Bounce back candidate Brian Dozier may be a bargain for Washington

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Washington’s new second baseman could be a steal compared to some other second base signings this off-season.

With Daniel Murphy’s exit, the Nationals were facing a year of uncertainty at second base. The recent signing of Brian Dozier gives them a better option—with plenty of bounce back potential—than what they had in house.

Dozier is coming off his worst season at the plate since his first full year in 2013. It was a sharp decline from a great four-season stretch from 2014 through 2017. During that time, Dozier had the second best fWAR among second basemen, trailing only Jose Altuve.

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2018 was a different story, however, and Dozier fell down the leader board, ranking 19th among hitters who spent time at second base. Looking at some Statcast numbers, it’s easy to find a couple of reasons for the sharp decline, but also easy to see where he could climb back to an above average hitter in 2019.

One Statcast decline that jumped out to me was Dozier’s number of barreled balls. His barrel percentage dropped from 8.4 percent in 2017 to 6.3 percent in 2018, which was his lowest since 2015. Looking at the raw number of barreled balls, Dozier fell off considerably in 2018.

It makes sense that barreling the ball up less would coincide with a drop in hard hit balls. Looking at hard hit percentage, Dozier was at 28.4 percent—a pretty sharp drop from 2016 and 2017, which saw him hit the ball hard 36 and 34.7 percent of the time, respectively.

Of course, this all led to Dozier’s power numbers taking a hit. After three straight seasons of an ISO of .200 or more, he dipped to .175 in 2018. On the plus side, though, Dozier did maintain an exit velocity and launch angle within range of his norms. Dozier has never had a great exit velocity, really, but his 17.8 percent launch angle placed him right in line with some productive hitters.

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As you can see, Dozier’s average launch angle certainly isn’t detrimental to production.

In addition, Dozier’s approach seems to be as solid as ever. He had a good walk rate and his plate discipline looked as good (better in some areas) as ever. His zone contact rate was at its highest since 2015 and not only was his chase rate far lower, he also made better contact on chased pitches.

So what gives? Remember that dip in hard hit balls? Statcast says Dozier was getting under the ball too much in 2018, to the tune of 33.8 percent versus 29.5 percent in 2017. According to Fangraphs, that led to an increase of about 4 percent in infield fly balls and to a dip in line drive percent.

In the end, Dozier was a pretty mixed bag in 2018, but there was enough similarity to his better years that he should be able to bounce back to something like his 2019 Steamer projected 2.3 fWAR. He did show an improvement with the Dodgers last year, with his DRC+ jumping from 96 with the twins to a 101 in 170 plate appearances after being traded.

His 2016-2017 seasons may be out of reach, but if he can maintain his improved plate discipline he could approach his 2014-2015 value, during which Dozier combined for a 7.6 fWAR.

Considering some other recent second base signings, Dozier could be a steal at $9 million for one year.

At any rate, Nationals fans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they won’t be subjected to 400 at bats from Howie Kendrick.

Bob Ellis is a lifelong Royals fan. He has written in the past for Kings of Kauffman and Statliners. Follow him on Twitter @BobEllisKC

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