Most St. Louis Cardinals fans seems to agree at this point that the team is lacking a middle of the order hitter. The type of player that can consistently hit with power and drive in runs. Jedd Gyorko was doing a decent job hitting cleanup for most of the season before he went into a slump, leaving the team searching for a new 4th hitter. That’s where Dexter Fowler enters the discussion.
Since returning from the disabled list on August 7th Fowler has been hitting cleanup for the Cardinals. To say he’s done an excellent job would be an understatement. Since that day, Fowler is slashing .380/.507/.600 and has a 182 wRC+. He has been absolutely crushing the ball and doesn’t seem to be phased at all by being forced into the cleanup spot after hitting leadoff for most of his career.
Now, Fowler’s numbers will obviously regress at some point. However for the rest of this season I’d expect him to continue hitting cleanup because they just don’t have any good options to replace him. A power bat absolutely has to be at the top of the Cardinals list for this offseason though, and that bat would likely hit 4th. So what does that mean for Fowler?
Fowler should hit 2nd
I know that Dex has been a leadoff hitter for almost his entire career. Many fans would probably like to see him move back to that role because he was so good at it and still has a good OBP. The biggest issue with that is that Matt Carpenter still plays on this team. I still have absolutely no idea why Carpenter doesn’t hit well anywhere other than leadoff. It’s something that I’ve accepted will never make any sense, but at this point the sample size is large enough that we have to believe that the splits are real.
Zach Gifford of The Intrepid STL dug into this phenomenon earlier this month and basically came to the same conclusion. There isn’t much of an answer as to why Carpenter is worse when not leading off, but there is significant evidence showing that he definitely is worse and it’s not just bad luck. So while it can be a frustrating thing, Carpenter needs to be hitting first. There are much worse problems than having a hitter of Matt Carpenter’s caliber stuck in your leadoff spot.
Dexter’s power has increased
The other issue working against Fowler leading off again isn’t really an issue at all. He’s hitting for more power than he ever has. I looked into his power spike a couple months ago and it has continued since then. He has both his highest career slugging percentage (.484) and his highest career ISO (.220) this season. He’s also on pace for the most home runs of his career despite missing time on the DL. This certainly makes him better suited for the second spot in the lineup than I expected him to be coming into the season.
Now I believe another advantage to hitting Fowler 2nd as opposed to 3rd or 4th will be what happens late in games. With Carpenter coming up and the switch hitting Fowler behind him, I would expect a manager to go to their best lefty to pitch to Carpenter and turn Fowler around. For whatever reason, it seems like managers always like to make a switch hitter hit from the right side when they can, even if the splits say they hit better right handed. I assume it’s because switch hitters hit right handed far less often than left handed. Fortunately for Fowler, he hits lefties extremely well.
These are Fowler’s career splits, and as you can see, he’s a significantly better hitter from the right side of the plate.
Fowler’s defense in center field has been a highly debated topic this season. To me, he is the perfect example of how defensive metrics can have some crazy outliers from year to year and 2016 happened to be one of those outliers. The metrics said he was an average defensive center fielder last season but they say that he’s been well below average every other season of his career. This season has unfortunately followed his career trend.
This probably wouldn’t be so highly debated if it weren’t for the emergence of Tommy Pham as a good center fielder. If Pham isn’t moved this offseason then I believe that he should start in center field next year with Fowler moving over to left, however, I just don’t think that will be the case. There seems to have been some sort of understanding when Fowler was signed that he would be the center fielder. Whether we agree with it or not, I don’t see Fowler being moved to a corner outfield spot anytime soon.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the front office will do what they need to do this offseason and they go out and get a middle of the order hitter. If so, I believe the Cardinals have their number two hitter locked up for the foreseeable future. If Dex’s power continues to rise then he could be able to move back into a middle of the order role. But for now, the OBP and power combination will play extremely well behind Carpenter in the lineup.
Thanks for reading!