It was June 24. Ian Stewart and Dexter Fowler batted in the first inning as anchors to a prolific offense. It was just as fans had hoped, except for the fact this game was taking place in Tacoma, Washington against the Mariners' AAA team. Both men stumbled extensively and found themselves wearing Sky Sox blue.
This was the low point for Fowler. Dexter had suffered a minor injury June 4 and was sent to AAA to rehab. It isn't as if he had been performing well (.231/.325/.343 in May), and his stance had drastically changed since his success in 2010. Stuck in AAA with Stewart, Fowler sunk in his new surroundings. By the time June 24's game concluded, he had gone an astoundingly bad 3-for-46 with 15 strikeouts. Even when he had a historically good game, he was historically bad. Something was wrong. Would he go the way of Ian Stewart?
Fortunately, Dex knew. Whatever it was that Fowler needed to fix, he figured it out en route from Tacoma to Salt Lake. Over his next six games (in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas), he had two or more hits in five of them. He recorded hits in 10 of 13 games, and the Rockies elected to bring him back up after the All-Star Break.
As Fowler is wont to do, he gave fans something to salivate over during the offseason. He burst out of the gates with a .361/.443/.557 line in his 16 games before August. Overall, he posted an OPS a full 200 points higher in the second half than his first half, without much of a jump in BABIP. His 37 extra base hits placed him among the league leaders after the break.
That .880 OPS from a CF sure looks juicy. Sure, park adjustments and all, but only Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Josh Hamilton were better for the full 2011. Hamilton beat Fowler by just .002. If he can keep that up, Fowler will be a huge weapon at the top of the lineup.
For the season, he set career highs in hits, doubles, runs, triples, RBI, walks, IsoP, SLG and OPS/OPS+/wOBA/wRC+.
That is why the Rockies have dubbed Fowler untouchable, just three months of games after he appeared to be broken. That, and Fowler is only in his first arbitration season, meaning he's cheap. Of course, whether he can continue to make adjustments without a cup of coffee in Colorado Springs is will be a huge question. Whereas Ian Stewart was my key to the 2011 lineup, Fowler has the widest range of potential impact, positive and negative. Hopefully I don't jinx it this time.
Fact You Should Know 1: Fowler posted a higher batting average and OPS batting left-handed, the second year he has done that in a row. His switch-hitting, is more than fine.
Fact You Should Know 2: Fowler was almost equal at home and on the road in plate appearances, runs, triples, home runs, OBP, and OPS.
Fact You Should Know 3: Fowler's given first name is William.
Grade - C
Fowler's second half would be good enough to earn him an A, but a poor showing early on really deflated his outlook. For the season, his wRC+ of 105 is a career high, but it still places him just 14th out of 21 MLB center fielders for the season. Center Field isn't just for light hitting speedsters with gloves anymore. Only the 1B, RF and DH positions had a higher OPS in 2011 than MLB centerfielders, so the peer group we measure Fowler against is more stout than a lot of people realize.
There is no doubt that Fowler will be the Rockies' starting center fielder and leadoff hitter next season. He is arbitration eligible for the first time, so he will make a good deal more than the $432k he pocketed last season, but it will still rank far down the list on the roster. With Matt Kemp, Shane Victorino, Andrew McCutchen, Melky Cabrera, Chris Young and Michael Bourn in the National League, even a breakout year would likely fall short of an All-Star berth, but he would certainly get his due for a breakout on Purple Row.
ZiPS doesn't buy into the idea that Fowler's second half means he has figured something out. The projection system predicts a .258/.353/.410, which translates to just a 94 OPS+.