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2010 Rockies Player Review: Dexter Fowler

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Take a look at 2 sample batters from the Rockies in 2010.







Player A







Player B







Both players were disappointments to their offseason predictions.

Both players are normally high-BABIP players who were both seeing decent-sized drops in their BABIP.

One of them switch-hits.

If it wasn't obvious from the article title, one of these players was Dexter Fowler. He's Player B. Player A is 1B/RF Brad Hawpe. Disturbingly similar seasons.

Ultimately, the difference between their contributions were as followed: Hawpe, 0.5 fWAR; Fowler, 1.7 WAR. Extrapolated to a 162-game season, Hawpe would've been roughly 0.92 WAR, Fowler, 2.09 fWAR. Basically put, Hawpe would've ended up right between replacement level and average for the season, Fowler, right above average, if given the full season worth of playing time.

If you followed Fowler's season, this would probably come off as a surprise to you, given that the discrepancy in playing time between Fowler and a full season would likely have been mostly made up had he not been demoted to AAA Colorado Springs. Hawpe wasn't really in a position to be demoted, so he just got benched and then DFA'd, which is where the comparison ends.

But Fowler, there was room to work with Fowler. There were still option years and things to hammer out with this young, raw baseball player. The first observation made was essentially "It's probably just BABIP issues." As someone capable of a .350 BABIP, a .268 BABIP was low enough to warrant "this isn't just bad luck" kinds of comments. The second observation was "Dexter looks lost from the left side, he probably shouldn't be switch hitting". This was the observation that seemed to stick in most people's minds, that because the results weren't coming, clearly it's the part of his game that seems the most suspect - and given the fact that Fowler hadn't started switch-hitting until he became a professional baseball player (down in the minors, that is), this seemed a very likely suspect.

The first 2 months of the season were pretty rough for Dex. .216/.317/.317 wasn't going to cut it with the big club. When word of the demotion came, the cry was as such:
I sincerely hope that this trip to the Springs is going to be the end of v RHP as LHB.

The demands weren't entirely unmitigated, though. Fowler's LHB vs RHB splits were terrible. As a LHB facing RHP, Fowler batted .162/.252/.242. That's a .494 OPS.

As a RHB facing LHP, Fowler batted .350/.462/.500, good for a .962 OPS, nearly doubling his lefty split.

Considering Fowler faced more than twice as many righties as he did lefties (115PA v RHP, 52 v LHP), even an outstanding RHB split wasn't going to save his overall numbers.

The problem with narrowing down the issue as merely switch hitting splits, it was pretty much taken at face value without any further analysis. Yes, a .494 OPS vs .962 OPS seems to be cut and dry enough to leave it at that, but when has a stat guy ever just taken OPS at face value and not tried to dissect it further?

Thing is, the numbers look absolutely catastrophic, but we're also assuming that the .494 OPS v RHP is totally valid as far as saying "wow this guy sucks" but we conveniently dismiss the .962 OPS without saying "there is just no way this guy is this good". I mean, it's the way things work: if something's abnormally bad, we try to fix it; if something's abnormally good, we tend to ignore it as fortune smiles upon us.

Vs RHP, Fowler had a terrible AVG which in turn killed his OPS. His ISO numbers weren't awful, however. A .090 IsoD is right where we'd expect it to be. Well, maybe "not awful" is a bit too strong, as his IsoP v RHP was a mere .080, and he was up over .130 in 2009. The fact of the matter is that the .494 OPS v RHP came along with a .205 BABIP while the .962 OPS came with a .400 BABIP. A .400 BABIP is just too high to sustain, but a .205 BABIP is equally hard to sustain, barring complete and utter collapse. Fowler had his peripherals in line enough to make it seem like he wasn't completely past redemption from the left.

Just for the sake of exploration, let's pretend that Fowler posted his season mark of a .351 BABIP from both sides of the plate during that 2 month stretch to begin 2010. We'd be looking at the following lines:





as LHB v RHP





as RHB v LHP





Ok that's still a pretty poor line v RHP. Salvageable, but still very very ugly. Even after this analysis, I still might advocate scrapping the switch. As it stands, league-wide RHB faced a .030 OPS drop from LHP to RHP, so if we assume that same drop for Dex, we'd be guessing at a .854 OPS v RHP, .884 v LHP with those normalized lines above - right?.

There's no way it's just that simple. First of all, Dex hasn't faced RHP as RHB since he became a pro baseball player. Second of all, No, you can't just do that, that's not really how this stuff works. Dex hasn't been a .030 OPS dropoff in his switch hitting career. Third of all, there's no way the org dumps a .357 OBP from the left side (2009) because of 2 bad months in 2010. Something was broken in the LHB swing, and the org was determined to fix it.

