Fowler's Failure To Launch


More batters trying to elevate than ever before. Launch angle is so hot right now. Hitting grounders is for losers. Josh Donaldson has gone so far to say "if you see me hitting the ball on the ground, you know it was by mistake". We've seen players like Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, and JD Martinez turn themselves from scrubs into all-stars by this focus on launch angle. And with this new focus, we've seen more home runs and more strikeouts. OK, so unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard about this trend by now.


So about Dexter Fowler. Please know that what I'm about to say is conjecture. I admit it. I'm not drawing any hard conclusions, this is just speculation based upon some research. I could be trying to connect dots that aren't there. But after scouring Dex's FanGraphs and Baseball Savant pages, one has to wonder if he's tried to jump on the launch angle bandwagon more than ever this year, only to see this new approach backfire miserably.


Take a look:



Image courtesy of FanGraphs.com

Fowler is hitting a lot more fly balls, yet his wRC+ on his fly balls has been miserable. On the flip side, he's hitting far fewer grounders than ever before.


Groundball rate:

2018: 37.8% All Statcast seasons (since '15): 41.9% 2018 MLB average: 46%


So what about his launch angle? Let's take a look:


Launch Angle:

2018: 15.6% All Statcast era seasons: 12.7% MLB average: 10.8%


Now aiming to hit the ball in the air is great when you have the ability to smoke the ball like JD Martinez. But Fowler's exit velocity right now though is just 86 mph, and he's normally around 87 mph. While that's not Dee Gordon or Billy Hamilton level of banjo-hitting, he's definitely still in the bottom third of the MLB. Trying to elevate for Fowler isn't making him more of a slugger. It's just turning into more cans of corn.


Looking even further into his batted ball profile, we see that Dex has hit "under" balls 32.2%, up 6% from his average.



Image from Baseball Savant.

Now the batted ball type "Hit Under" just means medium-hit, low-speed fly balls. The angle for those hits is too high for other than a small chance of the ball going over the fence. The wOBA for that batted ball type is just .095. In other words, he's elevating the ball more but he's elevating too much and not with enough "oomph" for the ball to turn into anything but an easy play for the opponent's outfield. You're not going to have a pretty wOBA counting on duck snorts and the occasional Crawford Box type of homer.


Now, I scoured the interwebs for quotes from Fowler to see if I could back up what I'm suggesting but I came up empty. And without going Zach Gifford on you all and looking back and looking at Fowler's at-bats for the last month or so, it's hard to be sure if my speculation has any basis. (Zach would do a better job at dissecting mechanics than me anyway). There's more work to be done here for sure. Maybe his bat speed has slowed. Maybe his sense of timing has gotten off, or his mechanics are jacked. Without the ability to ask Fowler myself, I'm not in a great position to know for sure. I'd hate to think that turning 32 would turn Fowler into a pumpkin somehow.


But if what I'm saying is true and Fowler is trying to evolve into a different type of player in order to keep up with the rest of the league, I hope he realizes that the "one size fits all" approach isn't gonna cut it here. I think we've all done this at one point or another. We see our job changing around us, and there's that temptation to try and do something that's outside of our normal selves. And when we do we end up looking stupid.


The launch angle approach is a bad fit for Fowler, and that's OK. I'd much rather Dex just go back and try to be Dex.