Can Dexter Fowler Really Keep This Up?

For most of his three full seasons in the big leagues prior to 2012, Dexter Fowler had been a decent (if unexciting) placeholder in the middle of the Colorado outfield. His wOBA marks of .345, .335, & .346 between 2009-11 were roughly average, and while he chipped in a few steals (52 over the three seasons) and a nice amount of triples (39), he was generally an unremarkable player, held back largely by a strikeout rate (23.1% last year) that usually only works when it’s balanced out by considerable power. Last June, he really hit rock bottom when instead of rejoining the Rockies after recovering from an abdominal injury, he was optioned back to Triple-A. And why not? At the time, he was hitting just .238/.340/.348 with only two successful steals in eight attempts.

Fowler even struggled back in the minors, hitting only .237/.345/.381 in 27 games for Colorado Springs. When he returned to the Rockies after the All-Star Break, it was less because he had forced his way back and more because Carlos Gonzalez had been dealing with a sore wrist, creating a need for another outfielder. But Fowler doubled in his first game back and scored ten runs in his first eight games; over the remainder of the season, he was a new player, hitting .288/.381/.498 with 37 extra-base hits and ten steals.

Despite his hot finish to 2011, few believed he’d suddenly turned a corner. At Yahoo!, for example, he was ranked as the 48th-best outfielder heading into 2012; here at FanGraphs, our consensus rankings placed him 62nd. Yet here we are, two months into 2012, and Fowler has the sixth-highest wOBA of any qualified outfielder, a ranking which had been third overall before Tuesday’s hitless outing.

Should we have seen this coming?

The answer, I suppose, is “probably not”. Dan Wade, writing here in March, called out Fowler as a nice sleeper heading into his age-26 season, noting that “Fowler finally looks less like a bundle of tools and more like a composed baseball player”. Dan looks great for writing that now, and it’s hardly rare for a young player to scuffle in their first few years in the bigs before breaking out in their mid-to-late 20s; Fowler’s great finish to 2011 had all of the indications of someone who was ready to put it together. Yet it’s hard to look at his peripherals and see obvious suggestions that this was definitely going to be more than just a nice second half. After all, even James Loney put together two great months last year before reverting to his usual abysmal self so far this year.

Compare Fowler’s 2011 to the previous two seasons. His strikeout rate was slightly higher than in 2009-10, while his walk rate was essentially where it had been. His line drive rate was unchanged, while his groundball and flyball rates were within the ranges he had defined as “normal” over the previous two years. Despite breaking it down into “very cold” followed by “very hot” rather than being regularly decent over the full course of the season, Fowler was more or less the same player as he always had been, and that’s how his wOBA scores remained so consistent.

It didn’t help, either, that Fowler had a tough spring, where he hit just .149 (and before we get into the “spring training stats don’t matter” discussion, let’s at least all agree that a questionable player having a bad spring certainly isn’t helping his own reputation) and then started the season slowly, bottoming out at .222/.314/.400 on May 9. Demoted into a psuedo-platoon with Tyler Colvin, he showed some power with two pinch-hit homers over the next two weeks, but now he’s completely exploded over the last week-and-a-half, collecting sixteen hits and seven walks over just eight games from May 28 – June 4. The monstrous stretch has been so unbelievable – I mean, arbitrary endpoints and ludicrously small sample size concerns or not, it’s still fun to see “.516/.605/.935” over those eight games – that it alone has been enough to raise an OPS that was a paltry .732 on May 26 to the robust .986 it was after the first game of Colorado’s set in Arizona on Monday.

That being the case, it’s no surprise that Fowler is the most added player in fantasy baseball right now, going from around 14% owned in ESPN leagues two weeks ago to 95% today. Yet while the production is nice, I’m having a hard time seeing what’s really changed other than one of the hottest stretches we’re likely to see from anyone all season. Even with the scorching streak, he’s not really a fundamentally different player. His line drive percentage is slightly down from last year, his groundball percentage slightly up. He is walking more, which is nice, though the strikeouts are still higher than they should be.

If anything’s different, it’s the completely out-of-nowhere and totally-unsustainable 22.9% HR/FB rate, a massive increase from a player who had never topped 5.5% before and something that is absolutely certain to come back down. That’s the kind of rarified air that puts him right next to noted mashers Giancarlo Stanton & Chris Davis in the rankings, and while I apologize for the bad pun, a lot of this is indeed about air. Coors Field air, that is, where he’s been absolutely unbelievable (.496 wOBA, seven of his eight homers) as compared to his unacceptable performance on the road (.264 wOBA, one homer). It should come as no surprise, then, that with the exception of Tuesday’s series opener in Arizona, every game of Fowler’s incredible run came at home in the mountains of Colorado.

