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Dexter Fowler: The Improvement Is Real

Taking a look at the breakout season that Dexter Fowler put up in 2012 to see if it is lasting or a one year fluke.

Stephen Dunn

When going through the rankings process, some hitters are tough to rank, and there can be many reasons for the difficulty encountered. One, the player may be someone you have been down on for some time, or two, the player had a breakout season and you are trying to figure out whether the breakout was real or not. Both come into play, for me, when ranking Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler.

Fowler had his best year as a major leaguer in 2012, finally reaching the potential many projected for him when he was a prospect. Fowler hit .300-.389-.474 with 13 HRs, 72 runs, 53 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 2012, hitting for more power while maintaining a a solid batting eye at the plate. He struck out a bit more than you would like (24%), but walked just under 13% of his plate appearances, so he knows how to get on base. But, his triple slash line benefitted from an extremely high BABIP of .390, so fantasy owners will have to decide whether this is repeatable or not on draft day. Is he truly a .300 hitter, or is he more of a .275-.280 hitter with improving power?

His power has slowly improved each year he has been in the majors, so it is moving in the right direction for fantasy owners:

2009: .141 ISO/ .406 SLG

2010: .150 ISO/ .410 SLG

2011: .166 ISO/ .432 SLG

2012: .174 ISO/ .474 SLG

He traded doubles power for home run power, as his doubles dropped from 35 in 2011 to just 18 in 2012. With the increase in home runs (from 5 in 2011 to 13 last season) came a huge bump in his HR/FB rate, from 4.1% to 12.3% in 2012. His HR/FB rate stands out like a sore thumb and screams regression forthcoming, but the trend in his ISO and SLG rates indicate the power might be here to stay, and could still be on the rise.

His BABIP is also trending in the right direction:

2009: .351

2010: .328

2011: .354

2012: .390

Other than the blip that was 2010, his BABIP has always been .350 or higher, so he might be one of those hitters who can consistently hit for a high BABIP. One reason for his high BABIP, is the hitter-friendly ballpark he calls home-Coors Field. Coors Field improved hitting by almost 28%, run scoring by 58% and home runs by 49% in 2012, so he certainly benefits from hitting at home games.

The second reason for his high BABIP is Fowler's ability to hit line drives. It is no secret that hitters have a higher batting average on line drives than on ground balls or fly balls, so the more line drives you hit, the better batting average you should have. Fowler batted balls profile, according to FanGraphs, indicate his line drive rate has been over 21% in each of his four years in the big leagues. But, his 27.2% line drive rate in 2012 was a career high, and about 6% higher than he has put up in his four year career, so his line drive rate should regress to his 21% norm in 2013.

Fowler is still maturing as a hitter, as his plate discipline stats indicate the following for 2012:

-he swung at less pitches outside the zone: 23.3% vs. 23.7%

-he made more contact on pitches in the zone: 84.5% vs 81.2%

-he made more contact on all pitches: 78.1% vs 76.3%

-he saw less first pitch strikes, leading to more hitter counts: 54.3% vs 57.0%

-he swung and missed less often: 9.2% vs 9.9%

But the stat that shows he has become a more mature and complete hitter is his improvement vs right-handed pitchers from the left side of the plate. Let's take a look:

2009: .240-.357-.372, 2 HRs in 296 ABs

2010: .260-.330-.432, 6 HRs in 285 ABs

2011: .270-.360-.448, 4 HRs in 355 ABs

2012: .293-.387-.479, 10 HRs in 311 ABs

He has closed the gap in his RH/LH splits, and has improved his home/road splits as well, so I think his 2012 breakout is real and he can build on his performance last season. He hits in one of the best hitters parks in baseball, hits in a pretty good lineup when everyone is healthy ( I am looking at you Troy Tulowitzki), and is beginning his peak years as a hitter.

I have to say that I am quite surprised at what I found when researching for this article, and have pulled a 180 on my opinion of him for 2013. I would draft Fowler with confidence in 2013 fantasy drafts, and he has the potential to outperform his draft value as well.