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Dozier eyes bounce-back season with Nats

Veteran eyes chance to make playoffs, test market again next year
January 15, 2019

WASHINGTON -- With an influx of second basemen available this offseason and a number of teams seeking to improve at the position, James Dozier had a few offers from various suitors to weigh during free agency. Dozier said he had offers for more years and for more money than the

WASHINGTON -- With an influx of second basemen available this offseason and a number of teams seeking to improve at the position, James Dozier had a few offers from various suitors to weigh during free agency. Dozier said he had offers for more years and for more money than the one-year, $9 million contract he signed with the Nationals, but he believed D.C. was the "best fit."
That's because the Nationals presented him a team with a chance to make the postseason, had the blessing of Dozier's former teammates Josh Willingham and Kurt Suzuki -- now also with the Nats, but who shared a locker near Dozier's when the two were in Minnesota -- and Washington presented Dozier with a one-year deal to rebuild his market value.
"Going into this year, personally, you kind of have a chip on your shoulder," Dozier said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "Just because you want to make sure you prove people wrong, I guess. I felt like I've done that throughout my career; I had to do that. Which is perfectly fine with me. I enjoy that."
Dozier, 31, was a perfect fit for the Nationals at second base as well. First, he gives them a temporary starter at second while Carter Kieboom, the club's No.2 prospect as rated by MLB Pipeline, has a chance to develop in the Minors. And second, Dozier has a high ceiling when projecting his production next season.
A former All-Star who received down-ballot MVP consideration in the two years prior, Dozier saw his projection drop drastically in 2018, when he posted a slash line of .215/.305/.391 for an 88 OPS+ with the Twins and Dodgers. That lack of production might have been the product of a bone bruise in his left knee from early in the season, although Dozier never went to the disabled list.
Dozier was adamant about not making excuses, but he admitted the knee injury hampered him and led him to some bad habits at the plate.
"My swing works when I use my front side, and my front side is really strong and driving into it," Dozier said. "And I felt like, at times, I didn't really do that like I wanted to."
Now, Dozier says he is 100 percent recovered from the injury, which healed with some rest after the World Series. He does not expect any lingering issues entering Spring Training.
It's why Dozier has already become a popular bounce-back candidate for next season. Steamer projects Dozier to be worth 2.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs, after posting just 0.8 WAR with the Twins and Dodgers last season, one of the biggest projected increases of any player with at least 400 plate appearances in 2018.
The results from Statcast™ agree that Dozier appeared compromised last season. As MLB.com's Mike Petriello pointed out earlier this offseason, Dozier's speed dipped last year, and although the decline began in 2017, he was usually still able to reach his peak speed around 29.0 ft/sec, but he was unable to do so late last season. Perhaps that could improve if the knee is better.
2015: 73rd percentile
2016: 71st percentile
2017: 54th percentile
2018: 47th percentile

Plate discipline

Another positive when projecting a Dozier bounce back is that his plate-discipline numbers remained steady despite last season's struggles.
He struck out 20 percent of the time and walked 11 percent of the time in 2018, identical to his numbers in '17. He swung at 22.5 percent of pitches out of the zone in '18, not a significant difference compared to the 23.4 percent from '17.
Where the difference lies is in his hard-hit rate, which dropped from 36 percent in 2016 and 35 percent to '17 to just 29 percent in '18.

Hard-Hit %

With the bone bruise preventing Dozier from driving through his front leg like he wanted, he could not hit the ball as hard as he once did.
If Dozier returns to his previous form, the Nationals may have found themselves a steal for 2019 with a player who makes an already dangerous lineup even stronger.
It will also be the perfect opportunity for Dozier to redo his contract year and show what he is really capable of.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.