According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the Colorado Rockies are expected to shop outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Dexter Fowler. Before you get all giddy, this isn’t about Cuddyer, but Fowler and what he could potentially bring to the Phillies as their new centerfielder.
Cuddyer never seemed to be a fit in Philadelphia, even as many Phillies fans openly pined for him when he hit free agency last offseason. He eventually signed on with the Rockies for $10.5 million per season, too rich for the Phillies blood. That’s a good thing.
Fowler is the catch here. Renck mentions the Phillies by name in his post as a team that needs outfield help. In his end-of-the-season press conference alongside Charlie Manuel, GM Ruben Amaro stated that the free agent outfield crop was not strong. A trade could be the way. Does Fowler fit the mold?
With Fowler, you’re getting a 25-year-old outfielder still coming into his own. He’s coming off his best season, one in which he hit .300 and got on base at a .389 clip. Power isn’t a large part of his game, although he did hit a career high 13 homers in 2011.
A closer inspection of the numbers unfortunately finds a dreaded Coors Field split. At home with the help of the thin air of the Rocky Mountains, Fowler was much better, as players normally are in Denver. His average dropped 70 points away from Coors Field in 2011, from .332 to .262. One positive is that he still found a way to get on base at a .339 clip on the road, which would have been fourth among Phillies in ’11 with more than 300 at-bats. To compare, Jimmy Rollins OBP in 2011 was a measly .316.
Stick with me, but lets get statty. Another way to compare Fowler correctly to the rest of the league due to him playing 81 games on a mountainside is to use Fangraphs stat wRC+. It’s similar to OPS+, and is park and league adjusted. The average is 100 and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For more on wRC+, click here.
Fowler’s 123 wRC+ is on par with some of the best outfielders in baseball, like Carlos Beltran (125), his Rockies teammate Carlos Gonzalez (123) Bryce Harper (122), Jason Heyward (121), and Jay Bruce (119).
Defensively, he has not been all that great. My first thought, without peering the metrics, was that Fowler would be one of the better players in the field because he’s so quick and his strides so long. You’d think at 6-foot-5 and having some wheels, Fowler would be a prime centerfielder. That’s not the case.
Among all outfielders over the past two seasons, Fowler has made 14 errors (4th worst in the majors) and has an Ultimate Zone Rating of -19.7. Only Curtis Granderson of the Yankees is worse. Raul Ibanez is -17.6, just ahead of Fowler, if you were wondering. Since coming to the bigs, there aren’t many other outfielders who have been more inept as an outfielder, as crazy as that is to think. UZR is also park-adjusted, meaning Coors Field is not an issue here.
Fowler is arbitration eligible through 2015, so while he’ll be getting considerable raises each year, he is cost controlled. One negative is that he’s is guided by the force that is Scott Boras.
One thing working in the Phillies favor is that the Rockies organization is hurting for pitching, something the Phillies have an abundance of at all levels of the minor leagues.
Yet, it still doesn’t seem like the best match, especially knowing that Fowler is relatively inept with the glove. If the Phillies are flanking Fowler with guys like Brown, Ruf, Schierholtz, and Pierre in 2013, it’s disaster waiting to happen. Defense can be taught, as you’ve seen Domonic Brown grow into an OK fielder, however, centerfield is the anchor of the D and can’t be taken for granted.