Better late than never, right? Dozier made his debut in 2016 at age 25 during the expanded rosters portion of the season but, like most, didn’t make a huge impression. In 2017, Dozier lost a season to an oblique strain and a broken wrist and never saw at-bats in a Royals uniform. In 2018, Dozier bounced back from his injuries in Omaha before getting the (hopefully) final call-up to the bigs in May at the age of 27. Dozier had a lot of peaks and valleys that year but made a case for consideration in 2019 by posting a 115 wRC+ and slashing .260/.292/.528 in the final 6 weeks of 2018.
Dozier successfully carried over that momentum into the 2019 season and played his way into the “dude” moniker. In the first two months of the season, Dozier was bashing to the tune of .314/.398/.589 and 154 wRC+. He took a dip in June after dealing with muscle tightness in his chest (there are muscles in your chest?) and missed multiple weeks. Dozier toiled in the abyss of average for four weeks before returning to solid for the remaining two months.
In all, Dozier showed progress in all statistical categories at the plate.
Making that big of strides in every single category will lead to a lot of whiplash from folks turning their heads. He was able to hit for both average and power, walk more and strike out less, and create more runs in general than he did in 2018. Because of those strides, pitchers across the league took note and started pitching him differently. In 2018, he received 59.5% fastballs, 32.5% breaking balls, and 8% off-speed. In 2019, he received 52.6% fastballs, 36.1% breaking balls, and 11.3% off-speed. Dozier was able to adjust to this change and play his game, averaging slightly less pitches per at-bat than in 2018 (3.84 vs. 3.93). To me, that shows how he’s also matured in his approach; taking the inevitability of pitchers getting tape on him and still hunting for his pitch.
In the final game of the season, Hunter hit his 10th triple of the season, tying him with Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, and Eduardo Escobar for the major league lead, to go with his 26 homeruns. Since 2002, there have been only nine other players to hit at least 26 dingers and 10 triples and he’s in good company.
2003 Carlos Beltran
2003 Nomar Garciaparra
2006 Grady Sizemore
2007 Jimmy Rollins (Won NL MVP)
2011 Curtis Granderson
2015 Evan Gattis (Wait wut?!?!?)
2017 Charlie Blackmon
2017 Nicholas Castellanos
2019 Eduardo Escobar
The thing about Dozier doing it, though, is that it only took him 586 plate appearances. The average number of plate appearances in those seasons mentioned is 682. Dozier needed almost 100 fewer PAs, and the fewest PAs on that list, to achieve that. If he is able to continue trending like the guys on this list, outside of Grady, then the Royals could have their three-hole hitter for the future.
Now for the less good news: his glove has been slightly below-average all throughout his time in the majors. I mean it hasn’t been terrible, but he’s not creating much value in the field for a team that emphasizes precisely that. I know that the organization sees him as the third baseman of the future, where he posted a -12.5 UZR/150 in 2018 and -6.5 UZR/150 in 2019. He’s also been in the mix at first base (-0.2 in 2018, -19.6 in 2019). The part of this that is really interesting to me is his productivity in the outfield. In 2018, his outfield UZR/150 was 13.8 in a small sample size (16 innings). In 2019, he put up 7.5 in a better sample size of 157.1 innings. According to Fangraphs, that would be considered somewhere between above-average and great, so let’s call it good. There’s a chance that he could be a good corner outfielder. Speaking of, according to the Royals’ UZR/150 scores, the Royals’ best outfield rotation this year would be McBroom in left field, Brett Phillips in center field, and Dozier in right field.
Having said all of this, I think Dozier’s best defensive contribution is similar to Whit’s - versatility. Considering the bottom of the order’s offensive woes, the club could potentially look for the best available bat outside of the club (at the right cost obvs) without having to worry about positional availability because of Dozier and Merrifield, and that is valuable. If you think you’ve got a shot at Rendon or Donaldson or Ozuna or Castellanos or Puig, they could entertain the thought of adding them because this lineup can afford to give them plate appearances. I don’t think they will this offseason but they definitely could next offseason and that is fun to think about (Hello Mookie, Springer, Pederson).
All in all, Dozier enjoyed a fantastic breakout season and played his way into a core piece role and probably an extension/raise. I, for one, am excited to see what 2020 and beyond hold for him in the heart of the lineup.
How would you grade Hunter Dozier’s 2019 season?
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