Every year since 2012, we’ve spent some time after the season looking back at those that wore the Birds on the Bat. Whether it’s a bit player that got into just a couple of games or someone that played almost every day, we’ll look at their stats, their positives, their negatives, and grade them based on what we would have expected from them. The stat line is from their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers may include time with other teams, if applicable. Think of this as like the players packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter. Once again, our great header work comes to us from cardinalsgifs, who continues to be a master.
Player: Dexter Fowler
Season stats: 90 G, 334 PA, 40 R, 52 H, 10 2B, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 5 SB, 2 CS, 38 BB, 75 K, .180/.278/.298, 59 OPS+, -1.4 bWAR
Hero/Goat: Hero 4, Goat 8
Overall grade: D-
Positives: Had a glorious walk-off home run against his former team in May, one of two extra-inning home runs on the season….welcomed his second child in July and then was able to spend much of the first months with her as a foot injury ended his season….his power wasn’t sapped, homering at a similar HR/AB rate as he did in 2017….hit better on the road (.193)….had a .200/.317/300 line in the second half before his foot fracture….hit .222 in August (2-9 before getting hurt on August 3)….had a .706 OPS in 17 PA when he led off the game….had a .597 OPS hitting seventh….had a .790 OPS when he was ahead in the count….hit .250 in high leverage situations….had a .745 OPS in the middle innings….had a .929 OPS when he faced a pitcher for the third time in a game (51 PA)….hit .293 with a 1.017 OPS against the Reds….had a .954 OPS against the Brewers….hit .204/.313/.352 after Mike Shildt took over.
Negatives: That stat line above covers a lot of negatives in and of itself….hit .167 at Busch Stadium, though his home runs were evenly split home and away….hit .161 against left-handed pitching….had a .411 OPS in June….was just 2 of 14 as a pinch-hitter….hit .077 in three games batting second….had a .410 OPS when the pitcher was ahead….hit .133 with two outs….hit .175 with runners in scoring position….hit .107 when there were two outs and RISP….had a .460 OPS in low-leverage situations….had a .481 OPS against relief pitching….hit .129 against power pitchers….that home run against the Cubs was a rarity as he had a .501 OPS against them on the year.
Overview: I told you when we went through Brett Cecil that I don’t like to give out Fs in this exercise and I think Fowler showed enough after the change that there might have been some mitigating circumstances. The relationship between Fowler and Mike Matheny disintegrated to the point that John Mozeliak characterized it as almost depression. That’s serious and it has to definitely impact how you do your job. I don’t know that you can blame it all on Matheny–while Fowler did improve under Shildt, it wasn’t night-and-day–but you do wonder how confidence from the manager would help out.
It’s a balancing act, of course, because where do you draw the line on at bats? We’ve said before that players like Kolten Wong really need to play every day to be good, but how long can you let them go out there while they are trying to be good? If Fowler wasn’t hurt in early August, would he have played every day and, if so, how would that have affected the surge the club went on? We’ll never know. It could be that Fowler would have caught fire as well–he was saying before the game he got hurt in that “spring training was over”–and we’d be having a little different conversation now. You would like to think, as Fowler states, that players don’t drop off as suddenly as he did, but sometimes they do. Was this year a confluence of bad factors or a sign of things to come?
Outlook: Fowler’s outlook isn’t a simple one. We all know that the Cardinals have been linked to Bryce Harper and most fans are hoping that the take this rare chance to lock in a superstar. If they do, however, that would seem to cloud Fowler’s future. There is a path that would have him sharing time with Harrison Bader in an effective platoon, with Harper perhaps shifting between center and right depending on who is playing. There’s also the idea that a Harper signing would have Fowler interested in waiving his no-trade clause, though what the Cardinals would get back is questionable. I believe that if Fowler gets regular at-bats in 2019, he’ll be more in line with the past version of himself, maybe more like the 2017 than anything else. I just don’t know if those regular AB will come in St. Louis.