According to a report from Rockies beat writer Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the Royals have been talking to the Rockies about sending some bullpen help to Colorado, and the Rockies’ best trade chip, Dexter Fowler, could be a fit in Kansas City.
The Royals, of course, have been rumored to be interested in adding a bat to their outfield corps, and bringing Fowler into the fold could be very beneficial to an offense that was among the worst in the league last season.
Fowler is coming off an injury-riddled season in which he posted a line of .263/.369/.407, which was good enough for an OPS+ of 102 in 492 plate appearances. He’s a 27 year old centerfielder with excellent speed to complement a very strong offensive skillset. Fowler’s career walk rate is 12.3%, which is outstanding. His contact skills are above average. His career ISO is .154, which is probably higher than one would expect from a speedy centerfielder, but when you remember that Fowler has played half of his career games at Coors Field, it does make sense.
Speaking of Coors Field: Fowler’s career home/road splits have sent up red flags in the eyes of some fans and analysts.
In 1,344 plate appearances in the thin air in Denver, Fowler has an OPS of .880.
In 1,291 plate appearances away from his home stadium, Fowler has an OPS of .694.
The significant gap in that split is absolutely cause for concern, at least on its face. Coors Field is almost certainly the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the major leagues, and one could postulate that Fowler’s numbers would plummet if he were pulled away from that kind of environment. However, if we dig a little bit deeper, we can possibly find reasons to calm those fears.
The Rockies play in an extremely hitter-friendly stadium. There is no arguing this fact. But, the Rockies also play in the NL West, which is home to teams with some extremely pitcher-friendly stadiums. The Padres, Giants, and Dodgers all play in parks that frequently are among the bottom of the league in park factors, meaning their home stadiums are very difficult to score runs in. Fowler and the rest of the Rockies play 81 games in Colorado, but they also play around 30 games between San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Here are Fowler’s career numbers in those stadiums:
Petco Park (San Diego): 147 PA, .214/.322/.349
AT&T Park (San Francisco): 126 PA, .189/.306/.245
Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles): 168 PA, .266/.327/.338
Those numbers are obviously a huge step down from his statistics in Coors Field. Fowler’s ability to draw walks has allowed him to still post on-base percentages that are at least respectable, but those three stadiums clearly sap his power significantly. This is entirely predictable, of course, but it’s something that fans may not consider when just glancing at a player’s home/road splits.
The other side of this speculated trade equation is on the Royals’ end. Despite a historical reputation as a pitcher’s park, Kauffman Stadium is more of a hitter-friendly environment. While home runs are suppressed at the K, the spacious outfield makes hitting doubles and triples easier than other stadiums, which has typically boosted it to an above average ranking in park factors. Players who hit line drives tend to do well in this stadium because the gaps in left-center and right-center make it difficult for most outfielders to chase down hard-hit balls before they roll to the fence. Players with speed can also have success since they are able to take extra bases because of the huge power alleys.
It just so happens that Fowler hits a lot of line drives, and is really fast.
Since 2010, Fowler’s line drive percentage of 23.4 is tied for the 20th best rate in the majors among 287 qualified hitters. Fowler also has 83 career stolen bases and has been worth 17.1 baserunning runs above average in his career.
Sure, Fowler may not hit double-digit home runs in Kauffman Stadium every season. But I do think that he could turn in 35-40 extra base hits per year fairly easily. And unlike the NL West, the stadiums in the AL Central are all relatively neutral run-scoring environments, with most parks usually in the upper half of the park factors rankings.
Granted, there are some drawbacks to acquiring Fowler. The defensive metrics are not fond of his work, as he has a UZR of -40.7 in his career to go along with -24 DRS. This seems counterintuitive because of Fowler’s speed, but for whatever reason, these rating systems show him in a very poor light. There are some reports that Fowler’s defense is much better than what the numbers say, so that information should be presented. The Royals already have an excellent defender in center field, but there are merits to an argument of shifting Cain to right field to help save his legs a bit more. That argument, however, leads to the other question mark regarding Fowler: his health. Fowler has played in more than 135 games in a season just once in his career, in 2012. That statistic is slightly misleading, though, as he’s played between 119 and 135 games in every other season since his 13-game debut season in 2008. Still, having two somewhat injury-prone outfielders can be a risk, especially since Fowler is owed over $7 million in 2014.
The final piece to this puzzle is the cost in a trade. As mentioned, the Rockies are looking for relief pitchers, and the Royals can certainly assist in that department. Specifically, the Rockies have been interested in Wade Davis for some time now, going back to his days in Tampa Bay. Now I might be one of the only few people who think Davis could still be a capable starter, but a flyball pitcher like him in Coors Field seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe I’m crazy. But, if the Rockies are wanting to take him, more power to them, I suppose. I’m guessing it would take more than just a reliever to acquire Fowler, but because of his injury history, the cost may not be quite as high.
Dayton Moore has had some luck in dealing with Colorado. He was able to dump Jonathan Sanchez and turn him into Jeremy Guthrie. He also acquired Felipe Paulino for cash from the Rockies. Obviously trading for Fowler is just a whisper of a rumor at this point, but it certainly seems to be a move that would go along with what the Royals are hoping to accomplish this offseason. Fowler may not be an All Star-type of hitter away from Coors Field, but his offense would fit in perfectly near the top of the lineup, and provide the Royals with more of the run-scoring opportunities they so desperately need.