Can we talk about Dexter Fowler a little bit? Of course, we can talk about Dexter Fowler!
Personally, I was at ease with the idea of the 30-year-old outfielder taking his talents away from the North side of Chicago this offseason. But, boy, I am eating a nice piece of humble pie now 30 games into 2016.
As mid-May approaches, the Cubs boast MLB’s best record at 24-6 and Dexter Fowler acts as a major cog in the well-oiled machine’s success. In 29 games, the switch-hitting on-base aficionado is slashing .340/.462/.575 with six stolen bases, three home runs, 17 RBIs, 24 runs scored and 12 doubles out of the leadoff spot.
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His .462 OBP leads the National League while his 1.038 OPS ranks seventh in the NL behind names like Anthony Rizzo, Bryce Harper, and Nolan Arenado. Fowler is also tied for second in doubles, third in runs scored and fourth in stolen bases.
Shall I continue? Oh, absolutely.
Dexter Fowler is also benefiting from a top-down philosophy established by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the rest of the Cubs executive staff that stresses patience at the plate. Time after time we see Cubs hitters grind out at-bats, and by the fifth inning, more often than not the opposing team’s starter is around 100 pitches.
Thanks to the help of hitting coach John Mallee, Fowler’s walk rate has jumped to 15.9 percent (a 3.4% increase from his career average) while his strikeout rate is going down, as it sits at 19.7 percent (a 2.7% decrease).
But wait, there’s more!
Dexter Fowler is notoriously a better hitter from the right side of the plate. His career .305 average and .836 OPS as a righty trumps his .255 average and .770 OPS as a lefty. However, this season, Fowler is essentially putting up the same type of production from both sides of the plate.
All this is fine and dandy, but, cmon, it’s still early in the season and he’s bound to come back to earth. Well, not so fast.
The most impressive part of Fowler’s game this season is his ability to make more solid contact. Just as an average observer, we can see he’s barreling up more balls and splitting more gaps.
That’s not deceiving, as his numbers back it up. Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated put it nicely in an article by noting Fowler’s hard-hit rate of 43.2 percent is a significant increase from his career 29.9 percent career average. That kind of contact rate is sustainable.
With a consistent approach at the plate, in which he averages 4.24 pitches per plate appearance, Fowler is swinging at his pitch much more often. That kind of consistency will allow more balls to be squared up, and his current .423 BABIP is a nice reward.
Dexter Fowler should be considered the difference maker in the Cubs lineup so far this season. Yes, Rizzo is a major force in the lineup and Ben Zobrist is on an absolute tear as of late, but Fowler’s game separates him from the pack.
I haven’t even mentioned his defensive adjustment, which attributes him to being one of the best center fielders in baseball at the moment.
Thanks to an opt-out clause the Baltimore Orioles were not willing to dish out, as well as the natural itch to make history and win a World Series in a Cubs uniform, the men in blue are benefiting from what could be a career year for Fowler.
In an offseason full of surprises and change, Dexter Fowler returning to the Cubs may have taken the cake (or pie).