Yesterday, as I was walking out of my final class of the day, I got an update that Brian Dozier had hit his 3rd home run of the game against the Kansas City Royals. 3 home run games are always a tremendous accomplishment, but I really thought nothing of it more than Dozier having a nice game. That all changed when I got curious and went to go check in on what kind of season Dozier is having in 2016.
Brian Dozier, all 5’11” and 190 lbs of him, has a mind-numbing 39 home runs and leads the league in ISO. In fact, from the 2nd base position, only Rogers Hornsby has a single season ISO higher than Dozier’s 2016 number in the history of baseball.
Coming into this season, Dozier’s highest single season OPS was a respectable .762, and he’s exploded in 2016 to the tune of a .926 clip, on the strength of a .576 slugging percentage. Now, I could go on and on and on about Dozier’s approach at the plate of pulling fly balls with authority, and how his in zone swing percentages break down, but that’s not the point of this article.
Brian Dozier’s season is just a microcosm for the insane offensive season that all 2nd basemen are having across the majors. From traditional stars like Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve, to surprise stars like Jedd Gyorko and Dozier’s breakout, 2nd base has seen its’ most productive offensive season since 1924.
1924?! I wasn’t even born yet, and neither were any of you. So…that’s a really long time ago.
But, such is life in an age where baseball is as weird as it has ever been. I’ve been over how strange and unpredictable baseball has become before, but this just seems to top things all off.
To really understand the context of how incredible this situation is, I want to dive into the history of second basemen. So, let’s start by looking at the body types of the best second basemen our game has ever seen.
Consider the respective heights and weights of the 5 greatest second basemen in the history of baseball – in terms of Baseball Reference WAR.
Rogers Hornsby, 5’11” and 175 pounds.
Eddie Collins, 5’9” and 175 pounds.
Joe Morgan, 5’7” and 160 pounds.
Charlie Gehringer, 5’11” and 185 pounds.
Frankie Frisch, 5’11” and 170 pounds.
Obviously, 175 pounds is a very popular weight among the greatest second basemen of all time, but the common theme here is that the keystone has traditionally been a position of smaller stature. The big, hulking slugger has typically been reserved for a first basemen, or a right fielder, while the second basemen serves as the scrappy dirtbag who gets on base at a high clip and plays good defense.
Home runs from second base, though? Please, don’t mock me with your ludicrous ideas. 1924, the greatest offensive season from second basemen in the history of our game, had a grand total of 106 home runs hit by all parties. The strength of that crop was built on the strength of a contact heavy approach, featuring a K/BB% ratio of 6.2% / 8.8%. The collective wOBA was a sterling .360 while the collective ISO sat at a respectable, but not too good .115.
The second basemen in 2016 have a very different idea of how to hit baseballs.
The old-school, ‘make contact at all costs’ approach has been scrapped in favor of a ‘swing hard, don’t worry about what you don’t hit’ theory. This has resulted in an all-time high ISO of .155 – more than 20 points higher than the next best number – a .426 slugging percentage, and an astonishing 597 total home runs with just under one month left to play.
So far, 2016 second basemen have obliterated the previous single season records for home runs, ISO and slugging percentage, and still have plenty of time to do even more damage. Yet, at the expense of all of this, the 18.1% strikeout percentage is an all time high, while the walk rate is at a decent, but not great 6.7%.
Strikeouts and home runs are up across the board, but this change in approach seems to be taken to the extreme by 2nd basemen in particular. The 2016 K rate of 18.1% is the highest of all time, but the next 6 highest numbers?
The gritty grinders of the keystone have decided that making weak contact is not their cup of tea, and if they can’t hit a pitch 500 feet, they just won’t hit it at all.
To drive this point home even further, the contact rate of 2016 second basemen is 81.2%. Since Fangraphs began tracking contact rate in 2001, this number is more than a full percentage lower than the next worst contact rate – 2002’s 82.4% rate. Combined with this is an all time high swinging strike percentage of 8.8%.
This points towards a very clear approach from second basemen across the board. Swing hard, if you don’t hit it, who cares? Because if you do hit it, the ball is going to fly a long way. As disappointing as lessoning contact rates and higher strikeouts might be for the stagnant, old school baseball fan, you can’t say the approach isn’t yielding dividends.
With a combined WRC+ of 101, 2016 second basemen are having the best offensive season since the 102 WRC+ posted by 1924’s crop of keystoners. They have sacrificed overall contact rate and a lack of strikeouts to be able to post incredible slugging numbers. And just take a look at the seasons being had by some of the heavy lifters in this class of second basemen.
Brian Dozier – .279/.350/.576 39 HR’s 91 RBI’s 141 WRC+ .926 OPS 5.6 WAR
Robinson Cano – .301/.354/.525 32 HR’s 86 RBI’s 137 WRC+ .880 OPS 5.1 WAR
Jedd Gyorko – .243/.304/.506 26 HR’s 51 RBI’s 112 WRC+ .809 OPS 3.3 WAR
Rougned Odor – .280/.304/.515 30 HR’s 82 RBI’s 112 WRC+ .819 OPS 3.2 WAR
Dustin Pedroia – .328/.389/.462 13 HR’s 65 RBI’s 126 WRC+ .851 OPS 5.1 WAR
Daniel Murphy – .345/.391/.595 25 HR’s 101 RBI’s 156 WRC+ .986 OPS 5.2 WAR
The numbers these guys have put up this season are just insane. And they would be insane coming from literally any other position, but the fact that these are second basemen, relied upon to be some of the most agile athletes in the game, makes the power numbers that much more incredible.
Dozier is within 3 home runs of tying Davey Johnson’s single season record of 42 bombs from the second base position. Hell, he might just end up leading the league in home runs and ISO. And we’ll all have to look back on 2016 and go, “wow, Brian Dozier lead the league in home runs and ISO, must have been a down year for power.”
But we’ll be wrong.
Power numbers are up across the board in baseball, this has been well documented, but they are especially high from the second base position. Baseball is weird, and this perfectly exemplifies it.
Thanks for reading.
All numbers courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference