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Brian Dozier to Nationals - Fantasy Impact

In mid-January, the Nationals inked Brian Dozier to a one-year, $9M contract. Following a disappointing season in which he was hobbled by a knee injury, the veteran second baseman will try to re-establish himself in the pursuit of a long-term contract next off-season as he heads into his age-32 season.

It is worth noting that his overall stat line was dragged down by a career-low BABIP and the lowest HR/FB since 2013, his first full year in the majors. So some positive regression to the league-average is quite possible, as you may have already read.

Dozier may shape up to be a great value on draft day, but a number of red flags must raise warnings to fantasy owners. We also don't know how he'll fit into his new surroundings in Washington, especially as the team is in limbo waiting for Bryce Harper to make a decision. What does the immediate future hold for Dozier and his new teammates?

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The Elephant in the Room Named Bryce

Unlike his days with the Twins where he hit at the top of the lineup, Dozier likely will hit fifth or sixth in the Nationals lineup (depending on where Ryan Zimmerman hits). According to research by Tanner Bell, the difference between hitting first and sixth in a lineup is approximately 85 PA. But despite getting fewer PA from hitting lower in the lineup, his RBI opportunities should be plentiful hitting behind OBP-savant Juan Soto.

If the Nationals were to re-sign Bryce Harper—another OBP-savant—then Dozier’s RBI opportunities would be even greater. On the other hand, hitting lower in the order will mean a decrease in R. Fortunately, his K% and BB% remained stable, so his BA and OBP should recover if he can improve the BABIP and HR/FB.

Due to his age, degenerative knee, and hitting lower in the batting order, it is possible that Dozier’s days of double-digit steals are over. But if healthy, his power numbers should recover. His Exit Velocity on Fly Balls (EV-FB) dipped from 95.0 mph in 2017 (when he hit 34 HR) to 92.1 in 2018 (21 HR). The difference between 3 mph in EV-FB is worth about 5% HR/FB based on a generalized least squares regression of HR/FB on EV-FB.

That is, a 95 mph EV-FB will yield an expected 19.4% HR/FB while a 92 mph EV-FB will yield 15.4% HR/FB. Those HR/FB translates to approximately 35 HR versus 26 HR (assuming 600 PA, Steamer projected BB% and K%, and career FB%). Therefore, if healthy, Dozier could be a fantastic buy-low candidate at auction/draft.

The addition of Dozier for such a low-cost might allow the Nationals to spend more on an additional free agent, quite possibly the aforementioned Bryce Harper. As discussed above, Harper’s presence in the lineup would increase Dozier’s RBI. In addition, Harper’s high OBP might also increase Dozier’s PA, as Bell’s article demonstrates the relationship between a team’s Runs Scored and PA by lineup position. In other words, offense begets offense and adding Harper back into the Nationals lineup adds a whole lot of offense.


It Ain't All Good

Though it is not all good news for Nationals’ players. First, Howie Kendrick will see his role diminished from presumptive starting 2B to utility player, which probably terminates his fantasy relevance in many formats.

Less obvious is that Victor Robles’ production may be adversely affected by the addition of Dozier. The reasoning is as follows: Robles projects to hit in the lower third of the Nationals lineup at the start of the season. Had Kendrick remained the starting 2B and #6 hitter, then there would have been a good chance of Robles supplanting him. Instead, Dozier likely occupies the fifth or sixth spot for the entire season, likely keeping Robles in the seventh or eighth spot.

Robles hitting eighth would be particularly harmful to Robles’ value because typically NL hitters in that spot steal fewer bases than players hitting higher in the lineup. This reduction is stolen base opportunities is due to teams being more likely to sacrifice bunt with a pitcher or, if there are two outs, not wanting to risk a CS and thus lead off the next inning with a pitcher.

Another young National prospect who will be adversely affected is the 21-year-old Carter Kieboom. Although he was not slated to open the year in the majors, he might have played well enough to warrant a mid-season promotion to the majors in a world where the incumbent second baseman is Howie Kendrick. Instead, Kieboom is unlikely to see significant playing time in the majors in 2019 unless injury strikes a starter.

Finally, although Dozier’s defense is irrelevant to his own fantasy value and impact on the Nationals’ lineup, his presence may harm Nationals’ pitchers. Even in his prime Dozier never rated well as a defender by UZR/150. Age and the degenerative knee condition will likely reduce his range even further. Therefore, ground ball pitchers such as Stephen Strasburg and the recently acquired Patrick Corbin may suffer from Dozier’s inferior defense.

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