During the Brewers’ pursuit of Manny Machado, a lot of attention was drawn to just how badly Milwaukee shortstops were struggling at the plate this season. Much of that was due to Orlando Arcia’s massive sophomore slump, which has landed him in Triple-A to get back to basics with his swing mechanics.
But second base has also been a problem this year. You can get by without production from shortstop if second base is solid, but when both middle infield positions are a weak point in the lineup, the bottom half of the order is going to suffer.
So it makes sense that in the days after the Machado trade, the Brewers have started to be connected to second base possibilities, like New York’s Asdrubal Cabrera (as Brad mentioned this morning) and Minnesota’s Brian Dozier (as Kyle noted a few days ago).
Dozier is someone Brewers fans are likely more familiar with, given the annual border battle series between Milwaukee and the Twins. While he’s a couple seasons removed from his peak -- when he was a 6-WAR player and hitting more than 40 home runs in 2016 -- a closer look into his struggles this year suggest he may be a sneaky buy-low acquisition.
Now 31 years old, it’d be easy to think Dozier was on the decline. He’s seen his OPS drop by more than 100 points this year, hitting just .227/.313/.419 in the first half. His slugging percentage is about 80 points lower than it was last year, but he’s still hit 16 home runs and 19 doubles in the first half. His .732 OPS may also be lower than the star numbers he’s posted previously, but isn’t that far off from the .751 mark he posted in his first All-Star season of 2015 and still outpaces the production the Brewers have gotten from Jonathan Villar (.693) and Hernan Perez (.665).
Dozier would be an upgrade over those two in his current form, but there’s some reason to believe that he could perform better in the second half.
Aside from his reputation as a second-half kind of player, he doesn’t seem to be hitting the ball all that differently than he has in his All-Star seasons. He’s actually slightly reduced his strikeout rate from last year (20% to 19.3%) and his BB/K ratio has stayed pretty much steady (0.55 last year, 0.54 this year). He’s actually increased his percentage of hard-hit balls from 34.1% last year to 36.4%, and he’s increased the number of flyballs he’s hit from 42.6% to 45.9% -- something that might serve him well if he moves out of the spacious Target Field and into Miller Park.
Those numbers would seem to indicate his struggles this year might just be a bit of bad luck in the first half. Despite hitting the ball hard more consistently than last year, he’s seen his BABIP drop from .300 last year to .247 this year, which is almost 30 points lower than his career average. And despite hitting the ball hard *and* in the air, his HR/FB rate has dropped from 16.8% last year to 12% this year, which is also under his career average of 13.3%.
The projection systems seem to agree he’s in line for some positive regression -- his rest-of-season ZiPS projection over the final 62 games is a .248/.333/.462 line, a .272 BABIP and 1.5 fWAR. For the sake of comparison, Villar is projected for 0.4 fWAR and Perez is projected for 0.6 fWAR, and the value there is mostly derived from defense, not offense. If you’re extra curious, Machado is projected for 2.1 fWAR in the second half.
Dozier is in the last year of a 4-year, $20 million contract he signed prior to the 2015 season and is making $9 million this year, so you could estimate that he has about $4 million owed to him for the rest of the year. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and would likely be looking for one more multi-year deal as he heads into his age-32 season next year, and the Twins have shown little interest in signing him to an extension or bringing him back after this year.
The Brewers’ reported offer of Brett Phillips and Luis Ortiz for Machado is likely too much to pay for Dozier, but Phillips may be of some interest to the Twins, who have seen Byron Buxton struggle mightily. If they’re still committed to Buxton, though, there may not be a lot of room for Phillips there, either -- 26-year-old Eddie Rosario is becoming a breakout star and the team is still pretty high on 25-year-old Max Kepler in the corners. Dozier probably isn’t the kind of rental the Brewers would be interested in giving Ortiz up for, either, but an arm from the 10-15 range in the Brewers’ prospect list may be more appropriate.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs