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The Cubs' offseason acquisition of Dexter Fowler is looking more brilliant by the day

This past offseason, the Cubs acquired Dexter Fowler for practically nothing, and he's turned out to be one of the team's best players.

David Banks/Getty Images

The Cubs entered the 2015 season with lofty aspirations matched by a group of infield prospects. One thing they were missing, however, was a reliable center fielder to play aside 23-year-old Jorge Soler in right field. To help solve that problem, this past offseason the Cubs traded Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily to the Astros for center fielder Dexter Fowler.

The trade was a minimal gamble. Valbuena wasn’t going to play much third base once Kris Bryant proved that he could continue to exist in Triple-A for two weeks, and Straily’s -0.2 2014 Wins Above Replacement strongly suggested that he was replaceable. Add in the fact that Fowler is in his final year before free agency, and the Cubs were able to fill their void in center field practically for free.

It’s turned out well. Fowler is not only having one of his best big league seasons, but he’s also been one of the Cubs' best players. Recently, he’s posted one of the best performances in all of baseball. Over the past 30 days, Fowler is hitting .330/.460/.650. His 200 wRC+ over that span is eighth best in baseball. It’s true that his .400 BABIP in that span isn’t going to last, but that’s not where all of his value is coming from. Fowler has always been good at getting on base, and he’s recently ramped it up. His 18.3 percent walk rate in the past 30 days bolsters his .460 OBP in that same timeframe.

It’s also notable that, despite the recent hot streak, Fowler’s batting average and on base percentage for the season are still slightly below his career norms (his slugging is a tick higher). His 18.3 percent walk rate over the past 30 days has elevated his season walk rate to fall exactly in line with his career mark of 12.4 percent. Additionally, his .403 BABIP over the last 30 days hasn’t even been enough to raise his 2015 BABIP, .310, to his career norm, .343. This tells us two things. One is about the past that we know for sure, and one is about the future we can try to predict.

We know that Fowler got 337 plate appearances in May and June. We also know that he didn’t do so well in them. He hit .189/.293/.337 in May and .240/.286/.356 in June. His July and August have propelled Fowler back to excellence. While he seems to be doing it by way of extremes, Fowler is having a pretty normal season for him.

We don’t know the extent to which he can keep it up for the remainder of the season. We can say something about what’s changed in Fowler’s approach since his down months in May and June. Namely, Fowler hasn’t been swinging as much. June was Fowler’s extreme month in terms of swinging, especially at fastballs and breaking balls. In July and August, Fowler is swinging much less at fastballs. He’s swinging at fewer breaking balls in the past two months compared to June, although his swing rate against breaking balls has returned to where it was in May, which was an even worse offensive month.

Fowler is also swinging and missing less. His whiff rate on fastballs has declined from 8.73 percent in April to 4.63 percent in August. Fowler’s whiff rate against breaking balls and offspeed pitches in July and August are the lowest they’ve been all season.

While there has been a recognizable fluctuation over the course of the season, his approach at the plate, at least right now, is also different than in previous years. Specifically, Fowler is swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone and is making more contact in general. His 19.9 percent O-Swing% would be the lowest of his career and lower than his 22 percent career rate. Additionally, Fowler’s 80.5 contact rate would be his best since 2010 and higher than his 78.5 percent career mark.

Fowler is currently sitting below his career norms in BABIP and OBP despite a plate discipline profile that suggests success in both of those areas. Despite being under his career norms, Fowler is currently third on the Cubs in both wRC+ (117) and fWAR (3.0) behind only Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. It might not have been a huge risk acquiring Fowler, but it’s certainly paying off for the Cubs now. More important for the Cubs, however, is that it has a very good chance to continue paying off into October.

★★★

Eric Garcia McKinley is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. He writes about the Rockies for Purple Row, where he is also an editor. He approves of Dexter Fowler's Daddy Long Legs nickname. You can find him on Twitter @garcia_mckinley.