18 February 2016

What To Know About Dexter Fowler

You already know the arguments in favor of signing Dexter Fowler. The Orioles are always in search of on-base percentage to go with their penchant for power hitters. But more than that, Fowler is a good player, and he'd be taking playing time away from Nolan Reimold and Dariel Alvarez and others. Nothing against those guys, but Fowler is a clear upgrade.

The O's are still squarely in the mix for both Fowler and Yovani Gallardo, with a possible deal for Fowler looking like this:
That's slightly different than the earlier report of two years and $20 million, but that still seems like a pretty good deal. The draft pick compensation knocks it down some, but the O's are at least correct to target two qualifying offer players instead of one (even though the concerns regarding Gallardo are legit).

So if the O's do sign Fowler and slot him in right field, or even left, what should you know?

He's better from the right side of the plate

Fowler's a switch-hitter, so he'd add a left-handed bat to a lineup that could use another one. But in his career, he's fared much better against lefties (121 wRC+) than right-handers (101 wRC+). He strikes out much more against left-handers (24% vs. 17%) though he walks slightly more (12.5% vs. 12%). His isolated power numbers are better from the left side and he both pulls the ball and hits the ball in the air more. Aided by him keeping the ball on the ground more and hitting the ball nearly as hard, his BABIP from the right side is nearly 40 points higher.

He walks a lot 

You won't confuse Fowler for Joey Votto or Bryce Harper, but he does draw a lot of walks. His walk rate of 12.2% would have led everyone on the Orioles in 2015 not named Chris Davis (and, you know, Ryan Lavarnway in 32 plate appearances, but you don't care about him). It also wasn't a one-year fluke; Fowler has a career walk rate of over 12%, and his lowest walk rate in any season is 11.3% in 2010.

He's also a bit of a strange player, because he combines lots of strikeouts and walks with not a lot of power. He had the lowest slugging percentage among the six players who struck out at least 150 times and walked 80 times or more in 2015. The other names on the list? Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Davis, Matt Carpenter, and Curtis Granderson.

Fowler has been below average defensively as a center fielder

If the Orioles sign Fowler, he won't be playing center field. That's noteworthy because Fowler has played exactly one defensive inning that wasn't in center field: a single, lonely inning in right field with the Rockies in 2008. That hurts his value a little, because even a below-average defender in center field is useful when combined with solid offensive production.

Center field is the most difficult of the three outfield positions to play, so many center fielders can switch to left or right without much trouble, at least for a few years. Fowler should be capable range-wise, but the main concern is his lack of arm strength. As a comparison, in seven full seasons in center field, Fowler has an outfield arm runs above average rating of -15 (per FanGraphs). In one more season of work, Adam Jones's rating is +44. And while looking at total assist numbers can be misleading, Jones has 84 career assists in center. Fowler has 30. So it's not a news flash that left field would be more suitable for his skill-set.

Fowler's not a great stolen base threat

Fowler is a fit as a leadoff hitter and has 114 career steals, but he's also been caught 53 times. That's a success rate of below 70%, which is generally the break-even point. According to FanGraphs' weighted stolen bases metric (wSB), which approximates how many runs a player adds to his team by stealing bases, Fowler has been below average (-1.8). It's not a huge concern by any means, but every little bit counts. Fowler would add some speed and OBP to the O's lineup, but he wouldn't rack up a bunch of stolen bases.


It's somewhat concerning that no other team (at the moment) seems to be in on Fowler. The draft pick compensation scares teams away for sure, but a center fielder with good on-base skills is certainly valuable. Fowler projects as about a two-win player. Steamer has him at 1.6; Baseball Prospectus's WARP has him at 1.7. That is an improvement over what the Orioles have, though it's possible their combination of Reimold, Alvarez, Joey Rickard, etc. could come close to that number. I'm not sure I'd like to see them try, even if the O's have to sacrifice a draft pick that they sorely need.

The O's best course of action may indeed be to sign Fowler and Gallardo -- their version of going "all in" or whatever you want to call it -- but that doesn't mean I have to feel great about it. With the cratering of the farm system and the cost of Manny Machado's (potential) extension on the horizon, these February waiting games for devalued players may make less sense in the future. It would be nice to get to the point where the O's don't feel the need to make these types of signings, but hey, maybe 2014 happens again. The chances are slim, but maybe that's just how it has to be.


Roger said...

OK, pollyanna to the rescue. Fowler is a much better signing than this analysis says. Buck will turn him into a slightly faster, slightly more powerful Nick Markakis in RF with less arm strength. You can discount the SB problem because Buck doesn't steal. You can discount the arm strength problem because Schoop will be his cut-off man - he just has to go a little further into the outfield to get the cut-off - and he'll gun down anyone trying to run. The bigger problem is the Ks but no one's perfect. Fowler will exceed expectations because Buck will limit his weaknesses and play to his strengths.

