Dexter Fowler Spends Another Year Tantalizing

Obviously, the tools are there. Dexter Fowler can run, can hit with pop, has a good eye at the plate, and is a good defender. Those tools have made him an above-average regular by ‘real baseball’ measures and a top-sixty outfielder, worth more than seven bucks last year by our retrospective fantasy value measures.

And yet, his owners are probably getting tired of continually being teased by upside beyond. Just google his name and ‘breakout’ and see how many results you get, spread over the last three years.

One of the reasons this year was supposed to be his breakout was improvement from the left side of the plate. The outfielder — late to switch-hitting — told me himself that he was feeling better from that side of the plate in early April. Let’s revisit those peripherals from each side of the plate.

Righty Lefty Righty Lefty Righty Lefty Righty Lefty
2009 8.2% 15.0% 18.4% 24.2% 0.161 0.132 118 87
2010 14.1% 9.4% 18.5% 21.9% 0.110 0.172 95 92
2011 15.1% 10.9% 13.8% 26.5% 0.135 0.177 103 109
2012 11.4% 13.5% 19.2% 26.4% 0.147 0.186 124 123
2013 12.3% 13.6% 15.1% 24.0% 0.121 0.155 132 95

Shame on us if we read to far into those small-sample numbers. Dexter Fowler had a wRC+ over 200 batting from the left side… two weeks into April. Look back on the season with a full sample, and he actually had his worst season in the last three from the left side. He did retain some of those improvements in his plate discipline from the left side, but the results didn’t stay superlative all year. Maybe now, as he turns 28 and finishes his seventh season switch-hitting, we can stop expecting him to be anything more than league average against righties.

fowler iso

Hidden in those platoon split numbers is a decline in power. Fowler hit more ground balls per fly ball in 2013 — 1.23 to be exact, and that was in line with his career number (1.24) — and his isolated slugging percentage suffered for it. But in the last four years, Fowler has hit more than 1.23 ground balls per fly ball three times. In those three years, he had ISOs around league average (.145-.166). The one time he hit more fly balls (2012), he pushed that ISO to .174. Maybe 2012 was the outlier in terms of power.

Fowler’s batted ball distances don’t agree. In 2013, he hit his flies and homers an average of 289 feet. That’s well above average, good for about 72nd in the league, and in Matt Holliday and Aramis Ramirez territory. It’s also much better than his 2012 distance — that year, he hits flies and homers an average of 278 feet, or 169th in the league and in Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings territory. That’s probably why he spent his second year in a row with a better-than-average home-run-per-fly-ball rate in 2013. There’s enough here to remain interested, to remain hopeful for a bit more power in the coming years.

Stolen bases, though, those seem like maybe they’ll never be as plentiful for Fowler as his owners had hoped. Fowler did hit his career high with 19 stolen bases last year, but 68% is not an impressive success rate. And his four-component speed score fell for the fourth straight year in a row. Add in the fact that he didn’t sound like he makes stealing bases a priority, and it’s probably best to pencil him in for 15 or so stolen bases and be pleasantly surprised if he steals more.

The hidden thief in Fowler’s numbers comes from his inability to stay healthy. He’s never once had 600 plate appearances in a season. In 2013, Fowler suffered maladies with his left knee, right wrist, right hand, and right ankle that cost him 38 days over the course of the season. In 2012, that list was much the same, even if there were fewer big chunks missing out of his playing time. He gets nicked up, for whatever reason.

So Dexter Fowler: Will his age 27 season have that magic we’ve been waiting for? Or will he spend another with merely decent production across the board, missed time, and flaws that keep him from truly breaking out?

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

9 Responses to “Dexter Fowler Spends Another Year Tantalizing”

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  1. Steve Barnett says:

    Yeah he’s frustrating. I think this will be his age 28 season though.

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  2. David says:

    If you take him as your 3rd OF and have to count on him, you’ll be disappointed. If you can take him as a 4th OF and play him part time, you’ll be happy. As with everyone else, it all comes down to cost and expectations.

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  3. BillM says:

    How do you think Dex does this year in Houston?

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  4. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I am and continue to be a Fowler hater. I legitimately believe Charlie Blackmon would be a better fantasy contributor in a full-time role.

    My beef with Fowler is that he’s nothing more than a MLB average contributor. He’s a .270 hitter, without any standout tool, that benefits from hitting at Coors and poor scouting. The first point is obvious, but in terms of poor scouting, I’d argue that early in both ’12 and ’13 teams didn’t have scouting book on Fowler and kept feeding him pitches on the inner half of the plate where he’s a beast.

    Go to hit tracker and watch the videos on his HRs; 10 of 12 are as a lefty, and all 10 of those as a lefty are pitches middle-in. After April, pitchers got the message to stay away from the inner half and Fowler’s numbers plummeted. If you go back and look at 2012, its the same story. Its a rare situation, I’ll admit, but it seems to me like Fowler is super-human on the inside half of the plate and not-so-much everywhere else. Accordingly, I don’t see Fowler putting together a “complete” season until he can show the ability to handle those pitches.

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  5. Fantasy keeper owner says:

    What impact does this have on springer? Guessing he’s ticketed for another year in aaa?

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