How Dexter Fowler Helps the Baltimore Orioles
And with him at the top of the lineup, suddenly Baltimore could boast one of the strongest lineups in the AL East.
In 156 games last year (690 plate appearances), Fowler hit .250/.346/.411 with the Cubs, slugging a career-high 17 homers with 102 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. He put up a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .333, a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 110 and an fWAR of 3.2 for Chicago, becoming a top-30 outfielder in baseball.
He was particularly hot after the All-Star break, one of the main reasons the Cubs got crazy hot in the second half of the season.
Dexter Fowler hit .272/.389/.463 after the All-Star break last season (.232/.308/.369 before). https://t.co/kH7AvXUHZv
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 23, 2016
But it was Fowler's power that really took a step forward in 2015, and there's reason to believe it could get even better in 2016.
According to Fangraphs, Wrigley Field was 21st out of 30 teams in terms of home runs hit by left-handers in 2014 (there is no data for 2015 as of yet). However, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was third out of 30 teams in terms of homers hit by lefties, with only the Rockies and Yankees' home parks yielding more dingers to left-handed hitters.
Much of his batted ball data last year was right in line with his career numbers. He didn't hit any more line drives, ground balls or fly balls than in past seasons, and he wasn't hitting the ball any harder. But what he did do was start pulling the ball more, which had a dramatic impact on his home run total.
Aside from his rookie season in Colorado, Fowler has never pulled more than 39.6% of his batted balls, but last year, that number jumped to 44.1%. That also resulted in a one-year jump in his home run per fly ball rate from 7.1% to 10.6%.
And there's reason to think his batting average will improve a bit as well. Fowler has a career batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .341, but it was just .308 last season. And while that is still slightly above league average, it is far less than what he is used to. That resulted in a .250 batting average, below his career .267 mark.
But one thing he's always done is maintain a steady walk rate, a vital component for any leadoff hitter. Last year he walked in 12.2% of his plate appearances, right in line with his career 12.4% mark. And his strikeout rate remained consistent as well, at 22.3%, right in line with his 22.2% career average.
Of course, the Orioles do pay a price. If the Yovani Gallardo signing doesn't end up happening (Baltimore is said to be wary of the results of his physical), Fowler will cost the O's their first-round draft pick, number 14 overall. If they do sign Gallardo, it would cost the Orioles their first two draft picks this season.
That's less than ideal for a team that is widely considered to have one of the five-to-ten worst farm systems in baseball. But Fowler was desperately needed in an outfield that was just dreadful in 2015.
Orioles' outfielders ranked dead last in fWAR (2.0) in the American League. And yes, that is including Adam Jones' 3.6 fWAR last season. Nolan Reimold (0.5), Steve Pearce (0.3), Travis Snider (0.1), Gerardo Parra (-0.8), Delmon Young (-0.6), David Lough (-0.7) and Alejandro De Aza (-0.3) all combined to form the worst outfield in the AL.
And Fowler should also help the O's at the top of the lineup. Last year, Orioles leadoff hitters put up an OPS of .689, tied for eighth-best in the AL, and their wRC+ of 88 was 10th.
So even though Baltimore has to give up a draft pick for Fowler, he does make this team better and should continue to be a top-30 outfield option in fantasy in 2016.