Last Friday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals finalized a 5-year, $82.5 million with former Cubs center-fielder Dexter Fowler. As has been explained in the media, the Fowler addition was meant to add more athleticism both on defense and atop the Cardinals’ lineup. At face value, this seems to make sense; Fowler’s skills are indicative of a lead-off hitting center fielder. In theory, inserting Fowler in center in place of incumbent Randal Grichuk should improve the outfield defense. In researching this theory; however, I have found that the ‘Fowler Effect’, while certainly providing plus-value, is not as straightforward as it may seem.
I will start with what we know. Offensively, Fowler is a bona-fide leadoff hitter as far as present day terms are concerned. While fans can get bogged down in batting averages (Fowler put up just a .276 mark in 2016), he did finish the year with a .393 OBP and was a table-setter for the first Chicago Cubs World Series victory in over 100 years. In fact, since he became a full-time Major Leaguer in 2009, Fowler has ranked very highly when it comes to getting on base. Take a look at the following chart and see just how well he stacks up.
This is a list of every Major Leaguer to accumulate a .360 OBP or better in at least 4,000 plate appearances throughout the last 8 seasons (500 PA per season). The chart speaks to two facts: the first being that Fowler has been nearly elite when it comes to getting on base, and the second being that Fowler has been fairly durable, averaging about 131 games played per season. He should be exactly what the Cardinals are looking for in terms of a leadoff hitter.