Friday, April 18, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: Making the Case for ... Brian Dozier

Getting on base is key for Brian Dozier's fantasy value. (rantsports.com)
Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

Early in the 2014 season the second base position has been a disappointment. It is of course still early, and basic math tells us that even if things don't straighten themselves out, there will still be a Top 10 Second Baseman ranks next year, some players will pull out of their tailspin and others will fall. So whether you are looking to cut bait on Jedd Gyorko or if you need to wait out whatever is going on with Dustin Pedroia or the Red Sox as a whole, Brian Dozier would like your attention.

The 27-year-old is no budding superstar. The former 8th round pick is beginning his 3rd major league season in the Twin Cities, but he started making some impressions last year. He finished the season the 13th ranked second baseman in Yahoo (#178 overall) powered by his always fantasy relevant speed and power combination. But playing in Minnesota and sporting a .244 AVG scared off a lot of people leaving his 2014 ADP somewhere in the early 200's.

So far, Dozier has already earned that value back. He leads the league in runs scored and has 5 HR and 5 SB already. That pesky average is still at .207, but where Dozier has shown a lot of improvement is his walk rate. As the lead off hitter, Dozier has upped his walk rate from 8.2% last year to 17.8% this year! That's getting him on base more, despite hitting for a low average, which allows him to steal more and cross the plate more. 

It is early on so calculated stats, e.g. BB%, can be misleading. For example, he's not finishing the year with a .276 ISO. What is different about taking more walks is that is shows a clear change in approach. It's not something that fluctuates like hitting 2 HR in one game would inflate numbers so early in the year. 

Dozier's K/BB ratio last year was 120/51. That's just not sustainable for a guy in his position. For a big time power hitter, sure, but you won't be batting lead off long with that. He's still striking out a lot, hence the .207 AVG, but by bringing up his K/BB to 13/16 he's off-setting his propensity to swing and miss a lot. Dozier is lowering the percentage of pitches he swings at outside of the zone, which is probably a byproduct of a lot of pitchers throwing him balls, expecting him to chase. Now that he's not, will he see more strikes? Likely, but his power will have that work more to his favor than the pitchers.

In mid-May last year he focused more on shortening his stride to catch up to fastballs in the zone. He ended up driving the ball more, which is still true so far this year. He does tend to hit the ball in the air more often than your typical middle infielder, but if he can straighten those out from pop ups to line drives, he could be in line for a special year. 

There are a lot of positives to take from Dozier's start, but also the potential for it to all fall apart just as easy. He has to stay true to his patience at the plate. Take his walks. At the very least if he can maintain his OBP, then his average will gradually work its way up to a respectable .260 or so. Combine that with 90+runs and a serious push at a 20/20 season, that's pretty fantastic. I'm not sure if he'll be able to keep things up for the entire season and beyond, but he is worth an add at the very least as a stop gap. And if he can be this year's Daniel Murphy that would be a home run free agent add. 

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