Over the course of his seven major league seasons, Brian Dozier, who inked a 1-year/$9M free agent deal with the Washington Nationals last weekend, has played just six games in Nationals Park, going 3 for 21 with a home run.
Dozier will have plenty of time to get more comfortable in the nation’s capital this season, but he said on Tuesday, in a conference call with reporters, that he has enjoyed the visits he’s made to D.C. in the past.
“I know of two series and maybe another one in the Nationals Park,” Dozier said.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing there. You can see the ball really well. I think I’ve hit a couple homers there.”
“The ball travels to left and I don’t go right too much,” he joked, “... but it travels [to left] which is always a good thing.”
He really doesn’t go to right too much.
Dozier is a pull hitter to the tune of a 49.9% Pull% in 2018 and 51.2% in his career vs. 16.3% Opp% (Opposite Field%) last season (30.6% career), with a 33.8% Cent% for Minnesota and Los Angeles in 2018, in a down year offensively in his seventh major league campaign.
As he explained it, he recognized his strengths a few years back and concentrated on how to play to them, getting into the launch angle thing before it was a thing with a name.
“I’m a big fan of analytics, but I just feel that analytics, and a feel for the game, they have to coincide in order for the players to be good and for teams to be successful,” Dozier said.
“With the launch angle and all that kind of stuff, when I changed my approach I guess back in the end of 2012, going into 2013, there was no launch angle or any of that stuff, but looking back at it now, that’s kind of exactly what it was, we just didn’t have a name for it then, and that’s recognizing your strengths and doing everything that you can to be really good at your strengths rather than trying to tweak weaknesses and stuff, and one of those strengths is hitting the ball in the air to left field and left-center field and then once I kind of, I guess, got that part of it, I really enjoyed doing that.
“It’s going to be a fun year with a hitting coach that kind of sees the same thing, because I believe in whether your strength is getting the ball in the air, hitting the ball the other way, but really honing in to your strengths and running with that.”
He finished the 2018 campaign with a .215/.305/.391 line, 30 doubles, and 21 home runs in 151 games and 632 plate appearances, in which he was worth 0.8 fWAR, a significant drop from 6.2 and 5.0 fWAR in 2016-17, respectively, when he put up .268/.340/.546 line with 35 doubles and 42 HRs and a .271/.359/.498 line with 30 doubles and 34 homers.
How does he think Nationals Park will suit his hitting style over 81-ish games?
“I think it’s a very similar park to Minnesota,” Dozier said. “I would say it’s fair. I think that the consensus around the league, if you were to ask a hitter, it’s a very true park. I think Minnesota, if you’re asking in comparison, I think Minnesota is probably more deeper in the alleys, especially to right-center and left-center, not so much I guess in center field, but they’re very similar parks, very true parks.”
Brian Dozier's 172 career home runs, overlaid at Nationals Park.— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) January 10, 2019
See if you can spot the trend. pic.twitter.com/SZyTdpxDvs
Dozier told reporters on Tuesday that he turned down bigger deals, in terms of both dollars and years, to take the Nationals’ offer because he felt like Washington, D.C. was a good fit.
His dip in production in 2018 was at least in part a result of a bone bruise in his left knee which he suffered in April and dealt with all season, though he said it was now 100%.
“I’ve always kind of been the guy — you play through stuff every single year and you kind of don’t want anything to ever get out and I don’t know how it came out last year, but it came out and I experienced a bone bruise in my left knee, which is just, obviously bruises heal up very quickly and it did so right after the World Series.”
Dozier appeared in 11 games for the Dodgers during their run last Fall, going 2 for 12 with five walks and four Ks in 22 PAs for LA as they won the NL pennant but lost to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
Deciding to join the Nationals, who are looking to get back to the postseason after missing out last year, he explained, was made easier by the presence of one of his teammates from his time with the Twins, who signed on in D.C. earlier this winter.
“A really close friend of my that I played with in Minnesota, Kurt Suzuki,” Dozier said, “having talks with him leading up to this, and like I said, I’m not a guy who chases the most money or chases the most years, all that kind of stuff. You really want to feel like everything kind of happens for a reason and you’re put in certain places to work and invest in the community and stuff.
“And talking with Kurt, talking a few times with another close friend of mine that played in Washington, Josh Willingham, how much they raved about it, not only within the organization, as far as how they treat families, the travel, all that kind of stuff, but outside in the community.”
“Obviously I’ve had a lot of friends come through the Nationals’ organization that rave about it,” he added at another point in the conversation. “So it’s definitely a priority and one of the top choices on my list, but you didn’t really know, obviously, what you’ve done throughout your career, the past five or six years, and then all of a sudden a little down year, playing through some stuff, you don’t really know how people respond, but they responded alright, but at the same time, I really just felt like the one-year deal with Washington is kind of the best fit for my wife and myself, and it seems like a great fit.”