The Rain Delay

Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

Orioles, Dexter Fowler Agree to Three-Year Deal

This is an archived post from my prior blog, The Sprained Ankle. It was posted February 24, 2016.

Dexter Fowler has landed in Birdland, agreeing to terms on a 3-year, $33 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles.  Fowler fills two conspicuous voids for the Orioles: a proficient leadoff hitter and a capable right fielder.  Fowler’s presence will enable manager Buck Showalter to move stalwart 3rd baseman Manny Machado down the lineup, granting Machado more opportunities to drive in runs.

Fowler is a prototypical leadoff hitter, equipped with both savvy on-base skills and above-average speed.  His plate discipline will be a boon for Baltimore, as Fowler should score plenty of runs hitting ahead of Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis.  Moreover, Fowler showed no signs of slowing down last season for the Cubs, swiping 20 bags and plating 102 runs while posting a respectable .346 OBP.  The sturdy OBP number looks even more impressive considering his BABIP of .308 was significantly below his career mark of .341, hinting that Fowler was a victim of bad luck.  Fowler’s peripherals–such as strikeout, walk, fly ball, and ground ball rates–all fell almost perfectly in line with his career norms.  All the data suggests that Fowler is still in the prime of his career offensively despite turning 30 in March.

Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler is heading to Baltimore in 2016.

 

So, how does Fowler stack up defensively?  Despite his speed, Fowler has been a below-average defender throughout his career, both with his range and arm.  While the advanced defensive metrics are flawed over small samples, they are much more accurate over larger samples.  Check out Fowler’s defensive performance over the last five years, per DRS and UZR:

DEXTER-FOWLER-DEFENSIVE-RUNS-SAVED-2011-2015-e1455303486273

Dexter Fowler UZR

While many O’s fans have incorrectly touted Fowler as a plus defender, he checks in consistently well below-average according to the defensive metrics.  However, while Fowler’s defensive inefficiencies were glaring in center field, he should be able to sustain improved performance in the much less demanding right field.  As an auxiliary benefit, the Orioles now ensure that the plodding Mark Trumbo won’t have to play the outfield in 2016 and can focus on what he does best: callously obliterating well-intentioned baseballs (and also striking out more frequently than me at a bar).  But while Fowler projects to be less of a defensive liability in right field, his relatively weak arm is a concern at a position that typically features the best arm in the outfield.

Of course, any analysis of the Fowler signing would be amiss without acknowledging that the Orioles will surrender a draft pick.  Assuming the team ultimately finalizes its deal with Yovani Gallardo, the Orioles will cough up their 29th pick in exchange for Fowler.1  Despite this, Baltimore has acquitted themselves quite well here, acquiring a decent player at a very reasonable price who fits their needs.  The Orioles have lingering question marks in the starting rotation even if Gallardo is signed, but their offense just got markedly better with this move, particularly when you consider the replacement-level talent he ousted in right field.2  In what promises to be a hyper-competitive American League, perhaps this move could be enough to push Baltimore into the playoffs once again.

1: If Gallardo is signed, Baltimore will surrender the 14th pick for him and the 29th selection for Fowler.  If Gallardo’s deal is voided, the Orioles will give up the 14th pick for Fowler.
2: Assuming Hyun-soo Kim mans left field, Baltimore was faced with the prospect of playing uninspiring options such as Dariel Alvarez, Henry Urrutia, Efren Navarro, Jimmy Paredes, or Nolan Reimold in right field before landing Fowler.

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