“While nothing is officially done yet, it seems reasonable to assume the Orioles are going to sign Yovani Gallardo, with reports that a deal just needs some tweaks before it is finalized.”
Dave had no reason to believe the Gallardo signing wouldn’t work out, but now it hasn’t, as the Orioles seemingly have a higher expectation than most when it comes to physicals, and so you understand that I’m cautious to say anything is set in stone between Fowler and Baltimore.
That being said, it sure looks like Dexter Fowler’s going to be playing in Baltimore next year! Just need to see that physical! Operating under the assumption Fowler does indeed pass his physical, it sounds like the Orioles will pay him $33 million over three years. That’s a year and some AAV fewer than the crowd’s estimation of four years and $56 million back in November. The qualifying offer strikes again.
If the Gallardo deal falls through, and it looks like it could, then the Orioles will surrender the 14th-overall pick in next year’s draft for Fowler. With Gallardo in the mix, it would be 14 and 28. Doesn’t much matter who’s responsible for the loss of which pick — 14 is gone either way. The 14th pick is worth something like $15 to $20 million, and so you can factor that into Fowler’s cost, if you’d like. Even with an extra $20 million tacked on for the pick, Fowler’s total guaranteed money falls short of the crowd, and so it’s easy to think of this as something of a bargain price for a quality outfielder who’s still on the right side of 30 for another 27 days.
Fowler gives the Orioles a third outfielder, something they didn’t previously have — Mark Trumbo doesn’t count. And Fowler gives the Orioles a new leadoff hitter, one who should score plenty of runs batting in front of Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis — because, if there’s one thing Fowler does well, it’s get on base. Not only does Fowler draw tons of walks, but he’s been able to run an unusually high BABIP, one that’s been higher than .350 more often than not over his seven big league seasons. Of course, that’s partially a product of Fowler calling Coors Field home for the first five years of his career, but it’s also got plenty to do with his speed, line drive swing, and propensity for avoiding pop ups; his career road BABIP is still .328.
But beyond the always elite on-base skill, there’s an adjustment Fowler made last year that might seem subtle on the surface, and might seem less subtle beyond the surface. What might seem subtle is the power. Fowler hit 17 dingers last year, and while that’s a career high, it’s only four more than his previous career high of 13. And the ISO, that wasn’t even a career-high at all, until you adjust for Coors Field. Adjust for Coors Field, and Fowler posted career highs in homers, by four, and isolated power, by seven points. Those are the subtle adjustments.
The less subtle adjustments are the ones in his approach, the ones that led to the career highs in homers and isolated power. Wait, really quick, one more subtle one: each of the last four seasons, Fowler has hit more and more balls in the air. That’s part of it, but the increases are quite small, hence the subtlety. Okay. Now for the less subtle changes.
Less subtle change #1: Fowler began making plenty more contact last year. Not only that, but he began making plenty more good contact last year. Good contact meaning pitches inside the strike zone. Those are the ones a batter actually wants to hit. Last year, Fowler posted his highest in-zone contact rate in five years, and that represents a jump of nearly five percentage points, and that represents the largest increase by any qualified batter in baseball.
Less subtle change #2: Fowler began pulling plenty more pitches last year. Not only that, but he began pulling plenty more fly balls. Last year, Fowler posted the single-highest pull rate of his career, and that represents a jump of more than six percentage points, and that represents one of the 10 largest increases by any qualified batter in baseball.
Now, I know it might be sort of counter-intuitive to compare these two mostly distinct traits, but here we go anyway:
The dot partially overlapping Fowler’s is Daniel Murphy, and Murphy’s adjustments to tap into more power were covered at length last year, and we saw the culmination of those efforts in the postseason. Fowler has essentially made the same adjustment. He’s getting the bat on more good pitches than ever before, and he’s turning on them and hitting them in the air to the pull side more than before.
The caveat: this didn’t actually make Fowler a better hitter. He was still a good hitter, an above-average hitter, and he probably had the best overall season of his career, but at the plate, his wRC+ dipped by 14%. Mostly, it’s got to do with BABIP, so maybe it’s a fluke thing, but also the change in approach for more power could have to do with the dip in BABIP.
The bigger idea, I think, is this: Fowler has always been a good hitter, and now he seems to be making conscious efforts to add more power. Not only that, but he’s always had more power from the left side of the plate, and now his new home park is among the most homer-friendly parks in baseball for lefties. And not only that, but he’s also going to play plenty of games at Yankee Stadium and Fenway, too. Either way, Fowler’s a nice fit for the top of any order, and the Orioles look like they’re getting him on a discount. And as far as switch-hitters actively tapping into more power goes, Baltimore and the American League East isn’t a bad place to be.
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