Atypical leadoff man Dozier pacing surprising offense
Second baseman's power/speed combo helping Twins ascend statistical ranks
MINNEAPOLIS -- Brian Dozier has never been a prototypical leadoff hitter.
With surprising pop for a second baseman, including a team-leading 18 homers last year, Dozier doesn't quite fit the mold of the speedy contact-oriented leadoff hitter without any power.
But Dozier has been a spark plug atop the lineup for the Twins this season, getting on base at a .366 clip despite his .238 average because of a career-high walk rate. As a result, he entered Monday tied for second in the Majors with 34 runs scored. Dozier is also showing off a rare combination of power and speed, as he is tied for sixth the Majors with nine homers and tied for fourth with 12 stolen bases.
So Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire has no problems writing in Dozier atop the lineup, as the second baseman is enjoying a breakout season after a strong second half last year.
"He's a very intelligent baseball player," Gardenhire said. "People say he's not a leadoff hitter, but he sets the tone for us. He can hit a home run. He has quality at-bats. And he can run. So the mindset of him being our leadoff hitter, I know it's not perfect, but he'll get better at it."
With his power and speed skill set atop the order, Dozier could become the first Twins player to post a 20-20 season since Torii Hunter hit 23 homers and swiped 21 bases in 2004. Dozier also has a chance at becoming the first Minnesota player to post a 30-30 season, as he's currently on pace for 41 homers and 54 stolen bases.
But Dozier said he's most proud about his on-base percentage. He's walking in 16 percent of his plate appearances, which is nearly double his 8.2 percent rate last season, when he had a .312 on-base percentage.
"My job, and I've said it since Day 1, is getting on base," Dozier said. "Obviously, we all have goals or whatever, but I just want to win baseball games. And I know that if I can get on base and score runs, it gives us the best opportunity to win. So that's my job, and I'm sticking to it. That could be a song or something."
While Dozier's role might not make a great song, he's off to a great start both offensively and defensively. He ranks sixth in the Majors in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to fangraphs.com. Dozier boasts a team-high 1.9 WAR, according to the metric that had him worth 2.8 wins last season to rank second on the Twins behind Joe Mauer.
Gardenhire has been impressed by Dozier's defense at second, as he's made a smooth transition there since moving over from shortstop before last season. Gardenhire said Dozier has an innate feel for the game defensively, and he serves as a leader for the infield.
"In his two years, he's probably learned more quicker than anybody else," Gardenhire said. "When we moved him to second base, the things he understands about the game is about as fast as any players I've seen come up here. He's got it figured out. Situational baseball, he's always eyeing the field and looking around and understanding where he needs to be without us telling him."
Dozier shows off those instincts on the basepaths as well, evidenced by his team-high 12 steals while only twice being caught. Dozier credited Hall of Famer Paul Molitor for helping him improve in that area, as he meets with Molitor and third-base coach Joe Vavra before every game to discuss stolen-base strategies.
"Molly is doing a heck of a job before games with Joe dissecting pitchers and knowing what counts to steal on," Dozier said. "He knows their tendencies and all that. So it's night and day compared to last year, I can tell you that."
With his .366 on-base percentage and baserunning acumen, Dozier is on pace to score 153 runs this season. It remains highly unlikely he'll reach that figure, but he could become the first Minnesota player to score at least 100 runs since Michael Cuddyer scored 102 times in 2006. But Dozier deferred the credit to players hitting behind him, such as Mauer, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Colabello and Jason Kubel.
"It means you have a pretty good amount of RBI hitters behind you," Dozier said. "They've been doing a heck of job driving in runs behind me. The middle-of-the-order guys, that's what they're here for here, so it's more of a credit to them."
With Dozier providing the spark, the Twins are off to a surprising offensive start this season, ranking sixth in the Majors in runs scored per game after finishing 25th in that category last year.
Dozier credits experience as a reason for the team's success offensively, as players aren't afraid to draw walks but are also being aggressive in the right situations.
"You look at our lineup and we've got guys in the lineup with a little more time under our belts now," Dozier said. "They know what it takes. You've got to draw your walks. It's a long year. Any way to get on base in certain situations, guys are doing that now. But at the same time, we're not going to lose our aggressiveness. We're still out there trying to hack away."