When Dexter Fowler was signed this past offseason, it seemed like a sure thing that he would fit in nicely as the St. Louis Cardinals new leadoff hitter. Coming off of a season with a .393 on-base percentage, it seemed like a perfect fit. Well, 2.5 months into the season, things have changed. After struggling for most of the season Matt Carpenter has been moved back into the leadoff spot where he is crushing the ball ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
I wasn’t initially a fan of this move at all. I felt like Fowler didn’t fit very well as a #2 hitter and he needed to be leading off. But if Carpenter is going to keep hitting so well at leadoff then I guess he needs to stay there. I honestly don’t believe that he can only hit at leadoff but since it’s working so well I suppose it’s fine to leave it that way.
The other development that has made me more receptive to this move is the way Fowler is hitting for power. Through 64 games he has already matched last season’s home run total of 13. He also has his highest career slugging percentage of .484, despite his early season struggles. Based on these numbers it’s easy to see that Fowler is hitting for more power than ever. But that brings up the million dollar question…
Is his power legit?
The first thing I always look at when assessing whether a players home run power is legitimate is their batted ball profile. An uptick in fly ball percentage or hard hit percentage can go a long way towards producing home runs.
As you can see, Fowler is hitting 4.5% more fly balls than he has for his career. He also is making hard contact over 7% more often. These two things combined are undoubtedly what’s leading to his surge in power. To add a little more to it, he’s pulling the ball slightly more. This is nice for home runs because the it’s a shorter distance to the wall in right or left field as opposed to center. And hitters typically hit the ball harder when they pull it as opposed to hitting it to the opposite field.
When looking at his rise in hard hit percentage I pulled up his average exit velocities from 2016 and this season. It’s no surprise that he’s seen an uptick in that area as well. His average exit velocity has gone from 87.3 MPH to 88.6 MPH. Also, his average exit velocity on fly balls has risen from 89.7 MPH in 2016 to 91.8 MPH this season. These still aren’t elite exit velocity numbers by any means, but he is getting himself into the range of some good home run hitters.
Now the one thing I haven’t discussed yet in his batted ball profile is definitely the most glaring stat on there. His HR/FB percentage is almost double what it has been for his career. This one required a little more digging, but I found that the 8.8% that he has for his career is being dragged down by his first few seasons in the majors. From 2009-2011 he posted HR/FB%’s of 3.6%, 5.5%, and 4.1%. From 2012 through the 2016 season his HR/FB% was up to 10.4%. So there’s reason to expect that 2017 number to come down some. But the fact that he’s hitting the ball harder gives reason to believe that he will settle somewhere in between that 10.4% and his current 17.4%.
Long term outlook
If Fowler continues to hit the way he is this season he could certainly turn into a 25ish home run player while still having great on-base skills. This would give him a profile that fits very well in the second spot in the lineup if Carpenter continues to struggle in any other spot.
Another benefit this has is that it helps the outlook of his contract. I think we all know that there’s a good chance he’ll need to move from center to left field at some point during his 5-year deal. Many have worried that his bat wouldn’t profile very well in left field because you typically want power from that position. A 25 homer, high on-base player would fit very nicely in left field for any team. It actually sounds a lot like a guy that Cardinals fans are very familiar with named Matt Holliday.
Thanks for reading!