The only real question is will Fowler or Kim lead off? I think it goes Fowler - Kim especially if Fowler's better from the right side. Lineup will be


That gets Buck his preferred L/R/L/R all the way up and down the lineup. It will be a great lineup and will easily matchup with the Jays. [Note: I would place Machado third but Buck seems to love the L/R thing.]

Jon Shepherd said...

I think you may have looked past how well he hits as a left hander.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

"You can discount the arm strength problem because Schoop will be his cut-off man - he just has to go a little further into the outfield to get the cut-off - and he'll gun down anyone trying to run"

That's just silly.

I don't think much of what I said is negative. He's a good player, with some flaws. That is why he hasn't signed yet.

I also disagree with your lineup suggestion. Machado should hit no lower than second, and I really don't have a problem with him batting leadoff again. I do think the main issue -- a good problem to have -- would be who bats third if the second batter is right-handed. I like Jones, Davis, Trumbo, Wieters in the middle of the lineup; Hardy should bat last.

Unknown said...

I don't get the pessimism here.

Fowler has had 3,252 At Bats since 2009. Reimold has had 1,175 and I think Nolan is awesome and plays all out (once resulting in injury because he dove into the seats after a foul ball and got hurt).
Nolan has had 434 At Bats the last 4 years combined. Dexter had 596 last year alone.
Hank U could possibly do it but he didn't exactly kill it at AAA last year. And Dariel Alvarez was pretty bad against RHP.

Dexter 2015: 102 R 149 H 29 2B 8 3B 17 HR (54 XBH) 46 RBI 20 SB 84 BB
Heyward 2015: 79 R 160 H 33 2B 4 3B 13 HR (50 XBH) 60 RBI 23 SB 56 BB
+28 BB over Heyward. Walks = Runs
+23 Runs +4 HR +4 Triples +4 XBH
It's close but Fowler gets the edge last year.

OPS+ Fowler outscored Heyward the last two years combined 227-225.

Yes Heyward is much better on defense but 12 M + better overall? Psh. No.

Dexter Fowler ranks on 2015 O's Offense:
#1 Triples 8 3B (next best: 3 AJ, RyFl)
T#1 Runs 102 R tied with Manny Machado
T#1 Walks 84 BB tied with Chris Davis
T#1 Stolen Bases 20 SB tied with Manny
#3 OBP .346 (behind Davis, Manny)
#3 Doubles 29 (behind Davis, Manny)
#4 Home Runs 17 (behind CD, MM, AJ)
#4 Total Bases 245 (CD, MM, AJ)
#4 Extra Base Hits 54 (CD, MM, AJ)
#5 OPS .757 (CD, MM, Schoop, AJ)
#5 RBI 46 (CD, MM, AJ, CaJo)

So there really is a bright side. He's the perfect fit. -Omazing

Anonymous said...

If Fowler leads off, and Manny hits second where does Kim fit in?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Heyward: 118 wRC+ (career), outstanding defense, turns 27 in August
Fowler: 107 wRC+ (career), below average CF defense, turns 30 in March

There is no "Heyward is better, but..." He's much better and he's younger.

Does that mean Fowler is useless? Of course not, and I never said that. He makes sense for this team, but that doesn't mean I have to feel great about losing (potentially) two draft picks for 1-2 win players.

Anon: If Fowler leads off and Manny hits second, Kim should hit seventh or eighth, probably. Maybe it depends on what does against RHP and LHP. Fowler is much better from the right side, so perhaps Kim could hit near the top of the lineup against RHP, and Fowler could against LHP. But I doubt that happens.

Roger said...

If Kim is really a good on base guy then he will hit second. Buck has a strong history of R/L/R/L (including SW as lefties or, in Fowler's case, a righty). Based on last year's stats, Machado is a clear #3 hitter. Like I mentioned, I prefer Machado/Jones/Davis but Buck will not put two RH together. And I don't think he'd ever hit Jones 5th (although from an on base perspective that's the correct move).

Don't you think a good cutoff man can throw someone out going 1st to 3rd? Or trying to stretch a double? I do and Schoop has a cannon.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Machado is not a clear No. 3 hitter. He's good enough to hit anywhere in the lineup, and you want him batting as much as possible. There is nothing horrible about putting him third, but leadoff and second are more preferable. All things considered, I'd choose to put him second. Putting Fowler/Kim first and second is fine, but it just means that guys like Machado, Jones, Davis, etc. bat a little less over the course of an entire season. It seems weird to do that both for Fowler, who is league average against RHP, and for Kim, who should be a decent hitter but is somewhat of a question mark.

Yes, infielders with good arms are obviously nice to have. But those types of outs don't happen as often as you think, and if your right fielder in somewhat deep right field has to hit the cutoff man, then you're adding time to that process. Schoop's arm is an asset, but it maybe, maybe matters in terms of Fowler's arm strength.

