Early Defensive Metrics and a Difference of Opinion on Dexter Fowler

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Early Defensive Metrics and a Difference of Opinion on Dexter Fowler

Chicago Cubs

dexter fowler outfieldAnalyzing Dexter Fowler’s defense in center field is nothing new.

Then again, neither are differences of opinion in regard to Fowler’s defense.

If anything, it might be over-analyzed.

But sometimes deeper looks are warranted, especially in regard to a player who seems to be in the thick of things as much as a center fielder is over the course of a game or season.

One month into the season, there aren’t many players whose defensive metrics are as polar opposite as Fowler’s. His 2.5 UZR in center field ranks ninth among his peers. It’s early, but this is a good start for Fowler, considering he has never finished with a positive UZR number in any of his six full seasons.

For those not familiar with Ultimate Zone Rating, you can read up on it here.

On the other hand his DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) number is at -4. It’s early, but Fowler is the only player among the top 10 center fielders in UZR with a negative DRS.

FanGraphs has a visual look at these defensive metrics, which is a must-read. If anything, it’s interesting simply to see differences charted in graph form, especially when it comes to Fowler, who sits there as an outlier in the lower right:

By one metric, Fowler is good. By another, he isn’t.

No wonder it was so difficult to peg Fowler’s defensive value entering this year. Brett touched on that aspect a bit here, shortly after the trade went down.

It is interesting to note it was only a year ago when the Crawfish Boxes were looking at Fowler’s defensive metrics, analyzing them and weighing their value. He is coming off a year in Houston in which he posted a -1.8 dWAR, per baseball-reference.com and has a career dWAR of -3.6.

And yet, he hasn’t always been viewed as a poor defender.

In Tracy Ringolsby’s Top-10 Rockies prospects profile for Baseball America from January 2009, he wrote of Fowler’s strengths, including: “He is a plus runner who gets good breaks on balls defensively and has a plus arm for a center fielder.”

A year earlier, Baseball Prospectus had Fowler as the Rockies’ top prospect in 2008. Kevin Goldstein, who currently works in the Astros front office, wrote this in his piece about the Rockies’ top-11 prospects: “…is a plus-plus runner, and he’s an outstanding center fielder with a good arm.”

While Fowler has played in some notoriously large outfields at Coors Field and Minute Maid Park, it is odd to see how differently Fowler’s defense has been viewed throughout the years. And it will definitely be interesting to follow moving forward in 2015.

Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.