Ever since the departure of outfielder Dexter Fowler, the top spot for the Chicago Cubs has been an abyss of futility, leaving a glaring hole in the lineup.
“You go, we go.” That was the mantra of 2015 and 2016 when it came to the leadoff spot for the Cubs. With Dexter Fowler occupying that spot on a regular basis, Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon didn’t have to mix and match or play match-ups. In Fowler, Maddon had a guy who would work at bats, get on base regularly, and even provide a little pop every once in a while. To paraphrase Robin Williams from Good Will Hunting, “Fowler wasn’t perfect and the Chicago Cubs weren’t perfect, but they were perfect together.”
Over the course of his two seasons in Chicago, Fowler provided the spark for what was the greatest offensive club the Cubs have had in most fan’s lifetimes. The problem is, ever since the Cubs let him walk on down to Boringtown after the 2016 season to collect his $82 million, the Cubs’ leadoff spot has been a different kind of offensive. Like, the stinky kind.
In those two years on the North Side, Fowler played 281 games, scored 186 runs, hit 54 doubles, 15 triples, and 30 home runs. He also swiped 33 bags and had a .367 OBP. He was 20th in all of baseball in 2015 in pitches per plate appearance, seeing an average of 4.08. In 2016, he upped that to fourth in the league, seeing 4.40 per plate appearance. Not surprisingly, the Cubs as a whole led the league in pitches per plate appearance in 2015 and were fourth as a team in 2016.
Also not a shock was what happened when they didn’t have Fowler at the top. In 2017, the Cubs as a team plummeted to league average at 3.90, good for 16th in baseball. In 2018, things got worse, as the number dropped to 26th at 3.83. In 2019, the Cubs have climbed back to league average at 3.90, good for 20th in baseball.
While you can’t take one number in a box and extrapolate everything you want out of it, it is one indicator that the lineup is suffering and not working at bats in the same way since Fowler left. How much was his doing and the ups and downs of others can only be speculative, but the lineup was better at working pitchers and seeing pitches when he was on top- that much is undeniable. Just look at what happened this year without a consistently solid guy atop the scorecard.