This week expectations finally became reality. The St. Louis Cardinals announced the signing of Dexter Fowler. Fowler’s name had been long mentioned, even late in the season when it became apparent the Cardinals needed an outfield upgrade with Matt Holliday’s departure, and was the known prime target for the Cardinals during the off-season. We know what Fowler received, five years and 85 million dollars. But what will the Cardinals receive from Fowler?
Dexter Fowler is a 30-year old center fielder, coming off a career season that was capped by winning the World Series. Last year Fowler played himself into the big money contract from the Cardinals by hitting .276 with 13 home runs and 48 runs batted in while maintaining a .393 on-base percentage and playing solid defense. But as already mentioned, that was a career year for Fowler. This is likely not what we will see from Fowler during his five years here in St. Louis.
To get a better idea of what to expect we need to look at Fowler’s entire career. During his career his 162 game averages are a .268 batting average, 12 home runs, 52 runs batted in, and a .366 on-base percentage. As you can see those numbers are not too far off from last year’s totals during his career year. Fowler has been a pretty consistent hitter during his career; which is something that the Cardinals batting order needs with its numerous hot-and-cold hitters. But the constant refrain from fans after Fowler’s signing is about his on-base percentage and defense. Let’s take a closer look at those two points and see what we can expect.
Fowler led off for the Chicago Cubs last year, with a talented and deep lineup behind him, working his way to a .393 on-base percentage; the best by a leadoff hitter in the majors. However that was his highest mark during his nine-year career and he will be coming to a lineup that is not nearly as deep and dangerous. So we shouldn’t expect him to reach that level again but he should get on enough to still set the table for the lineup. His career mark of .366 would have been third on the team last year, just behind Aledmys Diaz’ .369 mark.
As far as Fowler’s defense goes, it is a case of recent memories. Fowler was a plus glove for the Cubs last year in centerfield but just as last year was a career year at the plate for Fowler, so too was his defense at an all-time high. Last year marked the first time in his career that Fowler finished with a plus UZR rating (a metric that measures runs saved). In fact for his career Fowler is -63.1 in UZR. Now granted he has played center in some of the quirkiest parks (Colorado, Houston, and Chicago) but the narrative that he is a significant upgrade in centerfield for the Cardinals is false. But there is also the fact that Fowler began playing a deeper centerfield last year, and consequently saw his best defensive performance. Did the shift to a deeper position for Fowler lead to improved defensive performance and will it start a new trend for him? That could be. But still he is not the conversation as one of the game’s top defensive outfielders, but just like at the plate he is an upgrade over the past for the Cardinals.
So where do I stand on the Fowler signing? Given the words and information laid out above it may not seem like I am a fan of the deal. But I am. I just want people to truly understand that player the Cardinals signed. I will relate it to another recent signing from the other professional team in St. Louis, Paul Stastny. Fans were ecstatic for his signing, believing they were bringing in a top play-making center. But in reality Stastny is simply an above average center that does a lot of the little things needed to win. That is what I feel Fowler will do for the Cardinals.
He will get on base, he is an upgrade in center defensively, he is an above average base runner, etc. I actually think his biggest asset may be his personality. From listening to his press conference he seems like he has an upbeat, outgoing, and candid personality. Something that has been missing from the team over the last few years. He will no doubt be a media darling here in St. Louis, but hopefully he can also bring some spark and fun into a Cardinal clubhouse that many times seems business like (outside of Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez antics). So was the Dexter Fowler signing a hit for the Cardinals or a foul one? I think the signing is much like Dexter Fowler the player. It’s not a home run but it’s not a strikeout. It’s a solid single up the middle.