If the Orioles Sign Fowler, They Must Use Him Correctly

If the reports are to be believed, Dexter Fowler will be a member of the Baltimore Orioles when the ink dries on his new contract. Fowler fills multiple needs for the Orioles. He’s a switch-hitting on-base machine with good speed and some power in his bat. Leading off the Chicago Cubs last season, Fowler drew 84 walks and stole 20 bases. His walk total would have tied Chris Davis for the Orioles lead, while his 20 steals would have seen him knotted up with Manny Machado for the team lead.

Hearing that Fowler is on the verge of suiting up for Buck Showalter‘s club brought a scene from the movie Friday Night Lights to my mind.

Now, (spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the movie) I certainly do not hope that Fowler signs with the Orioles, is allowed to spin, and shreds his knee like Boobie Miles does in real life. That being said, if Dexter Fowler indeed becomes a shiny new toy for Buck Showalter to pencil in at the top of his lineup card, the Orioles’ manager must let him spin on a regular basis. Over the past four years, the Orioles have been one of the most stationary teams on the basepaths in the league. With the exception of Machado, no Oriole stole more than 10 bases last season. In fact, no player even attempted to steal a base more than 10 times. Hearkening back to the great days of Earl Weaver, the Orioles’ offensive attack puts very little emphasis on the running game.

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Dating back to 2012, the Orioles have stolen 30 more bases than the combined total of the individual American League leaders. The Orioles simply have not had the personnel to steal a ton of bases, even at the positions that are typically occupied by speedsters. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has stolen eight bases in his career, while second baseman Jonathan Schoop has swiped only four in two seasons. Machado was able to capitalize on his above-average speed last season thanks in part to good instincts on the bases. Nate McLouth has been the only regular player on the team with great speed. David Lough led the team in stolen bases in 2014 as a part-time player who saw less than 200 plate appearances.

The Orioles are not about to change their offensive approach as a team. Over the past four years, they’ve finished second, first, first, and third in home runs. That’s not changing in 2016, either. Dexter Fowler will contribute in that regard as well with his 20-homer potential. Fowler needs to be slotted into the leadoff spot in the Orioles’ lineup and given the freedom to run. Speed is a major part of the package of skills for which the Orioles will be paying $12-13 million per year. Standing around and waiting for the heart of the order to knock one over the fence has, at times, made the Orioles very stagnant offensively. Fowler will help change that, both with his speed and ability to reach base without putting the ball in play.

The Orioles, under Showalter, have not been decidedly against the stolen base. McLouth was given every opportunity to run when he was with the team. If Dexter Fowler is indeed brought into the fold, expect him to be afforded the same freedom to run at the right time. The Orioles are not a small-ball team in need of a 50-steal threat, and they never will be. That does not change the fact that an injection of speed at the top of the order will benefit sluggers like Adam Jones and Chris Davis. With the addition of an on-base threat with speed, the Orioles have made their offense more dynamic.

Come on, Buck. Let Dexter spin.

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