Stephen Guilbert - Say "No" To Dexter Fowler

Juan Lagares--even an injured and light-hitting Juan Lagares--is a more practical and valuable option for the 2016 Mets than supposed free agent target Dexter Fowler. Photo by Stephen Guilbert

Alright. I have had a bit of a buffer since the end of the World Series and now I am focusing on what the Mets need to do in order to get back to The Show in 2016. I see a few areas of need and none more pressing than center field. While I very much like Juan Lagares, I neither believe he is healthy enough or productive enough of a hitter to trust him with center field in 2016, though his presence late in games and as injury security holds quite a bit of value. However, needless to say, the Mets will be in on most of the center fielders in this year's free agent class. One name I have heard a number of experts and fans tie to the Mets is former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler.

Dexter Fowler for the Mets center field job in 2016 is an awful idea and there are three reasons why:

1.) Dexter Fowler is not a good defensive center fielder. The Mets need a good defensive center fielder.

2.) Dexter Fowler will cost the Mets their first round draft pick in 2016's amateur draft.

3.) Dexter Fowler's production in hitter-friendly parks (Coors and Wrigley) inflate his offensive numbers--numbers that will be difficult to replicate in Citi Field's more spacious confines.

Let's look at each of these a bit more closely.

First, Dexter Fowler's defense is a problem. The Mets cannot afford bad defense for a 2016 team that will be built around pitching. Dexter Fowler has been an awful defender in center and probably should not be playing there anymore. Consider the following data. Since coming into the league, this is where Fowler ranks amongst other center fielders with qualifying innings:

Total defense (Fangraphs). Both Matt Kemp and Melky Cabrera have since moved to a corner position. 

Fangraph's Advanced Defensive metrics. Fowler ranks worst in the MLB since 2009 in overall defense. 

DRS, a slightly different measurement for total defense. Fowler ranks second worst in the MLB and worst amongst current center fielders. 

Defensive arm rating: A good metric for determining how much an arm affects base runners (including base runners thrown out as well as bases not taken).

UZR: A range-based defensive metric.

The data above all says one thing. By every metric, no matter how flawed or incomplete, Dexter Fowler is a poor defensive center fielder.

2015 was Fowler's best defensive season, rating slightly below average by Fangraph's defensive metric and well below average by baseball-reference's. However, he was also playing in a much smaller park which did not require nearly as much range as he needed in Coors or Minute Maid park. In fact, of the three stadiums he has played in for his career, only one presents a range challenge similar to what he would face in Citi Field. That field, Minute Maid Park in Houston, is probably the most similar to Citi both in terms of dimensions as well as how the ball carries while in the air (though Citi does not have Tal's Hill).

In that sole season as the Astros' center fielder, he was worth -36.2 UZR/150, by far the worst figure in baseball (the next worst was Coco Crisp of the A's at -24.1). He was the worst by DRS, the worst by total range runs by a factor of two over the next worst guy, and the third worst arm in all of baseball.

Look at the numbers. Look at his production in center field when he was younger and faster in Colorado. They paint an extremely poor picture of his defensive ability which significantly lowers his value. If we take 2014 Houston Astro Dexter Fowler as a reference for the production Fowler would give the Mets in center field, consider that it took him 124 wRC+, his single best offensive season ever, to total just 1.4 WAR in 505 at bats. That's pretty awful. That's Michael Cuddyer production.

Which brings me to my second point. Like Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler will cost the Mets a draft pick. I don't want to give up a draft pick. I don't want to give up another valuable draft pick for a player who isn't going to be good. If we are giving up a draft pick, I want a monstrous, game-changing player to join the lineup. Think Heyward. But we are not getting Heyward, so let's not give up the draft pick, okay?

 Remember, that spot in the draft (late first round), has produced Christian Yelich (23), Kolten Wong (22), Marcus Stroman (22), Billy McKinney (24), Aaron Judge (32) Jose Berrios (32), Blake Swihart (26) and Mike Trout (25) over the past half dozen years. No, that does not mean the Mets will get a franchise player. It might, but there are misses all over the draft as well. However, it does mean that franchise player talent is around in that spot of the draft and the Mets under Paul DePodesta and Sandy Alderson have done a fantastic job with the amateur draft. I trust them. I would rather take that young talent than a bad defender who will not help the 2016 (or '17 or '18 or '19 or '20) Mets. That draft pick, if good, can become part of a pipeline of talent that will continue to make the Mets a powerhouse team or, alternatively, be valuable trade bait to fill needs for competitive Met teams throughout this decade.

The Mets need to keep a strong farm system. The Cardinals are annual contenders for this reason. I want that for the Mets. Sacrificing first round draft picks for bad players is a really good way to make sure that does not happen and we already did that with one free agent last year who boosted his offensive numbers in Colorado.

Which brings me to my third point. Is Dexter Fowler a better hitter than the other free agents on the market? The short answer is no. His career wRC+ (a weighted offensive statistic that takes runs produced through all offensive production including base running) is 107. That means he is 7% above league average, offensively. That is not bad. Denard Span's career mark is 106--a negligible difference. What is different, though, is Denard Span did not spend 85% of his home games in Coors Field and Wrigley Field--two of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball. In fact, none of the free agents on the market played in such hitter-assisted ball parks than Dexter Fowler who still was only able to put up offensive numbers just 7% above league average. In Citi Field, can we count on that? I would not. I would wager he would hit something like league average.

League average hitting with league-worst defense is a replacement level player, if that.

So why is Dexter Fowler even close to being anything the Mets would want? He will cost 4-5 years and 50 million+, he will cost a draft pick and he will not be better than Juan Lagares. So what is the point?

Say "no" to Dexter Fowler.

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bob gregory said...

No to Dexter Fowler.

Thomas Brennan said...

Stephen Guilbert - hello, and a well crafted, convincing document. He does not seem worth blowing a first round pick on.

Reese Kaplan said...

When you factor in that they're trying to replace Cespedes' production with a hypothetical offer to Fowler, it becomes even more laughable.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Reese--do you and I agree on something?!


Robb said...

I know it sounds weird, but Nimmo rakes against RHP, I would be happier with a platoon of nimmo and lagares in center for next year vs fowler. he hit 204 vs RHP at double A in 2014, regressed a little in 2015 to 278.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Robb, short of signing Cespedes or Span, that's my choice as well. Pretty athletic and defensively sound center field, although I wouldn't expect a ton of offense (I also have my concerns about Nimmo's ability in center field but I just haven't seen enough of him in person to know for sure).

Michael S. said...

Agree 100%

Gary Seagren said...

Span has no draft pick comp. and coming off a bad year so maybe he'd sign a 1 year deal and retest next year. Agree wholeheartedly that unless it's Heyward lets keep the picks (figuring Murph signs elsewhere).

Stephen Guilbert said...

He might. It's worth a shot.

For me, the free agency market for center field comes down to two guys: Cespedes and Span. I just don't like the others enough unless--like you said--we get in on Heyward. If we can't secure any of them, then I'm fine with something like Lagares/Nimmo/Gutierrez in center field for 2016 while investing elsewhere/keeping the payroll low/waiting for a better option mid-season or next year. Remember, Carlos Gomez is a free agent following this season.

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