Trust me, this comes as a shock to me too and I’ve been writing about the Twins multiple times per week for the past dozen years.
Brian Dozier was never considered a particularly good prospect, never put up especially strong numbers in the minors, and didn’t debut for the Twins until at age 25. And he struggled initially on both sides of the ball, posting a .603 OPS while being moved from shortstop to second base as a rookie.
Fast forward three years and he’s the best second baseman in baseball, although the majority of the baseball-watching world hasn’t seemed to notice yet.
Dozier had a breakout 2014 season in which he hit 23 homers, stole 21 bases, drew 89 walks, scored 112 runs, and posted a .762 OPS in 156 games. But the Twins were terrible and his batting average was low, so it mostly went unnoticed. Now the Twins are less terrible, his batting average is a little higher, and Dozier is having an even better season with 16 homers, 58 runs scored, and an .869 OPS through 75 games.
Some people will never stop focusing on batting average, but that’s a very outdated approach to evaluating baseball players and since the beginning of last season Dozier leads all MLB second basemen in home runs, walks, and runs scored while also ranking second in OPS and RBIs. Factor in defense as well and he leads all MLB second basemen in Wins Above Replacement since the beginning of last season:
SECOND BASEMEN WAR
Brian Dozier 7.6
Jose Altuve 6.7
Dustin Pedroia 6.5
Ian Kinsler 6.5
Dee Gordon 6.1
As a prospect Dozier was a light-hitting, contact-making shortstop afterthought, but he’s turned himself into a power-hitting, walk-drawing offensive force to emerge as the best second baseman in baseball at age 28.
Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.
As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.
Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”
Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012. He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.
The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.