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Dozier's surge reminiscent of '16's hot 2nd half

Twins second baseman hitting .313/.392/.646 since All-Star break
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Last season, Brian Dozier garnered a lot of attention by hitting 28 homers after the All-Star break on his way to 42 for the season, a single-season record for an American League second baseman. But an offseason of endless trade rumors didn't actually materialize into a deal, and Dozier's first half (.242/.328/.417, 13 homers) this year for the Twins, was just fine, not great.

The Twins are in the midst of one of baseball's improbable playoff runs, currently holding the second AL Wild Card spot. They've scored the second-most runs in baseball over the last month, and while the focus has been on Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton (who has been red-hot himself), please notice what's happening at second base. Dozier, it seems, is at it again.

Last season, Brian Dozier garnered a lot of attention by hitting 28 homers after the All-Star break on his way to 42 for the season, a single-season record for an American League second baseman. But an offseason of endless trade rumors didn't actually materialize into a deal, and Dozier's first half (.242/.328/.417, 13 homers) this year for the Twins, was just fine, not great.

The Twins are in the midst of one of baseball's improbable playoff runs, currently holding the second AL Wild Card spot. They've scored the second-most runs in baseball over the last month, and while the focus has been on Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton (who has been red-hot himself), please notice what's happening at second base. Dozier, it seems, is at it again.

Video: ARI@MIN: Dozier hits a solo homer into second deck

Here's what we mean by that. Last year, in the second-half run that forced everyone in baseball to pay attention, Dozier hit .291/.344/.646, good for a stellar 156 wRC+. (That's an advanced stat which is adjusted for park effects and sets 100 as league average, allowing for easy comparison.) This year, in the second half, Dozier is hitting .313/.392/.646 (169 wRC+), which is to say that he's had the exact same slugging percentage to go with improved on-base numbers as he did in his historic second half from last year.

In fact, Dozier has been so good since the break -- his 11 homers are tied for fourth, behind Giancarlo Stanton, Nelson Cruz and Joey Gallo -- that he's been one of baseball's 10 best. As you'll see, he's performing as well as some of baseball's brightest hitting stars.

Best wRC+ in second half
214 -- Stanton, Marlins
194 -- Odubel Herrera, Phillies
189 -- Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
185 -- Mike Trout, Angels
182 -- Jose Altuve, Astros
179 -- Justin Upton, Tigers
175 -- Cruz, Mariners / Chris Taylor, Dodgers / Alex Bregman, Astros
169 -- Dozier, Twins
Of 174 qualifiers, 100 is league average.

That's a list you want to be on. After Dozier, there's Bryce Harper, Gallo, Nolan ArenadoJoey Votto and Josh Donaldson. You can get hot for a minute, but you can't fake your way onto a list like this.

Of course, it's too simplistic to simply say "Dozier's a second-half player," since the opposite was true for him prior to 2016. So what's changed for him, this time around? Maybe it's less about "making a change" and more about "getting back to what works."

It's not a difference in plate discipline, not really. Dozier's walk rate in the first half was a touch over 10 percent; in the second half, it remains a touch over 10 percent. His grounder rate remains the same, 40 percent in both halves. Dozier's exit velocity is actually down somewhat from 88.4 mph to 86.6 mph, while his strikeout rate is up from 20 percent to almost 23 percent.

So none of that points to a great increase in skill, but we saw this last year, too. Despite all his home runs, Dozier has never been an elite power hitter, at least not in the same vein as a Sano or an Aaron Judge. He doesn't hit the ball harder than everyone or farther than everyone. Last year, Dozier's average non-grounder distance of 287 feet was 88th of 393 hitters with 50 such batted balls; this year, he's tied for 144th of 350. That's not his game.

What Dozier does, at his best, is to maximize his skills. In 2015, he pulled the ball 60 percent of the time, more than anyone. In 2016, Dozier pulled the ball 56 percent of the time, more than anyone. In the first half this year, that was down to 49 percent, only 13th best. It wasn't the Dozier we were used to. But that's been changing, month by month, to the point that now in the second half he's back up to 55 percent, tied for the second highest behind the Phillies' Maikel Franco.

Now, the point here is not to say that "pulling is good, everyone should do it," because that's not true; Franco, for example, has had a very rough season. It's just that Dozier had gained quite the reputation for popping flies into the left-field seats, because that's his strength. The left-field line in Target Field is listed at 339 feet, while center field is 404 feet. That's 65 feet of difference to overcome, and Dozier hits the ball harder to his pull field anyway; when putting it in the air, his exit velocity is 91.1 to left, and 87.9 to right. If he can pull it in the air, it's easier to get it out. Just ask Daniel Murphy.

That's reflected in how Dozier has, for the second year in a row, well outperformed his quality of contact. By looking at strikeouts, walks and expected quality of contact (based on likely outcomes of exit velocity and launch angle), we can get to a hitter's skill level with Expected wOBA. In the first half, for example, Dozier's expected wOBA and actual wOBA aligned perfectly, at .328. He'd "earned" all of his production.

In the second half, Dozier's expected wOBA has increased, slightly, to .340. But his actual wOBA has skyrocketed to a huge .437, with the resulting gap being the fourth largest of any hitter with 100 plate appearances. Normally, that indicates very good batted-ball luck that won't sustain very long, except we saw exactly the same thing last year, too, when Dozier had the second-largest gap in the second half.

What that means is that while Dozier isn't exactly standing out in terms of quality of contact, he's doing it in a way that is conducive to success. When he hit a homer off of Houston's Charlie Morton on July 13, it was a mere 95.3 mph exit velocity and 33 degrees launch angle, a combo that's a homer only 11 percent of the time -- i.e., when it's pulled into a short porch.

Video: MIN@HOU: Dozier belts leadoff homer, sets team record

That one went 375 feet. Now, see what happens when Enrique Hernandez hits an identical batted ball -- same exit velo, angle, and distance -- but not down the line. It's an out.

Video: MIA@LAD: Yelich makes a catch at the warning track

Or take this combination from earlier this month, which goes for a hit barely half the time and a home run only about a third of the time. Dozier found the shortest path to success.

Video: TEX@MIN: Dozier launches a two-run homer to left

Of the 196 players with at least 10 tracked homers this year, Dozier's average home run distance of 397 feet is tied for 126th. It doesn't stand out. But that's the point. He's not Judge, or Sano or Stanton. He'll never be. What Dozier is, and has been, is a player who knows how to get the most out of himself, not others. And as the Twins keep pushing toward the playoffs, a repeat of last year's second half from Dozier could be the difference. We're already seeing that it might be happening.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Minnesota Twins, Brian Dozier