Entering the 2018 season, it seemed as if the leadoff spot would not be a worry for the Minnesota Twins. With Brian Dozier atop the lineup, home runs would rain from the heavens as the offense would have a running start every single game.
Instead, Dozier has been rather putrid - by his standards, at least. While expecting him to match his 2016 season would be foolish (.268/.340/.546, 131 wRC+), having him put up his career .251/.327/.452 line (110 wRC+) would have been reasonable. However, Dozier’s even failed to accomplish that as he currently sits at .235/.311/.406 (95 wRC+), which is his worst offensive output since his 340 plate appearances in his rookie season.
Dozier’s struggles have been so bad that he was even bumped down to second in the batting order in May, allowing the resurgent Joe Mauer and his .404 OBP to occupy the top spot. However, once Mauer reaggravated his concussion symptoms, Dozier found himself back in the #1 spot.
So, what’s different this year? First, Dozier’s line drive percentage has dropped to a career-low 14% while his groundball rate is at a career-high 42%. However, his launch angle is actually half a degree higher than it was in 2017, so that’s not fully it. Instead, we can look at his quality of contact. While his average exit velocity has dropped eight-tenths of one MPH (an amount that I think is probably negligible), his hard hit percentage has dropped from 34.5% in 2017 to 27.3% this season. Additionally, MLB and Statcast keeps track of “barrels,” where a batted ball has at least a 98 MPH exit velocity and batted balls whose similar exit velocity and launch angle have led to at least a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. This year, Dozier has barreled just 5.6% of his batted balls, whereas last year it was above 8%.
In summary, he just isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he used to, which has led to his drop in production. Wow, analysis! Well, one thing that always sticks in the back of my mind is that a player could be playing hurt when his performance suddenly drops. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dozier has some sort of nagging injury that isn’t public and is affecting him at the plate. If he were to hit the disabled list, it might mean the start of the Nick Gordon era, but it also could signal the quick return of Gregorio Petit, and I know which one of those two we’d all prefer to see.
Of course, Dozier is also notoriously a slow starter. While we’re over a third of the way into the season, he’s been a career .244/.322/.428 hitter (103 wRC+) in the first half of the season, while he’s improved to .259/.333/.480 (118 wRC+) in the second half. Hopefully this year is just another case of the offseason hangover that Dozier typically experiences and by August, we’re talking about how he’s carrying the offensive load for this team.