The Twins were in the market for young starting pitching this offseaon, with an emphasis on the type that could make an appearance on the Major League roster in 2017. The only way to do that – because there weren’t any free agents that fit that profile – was via trade. There are some high value trade targets on the roster, but only one that is under contract only for another couple of years. Brian Dozier was placed on the trade block not because he was bad or unwanted, but because he was the perfect trade piece in order for the Twins to get what they needed. He is extremely talented, but also has a contract situation, and is old enough that the Twins can conclude he won’t be a part of the next era of Twins success.
Dozier is really good, and there aren’t many people that will tell you otherwise. The reason that Dozier remains a Twin is because there wasn’t a robust market for his services. Nobody was willing to pay fair value for the all star 2nd baseman, who has developed into one of the premier power threats in the league. This is in large part due to his penchant for hot and cold streaks. The Twins front office weighted the hot spots more than the cold. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is look at where Dozier is consistent. Now that he is sticking with the Twins, what kind of player will Minnesota get at second?
Last year, by WAR, Brian Dozier was the 13th most valuable player, between fellow second basemen Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler. Kinsler was another player the Dodgers were alleged to have some interest in, though his contract and age were less favorable. Cano is under contract for over 200 million a year. Meanwhile, two spots above Dozier in the WAR rankings was Adam Eaton, who, with 5 years of control remaining, earned the White Sox a coup on the trade market.
So yes, Dozier was valuable, but this was also the peak of his career. Nearly everyone assumes he will regress to his mean in 2017, but nobody really knows what that is, thanks to his inconsistencies. There are a couple of areas where Dozier has had an ability to hold his own, year over year. He’s been well above average on the basepaths, typically stealing 15-20 bases. That is value that it appears most projection systems are not appreciating. On the downside, his walk and strikeout rate appear to be firmly established. His peak walk rate (on his way to a quietly excellent year) in 2014 was spurious — He will walk about 8.8% of his plate appearance. His strike out rate also appears to be pretty well confirmed – 20%. His batting average was much higher this year, but that seems to tie almost exclusively to the extra 20 balls that left the yard. His BABIP has never strayed by more than about 10 points from .280.
If there is an area to expect regression, it is with his power. Many other things are fairly stable. That is a baseline of about 4WAR, 2/3 of his explosive 2016. Fangraphs’ projection systems seem to ignore 2014 and 2016, latching on to 2015. That’s a decent baseline, I think, but doesn’t quite capture the additional value that Dozier adds in a typical year. They attribute half the defensive and baserunning value he has had every year since 2014 and 2013, respectively, and they give him the lowest ISO since 2014. In my mind, a WAR of 4 – 4.5 seems an appropriate expectation. That would put him in the neighborhood of Ben Zobrist, DJ LeMahieu and Cesar Hernandez, all of whom are pretty good players. If Dozier is on a pace for 4.3 wins in 2017, we can all be happy with his production.
Of course, that base 3.1WAR that Fangraphs has insisted on is interesting as well. It falls between Matt Carpenter and Logan Forsythe. Of course, Forsythe was traded to the Dodgers for a player that was widely rumored to be the primary piece that would come to the Twins in any speculative Brian Dozier trade. I guess we know what Los Angeles expects of Dozier this year. Let’s hope the Twins’ assessment is closer to the mark.