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Circling the Bases: Howling For Fowler

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

BREAKING DOWN: Dexter Fowler
.275-4-38-75-10 in 404 at-bats

Nothing in the above line is exciting. There I said it. So why am I wasting my time writing about it and why should you spend your time reading a review of the player who produced it? Hear me out.

Fowler was one of the more consistent performers in the game his first two season. Moreover, if you look at his work this season, it's nearly identical yet again. Take a look.

2009: .266-4-34-73-27 with a .363 OBP, .406 SLG
2010: .260-6-36-73-13 with a .347 OBP, .410 SLG
2011: .275-4-38-78-10 with a .370 OBP, .451 SLG

You'll quickly notice that he's only swiped 23 bases last year and this, after stealing 27 as a rookie, and his ability to run will go a long way toward determining his fantasy value as you obviously can't think too highly of a guy who isn't a .300 hitter, isn't a 15 homer bat, and one who isn't a big run producer. You also likely won't be too excited by that guy if he's also been caught 17 times on the bases over his last two seasons, just six fewer times than he has been successful.

So why the hell am I writing about this guy? Two reasons. (1) Recently he's been on fire. (2) Hope.

(1) Fowler was demoted during the first week of June for his poor work with the Rockies. He hit only .237 in the minors in 24 games, but when he was recalled, his bat finally awoke. Over his last 49 games in The Show he has hit .314, gotten on base at a .404 clip and posted a .561 SLG leading to a .965 OPS. Clearly he is not a .950+ OPS type of a player, but you cannot overlook his work of late as that OPS is better than the .952 mark that Adrian Gonzalez has posted this year (think about that for a moment). Fowler has also stolen eight bases, he's been caught three times of course, and that would equate to a return to the 25-steal level over a 150 game season. Are you interested now?

(2) The hope is that the Rockies will just let him play. In his first two seasons he was limited to 135 and 132 games, and he isn't going to reach that level this season (he's appeared in 106 games). Still, some optimism for playing time seems warranted. Clubs don't generally forget when you play like an All-Star for half a season.

As for as his work this year at the plate, he's returned to his 12+ percent level with his walk rate which has helped to push up his OBP to a mark that would be a career best. However, strikeouts continue to be an issue for the switch hitter as he has whiffed in nearly a quarter of his at-bats this season (24.3 percent of the time). His skill set won't look kindly on that type of approach as he would be much better off focusing on making consistently hard contact and letting his wheels do the real work. Still, his 0.54 career BB/K mark is passable, and his 1.28 GB/FB ratio, his mark this season and in his career, is also slanted enough to the grounder that if he could just take a bit off the strikeout column his batting average could climb into the .280's. After all, this is the third straight season he has produced a better than average line drive rate of 21 percent.

As of right now there is nary a format in which Fowler shouldn't be active – he's simply been killing the ball the past two months. In terms of his long term outlook that too appears to be on the rise, if the Rockies just let him play every day that is.

BREAKING DOWN: James McDonald
9-7, 3.98 ERA, 132 KS, 1.44 WHIP in 158.1 innings

James came into the year with a lot of excitement. A big arm who would be given 30 starts, he was one of those late targets that everyone was eying. Though 28 starts he is barely a .500 pitcher, just snuck his ERA under 4.00 in his last start, and nearly has a WHIP of 1.45 on the season, so how disappointing has his effort been?

McDonald has shown gradual improvement this season which is an excellent sign. His ERA was 7.33 in April, but in every other month of the season that mark has been under 3.95 (remember that his season long mark is still 3.98 because of that terrible start). In fact, over his last 23 outings James has posted a 3.30 ERA, nearly identical to his 3.26 mark since the All-Star break (10 starts). Basically, McDonald has been the pitcher everyone hoped he would be this year since the All-Star break. He's obviously been very consistent from start to start as well.

The last time he failed to last five innings was June 21. He's tossed a quality start in his last four outings and five of six (the other outing he permitted two runs but came up an out short of a quality start).

Since the start of May he's allowed more than three earned runs just three times in 23 starts. That's pretty damn good. Now there have been a lot of five inning outings in the mix as he often throws too many pitches in an outing to go deep into the game, but the fact of the matter is that nearly every time he has taken the hill since April he has given the Pirates a chance to win.

On the year, his K/9 rate of 7.50 is a solid total that is just under the 7.71 mark he owns for his career. As I mentioned above he does walk too many batters, though his 3.98 per nine mark is right in line with his career average of 4.03. If he could knock even half a batter off that mark per nine innings, he could really take off.

