What's the hackiest way to open a story? It's probably by asking a question, but a close second is opening with a definition.
Google defines "fascinate" thusly:
(especially of a snake) deprive (a person or animal) of the ability to resist or escape by the power of a look or gaze.
I'm using the archaic definition here, but it works so much better than the common definition for my purposes. For the past two seasons, I have spent an inordinate amount of time fascinated by certain players. Last year, it was Matt Dominguez, whom I wrote an article on every other week.
This year, it's been Dexter Fowler. For some reason, he draws me in. I spend more time thinking about Dexter Fowler, the player, than the rest of the team combined. And this is a team that has George Springer on it.
There are just so many interesting parts to Fowler's season. He's got a monstrous on-base percentage. He's lost the power he showed in Coors Field. What's going on with his defense?
I can't answer the defensive question. I mean, I guess I can. He hasn't been very good and it's because of his range. But, we can explore his offensive profile this season and see what's changed from his years in Colorado.
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First off, the basics. Fowler is hitting .280/.393/.397 this season with four home runs and six steals in 275 plate appearances. Despite missing a few games due to injury, he's on pace for 606 plate appearances for the season and is projected to finish with 2.8 WAR, 11 home runs, 15 steals and a .377 on-base percentage.
Fowler has career highs in walk rate (14.9 percent), wRC+ (128) and a career low in strikeout rate (19.6 percent). His batting average on balls in play is a little high right now at .351, but he's finished with that high a BABiP in three other seasons and has a career BABiP of .348. Some guys are able to sustain higher rates and Fowler may be able to do that with his speed.
Still, the power outage is troubling. Fowler has never posted a season in the majors with a slugging percentage under .400. His isolated power average is also a good 30 points lower than it ever has been in his career. Since he came to Houston from the hitters' wonderland that is Coors Field, this is concerning. Are there other reason to be concerned?
Well, looking at his batted ball profile, we can quickly see what the issue is. Fowler has a career high ground ball rate at 52 percent and a line drive rate that's a good 3 to 4 percent lower than it ever has been before. In fact, it's 5 percent lower than last year and nearly 9 percent lower than 2012.
His fly ball rate, too, is at a career low of 29.5 percent, which limits his opportunity to hit home runs. His home run per fly ball rate is actually higher than his first three seasons with the Rockies, but at 7.7 percent, is 4-5 percent lower than his last two seasons.
It appears that is all due to Fowler seeing an inordinate number of two-seam fastballs to this point in the season. Overall, he's seen a career-low in the number of fastballs he's been thrown, but that rate is up about 6 percent on two-seamers. The only other pitch that's seen an increase like that is his change, which he's seen about 3 percent more often than in 2013. He's also seeing about 7 percent fewer sliders than he did.
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That's unusual because in his career, Fowler has struggled to hit the slider. He's been below average on slider runs for four out of the last five years. In that same vein, you can see why Fowler is seeing fewer fastballs. Fowler has hammered fastballs, both two-seamers, cutters and four-seamers in his career and this season.
The switch in his pitch profile explains the uptick in ground balls. It also explains why he hasn't hit for more power. He's seeing more sinkers and, though he's hitting well against them, they're not going as far as a four-seamer might. Also, two-seamers are more effective out of that Colorado air, so it could explain why teams didn't make that change in his scouting report before now.
The rest of the news is good. Fowler's plate discipline remains excellent. He's not swinging outside of the zone very often, nor is he swinging through pitches very often. Here, too, we see why he might be less successful at driving the ball.
Fowler has made contact on about 7 percent more balls outside of the zone (6 percent according to Pitch F/X) than in previous seasons. As such, he's making contact about 5 percent more often than he did in previous seasons.
So, if he's making contact on more pitches outside of the zone, those balls could be lessening his line drive rate, as he's less likely to square those up.
More two-seamers, more contact out of the zone, less power.
That's much less worrisome than chalking it up to Coors Field zapping his power, isn't it? Turns out, Coors Field was the culprit, just not how most people would imagine.