If you’ve been riding Fowler’s hot streak, consider yourself lucky for having been there. But it might also benefit you to consider him a massive sell-high prospect, since a player who is only performing at home, only against righty pitching (since his wOBA platoon splits almost exactly mirror those of his home/road splits) and working on a streak that simply can’t keep up is a hard player to count on to carry your team. Despite Fowler’s amazing run, his uninspiring track record and lack of fundamental improvements to his game set him up to disappoint a lot of owners as the season goes on. Make sure that owner is someone else.

Print This Post

Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

36 Responses to “Can Dexter Fowler Really Keep This Up?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Babycakes says:

    I understand that there’s plenty of randomness and luck in the game of baseball, especially over small samples, but it’s still extremely unlikely that a player with Fowler’s career line goes .516/.605/.935 over an 8-game stretch, ever. It’s much more likely that he’s (some amount) better than his prior performance indicates.

    And while that stretch has no predictive value on its own, combining it with his previous eight weeks creates a larger, better sample that is more accurate than before. (ZiPS projects him to outplay his career numbers ROS in AVG, OBP, and SLG).

    And it’s not like Fowler is finished playing games at Coors this season, or his last game again RHP! Sure, he won’t hit HRs like Stanton, but are you sure he wouldn’t be a nice addition to your fantasy team anyway? A nicer one than you thought he might make at the beginning of the season, when you got him in the 18th round?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Petriello says:

      For sure – not at all saying he should be dropped or cut or anything. If you’re in a daily league and can keep him away from road games or lefties, great. I just think you could probably get a nice return on him by showing someone where he ranks among other OFs, especially considering where he ranked two weeks ago.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Pasquale says:

        Sell high! Sounds good. What do you think I should ask for in exchange for Fowler? Joey Votto? Matt Kemp? How about one Rockies OF for another – Fowler for CarGo? I guess that’s a bit of a reach – perhaps Hanley or Stanton? Maybe at the absolute worst someone will give me Shin-Soo Choo or Matt Joyce? But probably only if the league is full of the most rational and analytic players – surely I can do better than Joyce for Fowler in most leagues. I mean, every other fantasy owner other than everyone here is a drooling moron, right?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • BJ says:

      Fowler went in the 3rd round of my keeper league, meaning it gets shallow quick, but it was still a huge reach based on his finish last season. BJ Upton and Corey Hart went in the 4th round, for example. An owner that believes in a guy that much isn’t trading him for anything in the world :) Good owner, too; just get’s attached to guys.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Bryan LaHair says:

    Ha, his unsustainable hot streak ain’t got nothin’ on mine!

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Babycakes says:

      Actually, LaHair is awesome against RHP all the time. Pair him with a cheap lefty-murderer like Jason Bay, and you’ve got a free Matt Holliday.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bryan LaHair says:

        Thank you for the suggestion good sir – I will try pairing Jason Bay with myself in all of my leagues.

        Though I must say, would it not make more sense to pair me with another platoon-heavy lefty, rather than a fine but right-handed gentleman like Mr. Bay? Surely it does not follow that just because *I* am facing a lefty on some fine day that Mr. Bay, who plays for a different team, must also be facing a lefty on said day. Thus I would perhaps be well served to pair my own left-handed platoon split with another left-handed gentleman, increasing the odds that at least one of the pair of us will be receiving the platoon advantage on any given afternoon.

        +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • WackyTobaccy says:

        Pairing two southpaws with strong platoon splits makes it no easier or better to take advantage of splits. To believe the option of two LH hitters with heavy platoon splits supercedes the other option of a LH and RH hitter who both carry traditional platoon splits is to fall victim to the gambler’s fallacy. You would be pre-supposing that the game in which the LaHairless Cubs are playing against a LHP, will somehow coincide more succinctly with that of another LH bat playing against a RHSP in a different game, than that of a Bay led tributary of offense against a LHSP on the same day in a separate game.

        The reality is that better platoon partners are made from the same team (i.e. Reed Johnson who has career OPSs of .831 vs LHP compared to .709 vs RHP) or I would suggest finding a guy whose OPS is .700+ on another team and who plays regularly with less than a .030 split difference and use him as a substitute regardless. In essence, I would suggest choosing to play player X regardless over LaHair when a southpaw starter or a team deep with LH relievers (i.e. Reds – Chapman, Marshall, Bray) is facing the Cubs.