Unknown said...

Fangraphs' seems to think that Fowler's improvement in power last season reflected a change in approach, with him pulling the ball more often. They seem to think the power is real (if the approach sticks) and that a team whose stadium favors left-handed power could take even more advantage of that. Matt has written before about OPACY being one of the most favorable parks for left-handed power. Any thoughts on whether Fowler's power hitting is real and whether park factors make him even more attractive to the Orioles?

Jon Shepherd said...

For me, I want to see complete changes if I only have a small data set. Fowler's response to his big first half slump last year made him seek out a different approach and slightly tweaked mechanics at least in the pre-pitch portion of his swing. I do not know if this is a long term thing or just a transient approach that will be replaced with something else.

So, I have no idea. There could be an in line on this and maybe Fowler was worth something special to the Orioles who have the money and opportunity to take a chance on him. I am hesitant to be encouraged by this, but there is some, I think, slight chance this could be true.

Matt Perez said...

Honestly, I'm confused by Fangraphs' assessment. I guess I can see him hitting for slightly more power as shown by his ISO, but it seems to have been offset by hitting for fewer singles. And his wRC+ is in the same frame of reference from 2011-2015.

I don't see anything indicating that he's due for a huge power surge. He strikes me as a guy with a slightly-above average hit tool and above-average plate discipline. I don't know why the Os would expect him to start hitting 30 HRs.

Matt Perez said...

Why don't people think Kim will hit ninth?

Jon Shepherd said...

I think the assumption is that the worst hitter will hit ninth and the worst hitter is largely thought to be JJ Hardy.

Roger said...

Matt, Kim will hit higher if he turns out to be a good on base guy. And the Orioles don't have a lot of good on base guys to hit high in the lineup. The will likely start him eighth (with Machado second) but if he hits/walks well and can protect a base stealer and hit and run then he will move up to second. There is some logic to putting him ninth if you consider ninth to be a second leadoff hitter.

Matt, I am not sure how you would define a #3 other than "Manny Machado". He hits way too many solo HRs right now. Jones can either singlehandedly win a game or blow a big inning depending upon which Jones you get. Machado is the only one in this lineup who can hit 30-40 HRs and hit .300 and steal bases to boot. Putting one or two guys on base in front of him makes more than a little sense. Further, Jones makes sense in fifth because of his lower OBA.

A lineup of Fowler/Kim/Machado/Davis is R/L/R/L against lefties and L/L/R/L against righties. And it puts your four likely highest OBA players in the first four slots (assuming Kim plays to type). What is the flaw here????

Pip said...

This is a good argument to have.
Three legit OBP guys. We might even see back-to-back walks once in a while!
But Kim is a huge question mark. I keep thinking of Suk min Yoon. 4 million dollars and gone. And Tsuyoshi Wada. Not terrible for the Cubs, but gone.
Personally I would prefer Manny hitting with people on base, so at the lowest I'd put him second.
However, it's Thursday afternoon, and nobody has been signed, and we haven't heard a peep from the rumormongers…

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Because OBP, while important, is not the only thing that mattes when determining overall offensive production.

Matt Perez said...

"There is some logic to putting him ninth if you consider ninth to be a second leadoff hitter."

Bingo. More to the point, I'm not sure he's going to hit well enough to be a top five guy. The Os already have Machado, Jones, Davis, Schoop, Trumbo and Wieters. Add Fowler to the list and Kim almost certainly won't be one of the top five bats. He'd have to beat out three of Schoop, Fowler, Trumbo and Wieters. I think Hardy at #8 and Kim at #9 may make the most sense.

If Kim does become a .253/.322/.363 batter, then that will be good news. But that's not a guy you want leading off. Nor is that an OBP guy. He's an ideal #9 hitter.

Roger said...

Matts.... I remain hopeful that he has a better OBP. You're right at this point but if he's at .350 by the All Star break..... Well, pollyanna may yet strike this team.

Unknown said...

Unrelated question, but I'm curious about Camden Depot's opinion. Has there been any team in baseball worse at drafting starting pitchers who had a significant impact on their major league team? The last starting pitcher I can think of that they drafted and who had a better than average impact on their starting rotation in Bedard, and he only for three seasons (although they obviously were able to turn him into quite a lot of wins through trade). Before him... Mussina? So the result of 25 drafts is one great pitcher and one guy who was good/very good for three years? Has anyone done worse?

Of course, no one forced them to trade Schilling or Arrieta, but given how poor they've been at developing good pitching I'd be willing to bet that one or both of those guys never would have seen success had they stayed in Baltimore.

Anonymous said...

Nolan is a stiff who had one brief flash in the pan. He does NOT belong on a major league roster, he was released twice last year for good reason, he stinks!!!

Roger said...

Gallardo onboard! Fowler next!