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2020 Season in Review: Hunter Dozier

Did he win over skeptics in 2020?

MLB: SEP 23 Cardinals at Royals Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When you are rebuilding your organization, you need to be smart, but you also need to be a bit lucky. That means getting a few players to perform significantly better than you ever expected. The Royals have one great example of that in Whit Merrifield, a player that everyone passed over in the Rule 5 draft that turned himself into an All-Star. But in 2019, they also found another example in Hunter Dozier, the once disappointing first-round pick who was suddenly one of the best hitters in baseball.

The underlying data suggested that Dozier’s performance in 2019 was no fluke, however he had only hit .228/.279/.388 prior to that season, so it was reasonable to have some doubt going into this year. Unfortunately, those doubts were never fully resolved as unforeseen circumstances led to a mixed bag for Dozier in 2020.

The season had already suffered a major delay to the start of the season, but just as play was about to begin, Dozier was hit with another blow - he had tested positive for COVID-19. Dozier suffered some “pretty tough symptoms” including shortness of breath that would linger. Thankfully, he would overcome the virus, but we don’t fully know much the illness affected his play this year.

Dozier would return in early August and put an exclamation point on his comeback with home runs in back-to-back games against the Twins. The next week, again against the Twins, he homered, then enjoyed the third four-hit game of his career.

By early September, Dozier’s numbers were looking very much in-line with what he had done in his breakout season in 2019. But over the last three weeks he would struggle, hitting just .205/.290/.301 over his last 22 games. He would finish the year with a 101 OPS+ and a line of .228/.344/.392, very average numbers and below-average for a first baseman, the position he settled into at the end of the season.

Dozier’s exit velocity (averaging (86.4 mph) and hard hit rate (30.9%) both were down significantly from his 2019 numbers. Potential lingering effects from COVID-19, facing primarily AL Central pitchers, or a small sample size (just 44 games) could all explain his drop.

One interesting positive from this season was a huge increase in Dozier’s walk rate. It seemed as if pitchers didn’t want to face him at all in the first month of the season, as he drew 17 walks in his first 19 games. Despite his late season slump, he still finished 17th in baseball in walk rate.

It looks like Dozier will move to first base on a permanent basis, with manager Mike Matheny praising his abilities there.

“I’d say potential Gold Glove there,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said, of Dozier at first base. “I’d say the way he moves --- he’s got some shortstop instincts, and he’s got that one-step quickness of a third baseman. We’ve seen him dive, we’ve seen him use his hands ... sure looks good there.”

Dozier’s metrics at first base look solid, although it is not nearly enough of a sample size to make much of an evaluation. But with his background as an infielder, and his size, he should be able to make the transition pretty well.

However a move to first base will raise expectations on what he can do with his bat. Hunter Dozier has certainly shown he is capable of putting up All-Star level numbers before. His newfound plate discipline could make him an even more valuable hitter in the middle of that lineup. Hopefully his late season swoon was just a blip, the result of an unusual season, and we can get the 2019 version of Hunter Dozier in the future.


How would you grade Hunter Dozier’s 2020 season?

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