        By finding a platoon neutral player, you are guaranteed to take advantage of days where you don’t want to play LaHair’s .457 OPS vs LHP. If the guy is league average or better, plays everyday, and his worse of the two platoon splits is around .700, than you are guaranteed to avoid holes in your lineup. Figuring you can maneuver your roster accordingly, I would pick up a guy like Casper Wells or Craig Allen, so long as they play regularly.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Mark R says:

    I’d love to sell high, but I don’t think anyone in my league thinks this is sustainable. I plan to just keep him in my lineup at home vs righties, and bench him otherwise.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • James says:

      Yeah, my league is full of risk-averse players who value their players more than players on other teams. I wouldn’t be able to get anything of value for him right now. My plan is just to platoon him until September 2nd when 20 out of the final 30 games is on the road. Hopefully he will have a .285/.370/.870 line with 15HRs and 20 steals at that point and with around 500 ABs by then, people will let their guard down a bit about small sample size flukes. That’s when I’ll be selling high.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Jim Lahey says:

    Yeah… my problem is who to trade him for?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Babycakes says:

    Bryan LaHair:

    Yes, that would make a lot more sense for your fantasy team. My suggestion was more like something that a real baseball team could do.

    Also, since you’re so clever, Mr. LaHair, why can’t you learn to recognize pitches coming from LHPs?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bryan LaHair says:

      I aint clever – that post is from an imposterior who I reckon has got some of that thar book-lernin.

      And I cant hit lefties cuz they scare me… I mean I aint scared of their pitches er nuthin, I’m scared of them that throws em… Lefties aint natural I tell ya. They aint in accordance to the Bible. I aint smart enough to tell ya why I think they aint natural when I is one myself, but I feel what I feel… cant no one tell me nuthin differnt.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. JV says:

    I have had him all year and had him benched for that week. Still pisses me off. I think he will be ok this year, finishing around 18-20 homers, 22-25 steals, a .280 ish average and a boatload of runs scored.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Fowler Fan says:

    I’ve been waiting for this breakout for a couple years. Everyone hits better at Coors, but his gains give me hope that its not all going to just happen at home this season. Moving from 2nd and 8th in the line up to leadoff seemed to have sparked this hot streak more than just playing a home stand.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Josh says:

    The stat I’ve been trying to find on Fowler is how he’s hitting on the road vs RHP and how he’s hitting at home vs LHP because both those scenarios combine one dominant split with a poor one.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • BosoxBob says:

      Here are all of Fowler’s double splits:

      Home vs Lefties:
      38 ABs, .237/.293/.368

      Home vs Righties:
      58 ABs, .431/.554/.931

      Away vs Lefties:
      15 ABs, .133/.316/.267

      Away vs Righties:
      38 ABs, .184/.225/.342

      So Fowler’s terrible on the road no matter the pitcher, and bad at home against lefties. Against righties at home, Fowler has a .486 BABIP that is surely unsustainable. To me, the answer to question posed by the article title is an emphatic “NO”!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Josh says:

        What site do you use to find that info?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BosoxBob says:

        I used Baseball Musings’ Day By Day Database tool – specifically, the Batter Split Comparisons. I got the home left/right splits directly, and computed the away left/right splits from the difference of the total left/right and home left/right splits.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. razor says:

    Dexter was actually slightly better over his career coming into 2012 vs LHP’s. The lefty splits can get crazy from year to year for a lot of players and we’re only two months in this year. He’s probably got even better plate discipline from the right side and he actually has a little more pop from that side as well, at least before 2012 happened. He’s a natural right-handed hitter. Switch-hitting from the left side came later.

    I say keep the faith. His numbers from the right side will improve. Overall he’ll regress some of course, but he’s real good at home regardless. The final step for Dexter would be figuring out how to be acceptable on the road.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. MLB Rainmaker says:

    To caveat this, I’ve been a Fowler hater for years, so I won’t try to hide my dislike. In short, I think he’s just the league average players his first 3 season demonstrated; .260/.360/.420 slash line with 10HR/15SB tools.

    Mike touched on it briefly, his recent success appears to be highly correlated to Coors field park factor. Here are his splits:

    Home: .354/.461/.708 – 5 Doubles, 4 Triples, 7HR
    Away: .170/.254/.321 – 1 Double, 2 Triples, 1 HR

    Now clearly, he’s not changing teams, so he’ll be hitting in Coors for the foreseeable future, but that “totally-unsustainable” HR/FB% of 22.9% is actually 31.8% at Coors.

    What that gets you is a player that isn’t hitting outside of Coors and is due for a major correction in HR/FB% at Coors. The end result…a league average CF. If you rode the hot streak, then congrats and now is time to sell and walk away while you can.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ALeeRocks says:

      So now that Fowler’s numbers have evened out:

      Home: 0.333/0.425/0.610 (still awesome)
      Away: 0.250/0.322/0.417 (league average)
      vs. Right: 0.301/0.387/0.540
      vs. Left: 0.297/0.379/0.516
      HR/FB: 17.5%

      Does that look like “a league average CF?” Three plus months into 2012, he now only has the ninth-highest wOBA of any qualified outfielder. Baseball history shows that many players’ career paths are not as linear as others.

