."

Ryan had a simplified view of the entire situation. "You knew something was wrong when guys like Mauer, Drew Butera, and even Ryan Doumit -- we firmly believe all those guys can throw -- were throwing out something like 20% of guys."

But this appears to be firmly under control, a part of the bigger plan to bring stability to a rotation that had a dozen different pitchers start games last year. "It's going to be better this year, that's for sure," Ryan said.

Numbers game

3 - Number of times Miami Marlins third baseman Placido Polanco has struck out. That comes out to 3.8% of the time, by far the least in the majors. The three pitchers who have fanned him? Super Reds prospect Tony Cingrani, NL ERA leader Paul Maholm, and Mike Pelfrey. The rub? Pelfrey has the lowest K/9 among qualified pitchers in the major leagues (3.2).

10.8 - The Twins walk percentage as an offense, good for second in the major leagues -- nearly a full percentage point behind the A's. Four Twins appear in the top-60 in walk rate (Hicks, Willingham, Mauer, and Chris Parmelee).

31.6 - Mauer's line drive percentage, third in the MLB. Not only is Mauer spraying line drives, but he has yet to hit a popup this season.

20.0 - The percentage of pitches Doumit is seeing that are classified as changeups, second-most in MLB.

3 - Number of Twins hitters in the top 20 for lowest swing frequency. Incidentally, it's Hicks, Mauer, and Willingham, which is the Twins preferred 1-2-3 in the batting order. Getting Hicks back up top could make for a laborious top third of the order for opposing hurlers.

27.6 - Pelfrey's 'pace' as defined by Fangraphs as "average time in between pitches (classified by PITCHf/x)". Pelfrey is the slowest worker in the major leagues by nearly two seconds per pitch. That means a typical Pelfrey plate appearance -- defined by the league average of 3.9 P/PA so far in 2013 -- takes one minute, forty-seven seconds.

.403 - Vance Worley's BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Worley and Pelfrey (.397) have the second- and third-worst marks in this respect, which can be downright cataclysmic to guys who rely so much on balls in play to generate outs.

Brandon Warne covers the Minnesota Twins for 1500ESPN.com. He has also contributed as a baseball analyst for Fangraphs.com and BaseballProspectus.com
Email Brandon | @Brandon_Warne
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