Over the weekend, the Rockies sent down outfielder Dexter Fowler to Triple-A, effectively pushing Seth Smith into a role as the team's primary left fielder.
And frankly, I'm trying to figure out what took so long. Certainly, Carlos Gonzalez has deserved his spot in Colorado's outfield, and I think that we can say safely by now that the Rockies don't view Brad Hawpe's defense in the same light that UZR and other defensive metrics do. But still, why was Colorado even considering letting Fowler bat against right-handers in favor of Smith, as they often did?
Sure, Fowler was solid offensively in his first MLB stint last season (.345 wOBA in 518 plate appearances), but his defense graded out awfully in center field and most of his success came against southpaws. Meanwhile, Smith has a .380 wOBA in 651 career plate appearances in the majors, and at the very least has the reputation as an above average defender in left field. He may already be 27 along with a sizable platoon split of his own, but he has a long track record of absolutely killing right-handers and his work against lefties hasn't been that bad in the majors. This season things became even more extreme though, as Fowler's wOBA sits at .295 wOBA due to a massive drop in his BABIP, while Smith has a .387 wOBA in spite of a very low .255 BABIP thanks to some big power numbers.
To put things simply, the Rockies are clearly a better team on most days with Gonzalez in center field and Smith in left, compared to having Fowler in center and Gonzalez in left. Not only does the former alignment offer a superior defensive combination, it gives the team a better all-around offense as well. Fowler's still quite young, just 24, so he has a lot of time to figure things out against right-handers, but right now there's just no reason for him to be facing them consistently on a contending team. One could definitely argue that the Rockies are best off platooning Smith and Fowler in left field, but realistically the team needs Fowler to get lots of playing time to refine his tools, and the best place for that to happen is probably Triple-A.
It appears that the Rockies have opted to let Smith and Ryan Spilborghs take up platoon duties in left, in order to ensure that Fowler can play everyday in Colorado Springs. And to me, this moves really seems like a no-brainer. It certainly makes sense from a developmental standpoint for Fowler, who often looked totally overwhelmed against big league righties, and it upgrades the team as well because nobody was benefiting from Fowler's struggles in Colorado, particularly with the talent already in that organization.
Right now, Colorado is trying to contend for an NL West crown, and they simply can't afford to not have their best team on the field every day. Luckily for them, it appears they've noticed that their best current lineup has both Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith in it essentially every day.