      I would not sell high.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Hacksaw Jim Duggan says:

    In a competitive league, selling high on a Coors driven hot streak is a tall order. What I see is some home park love, the Houston Astros pitching staff, hitting in front of an even hotter CarGo, and a guy that had been bounced from the 2 hole down to the 8 spot, benched for Tyler Colvin for a while and then given the leadoff spot with something to prove. Its not all just about HR/FB% and lefty platoons. These guys want to make big bucks, and the only way to do that is to show the organization that they’re worth something.

    Take it from Hacksaw, Dexter is gonaa be alright. If you can sell high you should, but I think you’ll be happy with what you get if you stay put.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. coco says:

    Since we’re talking about LaHair, would you trade Fowler for LaHair in an OBP league?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Troy says:

    I know this has been said, but every sell high or buy low article should be followed by guys that a player should be able to get in return. Otherwise, owners like me get offered trades like Fowler for Kemp. Someone needs to reel in expectations of what Fowler should get in return.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Pasquale says:

      Kemp for Fowler straight up is seriously unfair. To the guy giving Fowler. What has Kemp done in the last week? That’s right, nothing!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Polka says:

    Yeah I’ve been riding this wave waiting for it to end…then dropping him in a Shallow 10-tean 7×7.
    Already have dead weight with Maybin on the bench and don’t need two under achieving CF’s on the pine!
    Great stuff above everyone, very entertaining and informative as well!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. RollTribe says:

    If you like at his plate discipline numbers it looks as though he has made a small adjustment. Maybe taking an extra couple of pitches per game is the reason behind his turnaround.

    His contact ratios have not changed but he is swinging less, swinging and missing less, swinging outside the zone less, and making more contact when he does swing.

    That may lead to an extra hit per game and be behind this hot streak.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Brian says:

    Surprised to see how much people are looking at this year’s splits in making their evaluation on Fowler. He’s not a sell-high in a league with decent owners.

    Fowler has struggled in the majors before this year, to be sure, but there are two major reasons to believe that he’s closer to an 850 OPS hitter than a 775 OPS hitter:

    1) He was highly thought of as a prospect and is well regarded when it comes to tools. John Sickels had him as the #6 hitting prospect in baseball in 2009.

    2) His minor league stats are good. He posted a 946 OPS in AA in 2008 and an 870 OPS overall in AAA, even including last year’s flop.

    He walks 14% of the time, hits line drives 20% of the time, and doesn’t strike out too much. I’ll sign on the line for his ZIPS updated season projection as his performance from here on out: .274/.372/.480

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. theeiffeltower says:

    Are those FB and GB percentages bad or something? I don’t get it

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. theeiffeltower says:

    You also probably should have mentioned the adjustment he made to his swing partway through last year, which coincides nicely with his hot streak.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. neboguy says:

    I was able to nab Tim Hudson for Fowler straight up on Sunday. The funny thing is I offered the same trade (and a few other Fowler offers to other owners) a week earlier and I couldn’t give him away. Funny how much a player’s value can go up (or down) in a week. But that’s the beauty of baseball . . .

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. themick says:

    I watch almost every Rockies game that is on TV and try to go to 3-4 a year and just about when you have had it with Fowler he starts hitting. But he can not steal a base to save his butt. Most of the time when the pitcher delivers his pitch Dexter is leaning back toward first, now you would think after 3+ years in the Majors he would be able to read a pitcher by now. In the outfield he gets great jumps on most balls and his speed lets him run them down.
    But a man that is 6’5″ and has such long arms and legs should be able to hit 25 hr, 20 triples and 30 doubles in his sleep. Myself I think he is a bit on the lazy side from time to time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Tom says:

    I have Stubbs and Fowler in a league and I am looking to shed one of them. Which should I keep and which should I drop?
    I am totally baffled. My guts says keep Stubbs, but Fowler has more upside.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Brian Mangan says:

    Fowler’s rest of season ZIPS: .280/.364/.462
    Fowler’s updated total season projection: .304/.388/.495

    I guess the answer to the article is a resounding “yes”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Brian says:

    I would like to point out that the author of this article originally posted a snotty reply to my above comment saying that I only liked Fowler because I had him on my fantasy team. That comment has since been deleted.

    Oh and Fowler finished 2012 at .300/.389/.474, or just below what ZIPS projected, and is batting an almost identical .284/.386/.479 this season with a BABIP of only .342, so not exceptionally high.

    I see you, hi haters.

    Vote -1 Vote +1