MINNEAPOLIS — Twins second baseman Brian Dozier put an emphasis on trying to get on base more often in 2014, a strategy that has worked to the tune of a career-high .333 OBP (on-base percentage). He’s also been more aggressive on the base paths, stealing 19 bases — five more than he had all of last season.
Those factors have helped Dozier lead the league in another statistic: runs scored.
Entering Monday’s series finale against Kansas City, Dozier has crossed home plate 84 times. That’s more than every other player in the American League. Only Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals has scored more runs, edging Dozier by one run (albeit in 19 more at-bats than Dozier). Mike Trout is Dozier’s closest challenger in the AL with 81 runs scored.
Plenty of factors play into why Dozier has scored so many runs this year, but he’s the first to give credit elsewhere.
"If you’ve got a guy leading the league in scoring runs, then somebody’s driving them in," Dozier said. "That’s a credit to the guys hitting behind me."
Dozier’s increased on-base percentage has certainly put him in more scoring chances, but he’s also driven himself in 20 times. He set a career high last year with 18 homers, but he’s already upped that with a month and a half to play.
Aside from himself, the player who has driven Dozier in the most times is Trevor Plouffe, who has knocked in Dozier 13 times out of his 55 RBI. Eight of Joe Mauer’s 31 RBI have come on runs scored by Dozier.
"Like he said, he’s fortunate to have some people that have been hitting the ball behind him," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "And he makes the most of it when he gets on."
Dozier has spent most of the season batting in one of the top two spots in the Twins’ lineup, meaning he’ll often have one more at-bat — and potentially one more opportunity to score a run — than his teammates. But you can’t score if you don’t get on base, and Dozier has done that more this year than in his first two seasons in the majors.
Part of that is thanks to a spike in his walk totals. His walk percentage (the percent of his plate appearances that result in a base on balls) went from 4.7 percent in his rookie season in 2012 to 8.2 percent last season to 11.9 percent in 2014, according to Fangraphs. That rate is tops among the players currently on the Twins’ 25-man roster.
"That’s another thing that I still want to try to get better at," Dozier said of getting on base. "I know walks and everything are up this year. Obviously you can get on base a lot of different ways. Personally for myself, I need to get better at two-strike approaches and using the whole field with that kind of count, with two strikes."
Gardenhire noted Dozier’s increased walk rate despite the second baseman’s tendency to be somewhat of a free swinger. The importance, though, is that the rate of pitches out of the strike zone has declined since his rookie year. So far in 2014, Dozier has swung at 29.1 percent of pitches out of the zone, down from 34.7 percent in 2012.
As Dozier gets more at-bats under his belt, that percent should drop even more — and the runs could spike as a result.
"He’s also got a number of walks, which is unique when you swing as much as he does and let it fly," Gardenhire said. "I would bet that if he cuts down his swings out of the zone, he’ll probably even get on base more. He’s a good base runner. He’s got great instincts."
Dozier has worked plenty with coaches Paul Molitor and Joe Vavra on his base running, which has led to a new career high in stolen bases. But it’s more than just stealing a base that can make a player a good base runner or put him in scoring position.
According to Baseball-Reference, Dozier has gone from first base to third base 15 times on singles this year, and he’s scored from second base 14 times on singles. He hopes his aggressive approach on the base paths is something the team’s younger players will take note of as the entire lineup looks to score more runs.
"Sometimes it comes back to haunt me, but at the same time I want to kind of emphasize that to young guys to be an aggressive team," Dozier said. "That’s how you win baseball games. Don’t be stupid on the base paths, but at the same time, be overly aggressive. We need that."