The month of April has concluded and rightfully so, all the national media attention has focused on the likes of Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, and Mike Trout. While these three studs have had historical starts to 2019, they only make up three of the top four hitters this year. Unknown Kansas City third baseman Hunter Dozier has kept pace with the best of best so far, and with the sample size being just big enough to start paying attention, let’s dig in.
Dozier was drafted by the Royals in 2013 as the 8th overall pick out of Stephen F. Austin. He was seen as more of a value pick at the time as he wasn’t demanding an abnormally large signing bonus. Dozier immediately reported to rookie ball and absolutely tore up the baseball. He continued to get bumped up to the next level until he hit AA, where he found himself struggling. In 2016, however, Dozier broke through and was a September call up, able to log 21 plate appearances and his first major league hit.
Dozier was seen as a highly regarded prospect at this time, but his stock took a massive hit as injuries bombarded him in 2017. First, it was a strained oblique, and once he recovered from that, he broke his hamate bone in his wrist. Dozier was not included as a September call up towards the end of the year and ended up playing in the Mexican Pacific League as he tried to shake off the rust.
For 2018, Dozier finally found himself on the big league squad and was able to carve a semi-starting role. It did not go as planned, as while he did show some promising flashes, he finished the year with a negative fWAR, despite logging nearly 400 plate appearances.
Coming into 2019, Dozier was well aware he needed to start hitting, or else he would’ve been dubbed as an AAAA 27-year-old who was a former first-round bust. Improvement needed to be made in several areas, specifically his plate discipline and batted ball profile. Surely enough, this is exactly where he has excelled the most this year.
In 2018, Dozier found himself swinging at far too many balls. This directly correlated with a very low walk rate and high strikeout rate. However, this season Dozier has flipped the script. Below, this vast improvement after his 100th game is nearly linear.
The downward trend as the graph heads into and through 2019 is notable, showing his improved selectivity. Last year, word got around that Dozier did not have much plate discipline. This led to pitchers constantly throwing junk ball pitches, as they had no reason to throw in the zone. Now, as Dozier has stopped swinging at these pitches, it has forced pitchers to come into the zone, giving Dozier balls he can drive. While the trend is still relatively subtle, the uptick as of late can be seen.
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With Dozier receiving more balls he can actually hit, he has seen his numbers skyrocket. This is for two reasons. The first, simply put, he’s hitting the ball hard. Below is his Statcast profile overview, via Baseballsavant.
As shown, all of his expected statistics, which use a combination of exit velocity and launch angle, are through the roof. This brings up the second reason as to why these numbers have skyrocketed: launch angle. Looking at average launch angle can be deceiving, so to get a better idea of how his batted balls have changed, here are the rolling averages for his flyball and groundout rates.
Just like for countless other hitters, hitting the ball in the air rather than on the ground has done wonders for Dozier.
While the sample size is still relatively small, by implementing the adjustments to his plate discipline and batted ball profile, Dozier has seen his batting average go up 100 points, his strikeout rate cut in half, his walk rate more than double, his OPS go up by over 400 points, and his wRC+ up by over 100. Time will tell how much of April Dozier is able to sustain, but for now, a tip of the cap to some improvement.