When the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler last December, many people believed he was the star to right the team. In actuality, he’s never played that role before and the expectations shouldn’t have been placed at his feet.
Coming into 2017, Fowler could be classified as a slightly above player coming off a career year. That’s also a marginal statement; his WAR was a career high (4.2), but he had more games, at bats, hits, runs, homers, and walks the year before that.
If you look at his average stats from 2009 to last season, you get a better picture of his level of play.
One thing that was rarely pointed out before the season was his lack of games played. While he’s averaged 131 a season, his career high is 156 in 2015; he’s only had 4 seasons since 2009 where he’s played in more than the average. This season will be in the under; even if he plays in all 13 remaining games, he’ll only have played in 123 games, which is third lowest of his career.
That brings me to my next point…he’s under his full-season career averages in most stats. He’s set a career high with 55 RBIs and he’s a homer away from tying his previous high. He’s also on pace to set his career high of slugging and ISO. Besides those 4 stats, he’s below his career averages in everything besides strikeouts and he’s grounded into more double plays.
If you look at his WAR, it’s right at the level you’d expect when looking at his other stats. According to Baseball Reference it’s at 1.4; Fangraphs shows 2.3. Subpar centerfield defense has definitely hurt him (1.2 dWAR from BR; -3.4 Defense according to Fangraphs) and he should move off center after this season. Those WAR numbers, according to Fangraphs, translate into an $18.1M contract, more than the $16.5M he’s making this season.
I partially blame the Cardinals for the expectations set on Fowler. During the press conference announcing the signing, then GM John Mozeliak said the following:
- “You obviously have a great presence at the top of the lineup”
- “The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all the physical attributes, but also those others, the ones that are behind the scenes that we put a lot of faith into”
- “One of the things we wanted to address was athleticism. We wanted to address someone who could hit at the top of the order if possible, to give us flexibility with Carpenter. And we were also trying to find someone that was extremely competent on the base paths. And I think we were able to accomplish that.”
- “What’s next is, I think for us, it’s probably gonna be looking more like at complementary pieces to what we currently have. There’s no doubt we still have some work to do. But in terms of maybe making a bolder-type move, where we’re at, I don’t envision that at this time.”
I realize the Cardinals were hyping a player they were fond of; they have to say good things to the press to show they are dedicated to the player, the team, the fans. But in this case, it has hurt the reputation of the player. Plus, none of what Mozeliak has worked out. Fowler didn’t stay at the top of the lineup, partially because of his slow start and partially because Matt Carpenter couldn’t hit in the middle of the lineup. There have been some questions about Fowler as a clubhouse leader, which the team envisioned and promoted; rumors have circulated that he hasn’t been the vocal leader they wanted. Fowler has been pretty bad on the base paths.
Fowler is a complementary player on a team full of complementary players. There is no star on this team; it’s been lacking one since Carlos Beltran. As a result, there is no thump in the middle of the lineup, no threat to opposing teams. It’s also caused a glut of good players that don’t all have places to play.
The Cardinals will have to make a move to clear out space for a star player and for the young guys ready to contribute. Fowler is probably not going anywhere; he’s got a full no trade clause and the Cardinals will have to eat some salary to move him (which they are already doing with Mike Leake). Granted, Leake proves that no contract is untradeable.