While he continues to be difficult to hit, his career BAA is .259 (the mark is .262 this year), he is a bit homer prone. That's hardly a surprise given that he allows a league average amount of fly balls at 42 percent of batted balls which has led to a slightly below league average GB/FB mark of 0.93 this season. Still, his 11.1 percent HR/F ratio is only barely elevated, so it's not like he's going to turn into Brett Myers anytime soon.

Here’s a couple of other points:

It's only 184 plate appearances, but McDonald has held batters to a .578 OPS in those times at the plate with runners in scoring position this season. The number is even better with RISP and two outs as his OPSA dips to a rather amazing .427 (74 plate appearances). Again the sample size is small, but this brief look seems to suggest that McDonald might be one of those rare hurlers who can raise his performance at the times that it's needed most. Second, the guy has to learn how to pitch on the road. While he's been nails at home (3.02 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .223 BAA), his performance on the road harkens back to those early 21st century Pirates' teams that were the laughing stock of baseball (5.04 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .300 BAA).

If you bailed on McDonald after an abysmal April, that is totally understandable. At the same time, if you went to the waiver-wire and added him at the start of May, you've picked up a pretty solid arm that is just starting to live up to expectations.

WHO AM I?

I've pretty quietly had a pretty darn good season on the hill this year.

Entering the season I owned a career line of 16-28 with a 4.30 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP.

I've thrown more innings than guys like Daniel Hudson (194), Ricky Romero (193.2) and Tim Lincecum (190) despite having only one season with more than 90 innings pitched in my career prior to this year.

I have an ERA of under 3.00. In addition to that raw number I'd like to point out that I'm in the top-15 in baseball in ERA with a mark better than guys like CC Sabathia, Jon Lester and Dan Haren.

My WHIP isn't spectacular, but it's still better than the marks posted by fantasy stars like Jair Jurrjens (1.22), Daniel Hudson (1.22) and Madison Bumgarner (1.23).

I'm no strikeout phenom, but I have been able to punch out more batters than Tommy Hanson (142), Chad Billingsley (141) and Jaime Garcia (138).

One of the main keys to my game is keeping the ball in the ballpark. On the year I've allowed only seven homers, about a sixth of the major league leading 37 that Bronson Arroyo has permitted this season.

Would you believe that I'm harder to get a base hit off of than Yovani Gallardo (.256), Bartolo Colon (.259) and James McDonald (.262).

Who Am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

.295: The batting average of Mark Reynolds in the 26 games in which he has played first base. That number plummets to .210 in the 114 games that he has played third. Moreover, in those 26 games as a first baseman Reynolds has eight homers and 14 RBI, meaning that a 150 game pace from Reynolds, at the level at which he has produced while playing first base this year, would result in a .295-46-81 line. Maybe a position switch is in order Orioles?

1.53: The ERA of Cliff Lee over his last 16 starts. That's half a season’s worth of starts folks. In that time he's gone 12-2 with a 0.88 WHIP and a 5.43 K/BB ratio.

3: The number of rookie pitchers who have tossed a complete game shutout with at least nine strikeouts and no more than one batter reaching base safely since 1900 (Gary Peters in 1963 and Vida Blue in 1970 were the others). The most recent member of the club is the White Sox' Zach Stewart. Not only did he accomplish a feat that is rarer than a perfect game, he became the first White Sox rookie to toss a shutout since Wilson Alvarez tossed a no-hitter on August 11, 1991. Finally, what makes the outing so unbelievable is the fact that in his previous two efforts Stewart allowed 15 hits and 13 runs over 10.2 innings.

15: The length of the current hitting streak of Erick Aybar. Come on, admit it, you had no idea did you? During that stretch he is batting .339 with 10 RBI. He's not the only hot hitting Angels batter either. Howie Kendrick has scored 20 runs while knocking in 14 batters over his last 19 games while Torii Hunter has a .345 batting average over his last 39 games. Hunter also has 16 RBI in his last 16 games. Oh, and don't forget about Vernon Wells, yeah that Vernon Wells, who is batting .395 with three homers over his last 13 games.

88.1: The percentage of the last 59 games, 52 to be exact, in which Dan Uggla has produced a hit. Over those 59 games, which obviously includes his 33-game hitting streak, Uggla has hit .321 with a .400 OBP and a .647 SLG. He's also lifted his season long batting average .062 points to .237. Uggla also reached 30 homers for the fifth time. No other second baseman in the history of the game has done it more than three times (Jeff Kent, Rogers Hornsby, Alfonso Soriano and Chase Utley).

I AM...

The Indians' Justin Masterson.

JM is 11-8 on the year with a 2.92 ERA, 143 Ks and a 1.21 WHIP over 194.1 innings. Apparently gone are concerns about his ability to handle a heavy workload, though he still struggles a bit against lefties who he has allowed to hit .276 this season (righties have a much harder time squaring up that sinker with a .215 batting average).

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.