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Hunter Dozier isn’t a viable big league starter any more

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This has been a worst case scenario for the big Texan

Kansas City Royals first baseman Hunter Dozier (17) reacts after striking out in the top of the second inning during the baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros on June 23, 2018 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.
Kansas City Royals first baseman Hunter Dozier (17) reacts after striking out in the top of the second inning during the baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros on June 23, 2018 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hunter Dozier has had a weird professional career for a very long time. It began when the Kansas City Royals selected him eighth overall in the 2013 MLB Draft despite a talent ranking that suggested a late-first or supplemental round selection; Baseball America ranked him 39th overall before the draft. The Royals selected Dozier to pay him underslot so they could select pitcher Sean Manaea (ranked 18th by Baseball America) at 34th overall.

Regardless of the circumstances, however, Dozier was a top-ten pick, and he acted like one initially, quickly forcing his way to Double-A in 2014 where he hit a brick wall. Dozier lingered there until 2016, where he finally ascended to the big leagues. And then in 2017, the year he was supposed to finally steak his claim as a big leaguer, Dozier only played 33 games all year after suffering a parade of injuries. Dozier finally had the breakthrough season everyone expected in 2019, when he hit .279/.348/.522 and was a 3 WAR player.

And, thus far, that has been the peak of Dozier’s big league career.

In 2020, Dozier came down with COVID and later called it a lost season, though he hit a hair above league average per wRC+. And even though Dozier signed a four-year extension worth $25 million before this season, Dozier has continued to stink. Dozier claimed on July 18 that his freak thumb injury at the beginning of the year threw off his whole game and that he had addressed it, but his OPS has actually been worse after that statement (.606) than before it when he had the injury (.621). Per Fangraphs, Dozier is at -0.9 Wins Above Replacement this season, in his age-29 season.

This awful performance got me thinking: how often do players who turn in bad seasons (like, really bad seasons) come back to be productive? And how often does it happen when the “tank” season happens when they’re pretty old? I logged onto Fangraphs to find out. My criteria:

  • Player seasons age 29 or older
  • One “tank” season at -1.0 WAR or worse
  • One “rebound” season at 1.0 WAR or better
  • 400 PA minimum for both seasons
  • Since 2000

In other words, I wanted to know if it was common for players to turn in an awful season and a legitimately good season in their 30s. All in all, there were 64 seasons since 2000 where a player age 29 or older accrued at least 400 PAs with a WAR of -1.0 or worse. Only 12 of them turned in a rebound season of at least 1.0 WAR, and those 12 share some pretty clear similarities (Hunter Dozier included for reference in the below graph):

Successful Rebounds from Awful Seasons

Player Pre-Tank wRC+ Pre-Tank WAR Tank Age Tank wRC+ Tank WAR Rebound Age Rebound wRC+ Rebound WAR
Player Pre-Tank wRC+ Pre-Tank WAR Tank Age Tank wRC+ Tank WAR Rebound Age Rebound wRC+ Rebound WAR
Adam Dunn 131 25.5 31 60 -2.9 32 115 2.1
Aubrey Huff 114 14.7 32 77 -2.1 33 144 5.7
Victor Martinez 125 30.5 36 77 -2.0 37 120 1.1
Carlos Lee 116 26.2 34 87 -1.7 35 115 2.9
Kendrys Morales 112 6.1 31 72 -1.5 32 131 2.1
Ryan Zimmerman 119 34.9 31 66 -1.4 32 137 3.3
Alex Rios 102 20.2 30 60 -1.4 31 126 4.0
Hanley Ramirez 133 40.6 31 90 -1.2 32 127 3.0
Jermaine Dye 109 15.1 33 104 -1.2 34 127 1.4
Ray Durham 108 28.0 35 62 -1.2 36 118 2.7
J.T. Snow 104 7.4 34 92 -1.1 36 153 3.9
Carl Everett 112 16.0 31 97 -1.0 32 125 3.0
Hunter Dozier 104 2.9 29 68 -0.8 ? ? ?

First, every single one of the names on this list had a pre-tank season wRC+ north of 100. More importantly, all but two—Dreamy Snorkels himself and J.T. Snow—accrued double-digit WAR. In other words, every player on this list had found big league success on a multi-year scale, and most players had been highly productive MLB players for years. In other other words, the “tank” season was the aberration, with the “rebound” season simply a return to form.

Dozier doesn’t meet these qualities. Injuries or not, his MLB track record consists precisely of one good season. Heck, look at these two batting lines:

  • .204/.272/.349, 10 HR, 28.6 K%, -0.8 WAR, 117 games
  • .228/.279/.388, 11 HR, 28.5 K%, -0.9 WAR, 110 games

One of those is through Dozier’s first two seasons in the big leagues. The other is Dozier’s stats from this season. They are eerily similar, and are so eerily similar that I mis-copied data multiple times to both lines. Dozier is big and strong and athletic and looks great when his swing is on, but you can say that about a lot of players. The simple fact of the matter is that Dozier is not a good hitter. Compounding his value proposition is that he is not a good fielder, either. At third base, Dozier is one of the worst defenders in baseball at any position, and he is an underwhelming corner outfielder and first baseman.

To recap it all: there is no athletic upside built into Dozier at this point, as he’s not going to get faster or stronger. He’s not a good hitter. He’s a bad fielder everywhere. And the historic data says that the chances of Dozier ever becoming a productive player again are slim-to-none.

Perhaps it is unfair to consider Dozier to be the top ten selection that his resume says he is. After all, he was only selected eighth so that the Royals could do some creative rearranging with signing bonuses and slot values to be sure they get the two guys they wanted. It worked out for the Royals in part, for Manaea was sent to Oakland for Ben Zobrist, a crucial piece in the 2015 World Series team. Hard to argue with championships.

I would love for Dozier to succeed. But you’ve got to stop and face the music sometime, and with Adalberto Mondesi, Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Kyle Isbel, and Bobby Witt Jr. knocking on the doorstep, the game of musical chairs not only could leave Dozier without a starting spot—it should leave Dozier on the bench.