Dodgers: Brian Dozier is the Biggest Pickup for the Dodgers in 2018
Manny Machado was the crown jewel of the pre-waiver trade deadline. He became a natural target for the Dodgers when their super-star shortstop, Corey Seager, was lost to season-ending Tommy John surgery in April.
Adding Machado at the break instantly improved the starting lineup. And make no mistake, the Front Office didn’t acquire Machado to have him be a platoon player. Whether he’s starting at short or filling in for Justin Turner at third, expect Machado’s name to be in the lineup virtually every day.
But as good as a pick up as Machado was, that wasn’t the Dodgers’ biggest move going into the trade deadline. No, that honor goes to another American League middle infielder the Dodgers picked up at the deadline. Brian Dozier.
The Void at Second Base
Second base has been something of a revolving door for the Dodgers since they traded away Dee Gordon after the 2014 season. Howie Kendrick, Darwin Barney, Chase Utley, Kiké Hernandez, Charlie Culberson, Logan Forsythe, and most recently, Max Muncy, to name a few.
When the Dodgers acquired Logan Forsythe from the Rays during the 2016 off-season, he was supposed to be the primary second baseman. Sure, Utley would get some at-bats against some righties and Hernandez would play a few games there as well, but Forsythe would get the majority of starts.
It wasn’t a bad plan. The Dodgers needed a second baseman, and Forsythe seemed like the best option that was available. He was a good defender and was coming off two solid offensive years. In 2015 his slash line was .281/.359/.444/.804 with 17HRs, 68 RBIs, and 5.2 WAR. For 2016 it was .264/.333/.444/.778 with 20 HRs, 52 RBIs, and 3.4 WAR.
Unfortunately, Forsythe never got traction in LA and was unable to match his performance with the Rays. And that’s putting it gently. His slash line for 2017 was .224/.351/.327/.678 with 6 HRs and 36 RBIs.
For 2018 it was even worse at .207/.270/.290/.560. During his tenure with the Dodgers, he was ranked 33rd out of 36 for Fangraphs version of WAR for second basemen with at least 650 plate appearances. The production the Dodgers were getting from second base left a huge area for an upgrade.
The Long Dance
The Dodgers and Twins have been linked to talks on Dozier for years now, but the asking price was always too high (or too low, depending on whose side of the table you’re looking from). In fact, as noted above, the Dodgers only traded for Forsythe after numerous failed attempts to strike a deal with the Twins Front Office for Dozier.
Now, after dancing back and forth for what seemed like forever, the Dodgers and Twins finally came to terms on a deal to send Dozier to LA. The Dodgers would land the elusive second baseman in exchange for Logan Forsythe and minor leaguers, Devin Smeltzer and Luke Raley.
Brian Dozier represents an immediate upgrade at second. His slash line for 2016 was .268/.340/.546/.886 with 42 HRs and 99 RBIs and 6.3 WAR. For 2017 it was .271/.359/.498/.856 with 34 HRs and 93 RBIs and 4.5 WAR. He also won the AL Gold Glove in 2017. By contrast to Forsythe, Dozier ranked 4th out of 36-second basemen for Fangraphs version of WAR during the same period.
Although Dozier has gotten off to a slow start this year, that seems to be part of his regular pattern the last few years. His slash line going into the break this year was .230/.314/.423/.738 with 16 HRs and 48 RBIs.
Similarly, in 2016 and 2017, his splits before the half were .246/.335/.450/.786 with 14 HRs and 43 RBIs and .242/.328/.417/.745 with 13 HRs and 41 RBIs, respectively. By comparison, his splits after the half in 2016 and 2017 were .291/.344/.646/.990 with 28 HRs and 56 RBIs and .304/.394/.591/.985 with 21 HRs and 52 RBIs, respectively.
Dozier has hit the ground running in LA. In his five games since joining the team, Dozier’s slash line is .400/.500/1.00/1.500 with 2 HRs and 7 RBIs. Of course it’s a very small sample size, but it is consistent with prior patterns, so hopefully, this bodes well for the Dodgers going forward.
No matter what the Dodger did (or didn’t do) to address their concerns about second base this year, they were going to have to do something by next year anyway. Even if Forsythe had performed well enough to at least ride out the season, the Dodgers were going to lose him to free agency anyway. And I would have been shocked if they had even extended him a qualifying offer out of fear that he might accept it.
Much of what the Dodger Front Office has done this season has been done against an over-arching goal of getting under the salary cap so they could reset the luxury tax penalty next year. The Dodgers would like to go into next year’s monster free-agent class with as much flexibility as possible.
Although much has been written about Bryce Harper and Manny Machado being the marquee names available next year, I have previously written why I don’t think the Dodgers will aggressively pursue either one.
I still think it is much more likely that the Dodgers will focus their resources on keeping Kershaw in Dodger Blue for his career and on signing a second baseman. Acquiring Dozier now not only gives the Dodgers a huge upgrade at second for the second half, but it gives them a front row seat to evaluate whether they want to lock him into a contract next year. It may even give them the potential inside track if things click and both sides are amenable to trying to pursue an extension.
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Machado vs Dozier Impact
If the Dodgers hope to win their Division for a team-record 6th straight year and their first World Championship since 1988, they are going to have to be better than last year. As I said above, Machado was considered to be the crown jewel of this year’s pre-waiver trade deadline. Objectively speaking, he was the best position player to change teams. But the relative improvement the Dodgers get from Machado is actually less than what they pick up from Dozier.
While there is no doubt that Machado is a big improvement over a platoon of Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernandez at shortstop, I don’t think that is really the right comparison. Using 2017 as a baseline scenario, I think the proper comparison for the Dodger here is Manny Machado vs. Corey Seager. And whether you are a fan of old school statistics or the more modern Sabermetric numbers, I think it’s safe to say that these are both elite level players.
Even if you wanted to assume (just for the sake of argument) that Machado was better than Seager, I don’t think anyone would be willing to say they weren’t close. So at best you’re talking about a nominal improvement at short.
By contrast, one of the biggest areas where the Dodgers had room to upgrade from 2017 was their production at second base. And boy did they upgrade! The incremental improvement of Brian Dozier over Logan Forsythe can’t be understated. You move from one of the worst offensive second basemen in all of baseball to one of the best. The swing is enormous. Hopefully, it will be enough to finally get the Dodgers over the threshold to bring the World Championship back home!