So Dex spent June in AAA Colorado Springs, working on whatever was broken. While he was in CSprings, he hit RHP as a LHB to the tune of .347/.440/.611, 1.052 OPS, and LHP as RHB good for .344/.462/.469; .930 OPS. Maybe that fixed it - whatever it was.

But AAA is just that, it's AAA. Lots of MLB players can dominate AAA. We're going to need to see a demonstrable level of improvement to really try and say the problem is "fixed".

So pre-demotion, if you're just tuning in, we saw terrible numbers as a LHB with a even more awful BABIP, and awesome numbers as a RHB with an awesome BABIP.

Post-demotion, things were looking better for Dex. From 6/29/10 and on, Fowler batted .280/.355/.453, good for a .808 OPS. Much better than the beastly .634 OPS that earned him a 90 minute drive to the Springs.

But here's where things got weird. Not only did Dex's line improve, but his LHB splits improved as well - drastically, in fact. Remember that .494 OPS as a LHB? Well, forget it.

After being promoted back to the Colorado Rockies, Fowler batted .312/.369/.532 in 206 PA v RHP, good for a .901 OPS. Now THAT'S more like it. Problem solved, Fowler's hitting righties, let's move on with our -

As RHB v LHP: .228/.333/.325, .658 OPS.


Well, it looks like Fowler is re-broken. Now he should scrap the righty swing and just be a left-handed batter, right? Send him back down until he's flailing from the left side again, that'll fix everything.

Seriously, let's just do the same thing we did with his pre-demotion splits: look at his BABIP.

Fowler's .658 OPS v LHP came with a .299 BABIP - about .050ish points lower than we'd expect. On the flip side of the coin, the .901 OPS was fueled by a .376 BABIP, which is higher than the ~.350 BABIP we're working with as kind of a baseline, but the difference is less this time.

While a .658 OPS sucks, it's nowhere near as bad as a .494 OPS. As much as a .299 BABIP is poor by Fowler's standards, it's downright outstanding compared to .205.

Basically put, the difference between the hot split and the cold split before Fowler's demotion is around a .370 OPS and just shy of a .200 BABIP dropoff.

After the demoton, the ~.250 OPS drop is still rough, but the BABIP dropoff has been whittled to ~.075. While this isn't completely ideal, the fact that the gap between the two sides narrowed a bit, even though the side that was good and the side that was not so good completely flipflopped, shows some sort of improvement. Somewhat.

Just for grins, if we did the same BABIP adjustment (to a .350 BABIP from both sides), we get the following lines:




















That .813 OPS would probably translate into a ~115 wRC+, so....yeah. It's a "woulda coulda shoulda" evaluation, but it's something to think about.

Ultimately, Fowler's 2010 looked like the following:

as LHB v RHP: .260/.330/.432, .762 OPS, 97 wRC+
as RHB v LHP: .260/.374/.370, .744 OPS, 99 wRC+

Considering that in 2009, Fowler did everything better as a RHB when compared to a LHB, 2010 did show marks of improvement as far as attempting to equalize those splits. Clearly, as a LHB, Fowler has more of a power swing (and he also hit all 6 of his 2010 homers from the left side), and as a RHB, Fowler is more of an on-base machine. I honestly wonder if it would suit him better to bat leadoff v LHP and bat elsewhere v RHP, maybe 6th or 7th or something.

Anyhow, to conclude this rambling review, Fowler had a relatively normal season for a 2nd year player who skipped AAA: He started out strong, tripped, fell flat on his face, got demoted to AAA, came back up, improved greatly, and ultimately finished the season strong. I get the impression that a lot of us miss that because of the switch-hitting splits, when the reality is that lefties AND righties go through slumps.

Final Grade: B

What I DIDN'T mention about Fowler is that his defense seems to have improved, at least according to UZR. We know Fowler glides like a sailboat on a placid lake, but UZR isn't as big of a fan. Taking that into consideration, Fowler was worth -16.2 runs in CF in 2009, and -2.6 in 2010. That's a pretty solid improvement as it is, and it all balanced out to the 1.7 fWAR mentioned in the beginning of the article. Average level of play from a CF isn't something to sneeze at by any means, and I look forward to see Dex's next growth step in 2011.

2011 Outlook:

Short and sweet, projections are calling for a breakout year of sorts from Dex. Marcel sees something relatively mediocre but improved (.264/.351/.414, 112 wRC+) while Bill James is predicting an all-out arrival (.285/.373/.437, 125 wRC+). If Dex can build on what he's done right in the past 2 seasons, I don't think that yet another promised breakout is beyond the realms of possibility.