Warne: Why Brian Dozier has become the Twins' second-best player
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's not remotely surprising that Joe Mauer has been the most valuable Minnesota Twin so far this season. By Fangraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Mauer has been worth +4.4 wins -- or in other words, if the season ended today, a top-20 position player.
But the Twins' second most valuable player according to WAR might surprise a few.
The second-most valuable Twin this year has been second baseman Brian Dozier.
And if Dozier's batting line of .245/.315/.428 is a bit underwhelming on the whole, it's because it doesn't really tell the whole story.
For one, Dozier has played phenomenal defense. Defensive stats, fairly or unfairly, have drawn the ire of many, but Dozier grades out positively in UZR and UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating, and the same stat per 150 games), and is top three in DRS (defensive runs saved). This, combined with glowing reports from various members of the Twins' field and front office staff would seem to indicate that Dozier's switch from one side of the second base bag to the other has been a rousing success.
But to look at Dozier's numbers in a vacuum doesn't do justice to how good he's been -- especially of late.
Since May 27 -- when his season OPS more or less bottomed out at .508 -- Dozier has hit .271/.355/.504 (entering play Monday) with 10 home runs, a vastly improved K/BB ratio, and a staggering 22 doubles. In fact, if Dozier played to that pace over 600 plate appearances, he'd be good for 48 doubles and 22 home runs.
With a couple triples mixed in that's still 70-plus extra-base hits. Only two second basemen had that many extra-base hits in 2012 -- Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill.
That late May date isn't just an arbitrary endpoint, either. According to Dozier and hitting coach Tom Brunansky, that's when the second baseman made a series of much-needed mechanical adjustments that have put him on this blistering pace.
By Dozier admission, he started making changes after Detroit's Anibal Sanchez nearly no-hit the Twins on May 24. "I missed like six fastballs down the middle, which you can't do," Dozier said. "So I knew there was a hole in my swing."
Dozier said he and Brunansky spent that night and most of the next day studying to get a feel where he was misfiring.
They counted 'clicks' before the pitcher releases the ball to the time of contact. According to Dozier, the process starts once a hitter's foot hits the ground.
"Once your foot is down, you start counting the clicks in your swing," Dozier said. "Good hitters who have their foot down can see the ball -- for instance, Mauer has eight or nine clicks -- and I was only having like three."
What does that mean, exactly?
"Everything wasn't grounded," Dozier noted. "That day we started doing drills to over-exaggerate keeping my foot down in order to see the ball. Ever since then I've felt really, really good."
Brunansky likened Dozier's situation to that of a basketball defender having a standoff with Kobe Bryant at the three-point line.
"You're going to guard Kobe at the three-point line," Brunansky said. "You don't know what he's going to do; is he going shoot a jumpshot, break left, or break right? Your balance, your base has got to be stable, so you can go ahead and be the athlete that's got to guard him."
But what does that have to do with baseball? "That's all we talked about is first step; he needed to find that base and swing from that spot," Brunansky continued. "That's where we started, and did some drills so he could feel what that base should feel like. Once you get that base to start to work, it frees up his upper half and his hands can go ahead and do what they have to do."
As a result, Brunansky said, Dozier has been "night and day" different from how he had played prior to making these adjustments. "What you're seeing is the consistency is starting to pay off with all the work he has put in," Brunansky concluded.
This improvement by Dozier has come at a pivotal time, as Eddie Rosario continues to gain significant steam as the heir apparent at second by moving quickly through the Twins farm system.
Rosario has hit .294/.348/.431 since being moved up to Double-A New Britain, and is starting to look more comfortable at second base since moving from centerfield prior to the 2012 season.
And whether that means the Twins have a logjam, trade chips, or just flat out depth, it an encouraging development for a team that has struggled with middle infield depth for quite some time.