Mar 20, 2012; Peoria, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) runs to third base during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Peoria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

What If? About the Leadoff Spot


What if Dexter Fowler doesn’t bat leadoff for the Rockies?

In a recent exhibition game Fowler and Marco Scutaro flip flopped at the top of the lineup, with Scutaro first and Fowler second. The Denver Post’s Troy Renck notes that this is not a surprise and that the team will do that from time to time, especially if Fowler is struggling. But I am not talking about a simple flip flop with these two. I am talking about somebody else batting second and moving Fowler to the 7 hole.

Let’s start with this question: what does Fowler do that makes the Rockies insist on him leading off? His surge in production in the second half of last season was encouraging, but it did not consist of the type of production one would associate with a pesky presence at the top of a National League lineup. Look at these numbers from the second half of Fowler’s 2011 campaign: 5 HR, 27 RBI, an .880 OPS, all with that big ugly loop in his left handed swing. He also batted .304 with runners in scoring position for the season. Great numbers, but do they make you think that Fowler best helps the team at the top of the order?

It is quite possible that your answer would be yes, especially if these numbers included mayhem on the bases (for the opponents). Which brings us to the crux of the issue: in the second half of 2011, Fowler stole a meek 10 bases (12 for the season). The most bases Fowler has stolen in a season was 27 back in 2009, with 13 SB in 2010. If he was going to develop into a base stealer and therefore a more natural fit at leadoff, wouldn’t it have happened by now? He also strikes out too much: 116, 104, and 130 Ks in the last three seasons.

These issues combine with some interesting developments in Rockies camp so far that make me at least wonder about dispatching a lineup with the following changes:

  • Bat Scutaro leadoff. You lose speed, but gain a player who makes better contact and grinds out at bats. Scutaro only struck out 36 times in 2011, as opposed to 130 Ks for Fowler. Fowler’s speed still impacts the game on defense and in his ability to stretch for extra bases on doubles and triples.
  • Bat whoever wins the 3rd base job in the #2 spot in the order, whether it is Brandon Wood, Chris Nelson, or Casey Blake

…Kidding!

But seriously, I say this presuming Chris Nelson will win the job based on Blake’s health issues and Wood’s consistency issues. Nelson handles the bat well enough that he should be able to provide a sufficient measure of reliability in the two hole.

  • Bat Fowler 7th. If he continues his success from the end of last season, this only lengthens the lineup with Ramon Hernandez/Wil Nieves/Wilin Rosario thumping away in the 8 hole. It also provides a sneaky option to fill that elusive 6 spot in the order if one of the old men normally occupying it gets injured over the course of the season.

Of course any team, especially one in the National League, wants somebody with burners at the top of their lineup. But this Rockies team already shapes up to have more of an American League lineup, so this change would embrace that philosophy with the hopes that the hitters will mash enough to make up for a lack of small ball. And let’s say this one more time: you do not actually “lose” that much speed at the top spot in the order; Fowler has consistently offset his own speed with his ineptitude as a base stealer and tendency to strike out.

Other than being skinny and fast, Dexter Fowler looks nothing like a leadoff hitter at the plate. If he does get over the proverbial hump this season, maybe that progress will include the traits that are desirable at the top of the lineup. But if not, the Rockies ought to at least consider a change like this.

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Tags: Dexter Fowler Marco Scutaro