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Tuesday Rockpile: Rockies Should Bat Fowler Leadoff and Leave Him Alone

Dexter Fowler is better than anyone wants to admit.  Why is that?
Dexter Fowler is better than anyone wants to admit. Why is that?

Dexter Fowler has a problem. In fact, he has several. He's a poor bunter, a poor basestealer, he strikes out too much and he is an inconsistent fielder. He stance seems awkward, he's susceptible to the low-and-in slider, his load/hand position is not consistent and he seems to let positive adjustments slip away over time. Fowler was often comped to Devon White when coming up through the system, but he hasn't hit for the power, stolen the bases or played the elite defense White did. When looking at Fowler, a slender African-American that runs like a gazelle, one would expect a slash hitter with bunting, defense and basestealing skills galore.

Quite simply, Dexter Fowler is very deficient in skills he appears he should have, and he appears awkward and inconsistent at the plate. That body bias has led to many people looking for a way to explain why his numbers are not as impressive as they appear on paper. When a player is both disappointing and awkward, it is simply unfathomable that such a player could be a reliable asset.

This paralysis by analysis seems to have hit several people, even those I deeply respect, as his larger body of work is explained away by smaller samples. One does not have to like how a process looks to appreciate the results.

850KOA's Dave Krieger did not buy in to Fowler's strong slash line last week, saying it seemed his stats were padded by low leverage at-bats. I linked him to Fowler's splits via twitter, which actually backed up Krieger's claim. He cited the splits on the radio waves, plugging Purple Row in the process (Thanks Dave!). The problem is that those splits, while wholly accurate at the time, were also subject to fairly small sample size. In one day yesterday, Fowler normalized those leverage splits. Generally, legitimate trend splits are not within range of normalization in one day. Further, his exceptional showing with runners in scoring position in 2012 suggest there was never a fundamental flaw under pressure.

There's more.

Off Topic

Last season, the Rockies made noise about scrapping Fowler's switch-hitting and forcing him to hit right-handed. Despite being equal, if not better left-handed historically, a poor stretch left-handed made switch-hitting the culprit for his struggles. That seems quite silly today, as Fowler is hitting .321 with 7 HR and a 186 wRC+ left-handed, while just .200 with a 62 wRC+ right-handed.

After an offseason in which Fowler was essentially off-limits in trade, the Rockies booted him from his initial leadoff role due to a 10-for-67 spring training. He hit leadoff in both games of the double header yesterday, the first day Jim Tracy has entrusted him with the top of the lineup. He led off Game 2 with a home run and finished it with a walk-off triple, going 7-for-9 with a walk and three extra base hits in 10 PA.

The case is obvious now. Dexter Fowler needs to be the Rockies' leadoff hitter. He is now hitting .276/.373/.553, which gives him a 146 wRC+, second on the Rockies (catching up to CarGo), and 5th among MLB CF's, ahead of Curtis Granderson, B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn. Essentially, he is having the breakout year Rockies fans have wanted, and he's doing it under the radar despite playing for a disappointing team starving for positive storylines.

Yesterday did pad his numbers quite a bit, but I have been tweeting and commenting for weeks that he should bat leadoff. Before yesterday, he was hitting .236/.341/.491, which is more than acceptable for a leadoff hitter. Thomas Harding still wants to wait to see how a Fowler-Scutaro 1-2 punch continues to produce, but there is no need to wait. Fowler's production is already far superior to the cumulative collection of 2012 Rockies leadoff men (Marco Scutaro, Tyler Colvin and Eric Young Jr) who hit .228/.278/.274 in that role.

Just for fun, based on Updated ZiPS for the Rockies' A-lineup, Baseball Musings says Dexter Fowler should be the Rockies' leadoff man. Importing current stat lines places him more in the middle of the order. There was no argument that Fowler should hit 8th 24 hours ago, but especially not now.

With the Rockies' rotation showing almost no sign of relief, the Rockies will need to outpace their opponents offensively. As Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki heat up, the Rockies need as many scoring chances as possible with that duo at the plate. Dexter Fowler might not look intimidating or even controlled at the plate. But what does he do, Peter? He gets on base. The Rockies, fans and writers alike should quit jerking him around and let him produce.

2012 - Dexter Fowler 45 123 24 34 5 4 7 23 19 32 4 0 .276 .373 .553

*Current level of production achieved with BABIP 19 points below career levels.


Photos: Rockies vs. Astros - May 28, 2012 | Denver Post Photos, Video A must see every year.

Rockies' struggles indicate that change is apropos - From yesterday's Post, Troy Renck opines that it is time to make some sort of change, likely in the rotation. (Hello, Jamie Moyer).