Dexter Fowler had an up and down 2017 with the St. Louis Cardinals, his first season wearing the birds on the bat. Last offseason, he signed to be the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder, but this offseason it appears likely that he’ll be playing a corner outfield position and hitting in the middle of the lineup.
How did we get here?
Fifty-five of Fowler’s 118 games had him in the first spot in the lineup, the most of any one spot in the order. In those 55 games, Fowler hit just .205 with a .308 on base percentage. Eight of his 18 home runs came from the leadoff spot, however. He finished the season with a .264 batting average and .363 OBP. That means the bulk of his production came elsewhere in the lineup.
Fowler hit second in 13 games, and hit an even .300 with a .386 OBP. He batted third in 22 games, and hit .271 with a .361 OBP in those contests. Statistically, he was at his best from the cleanup spot, where he hit .333 with a .450 OBP in 18 games.
If you look at the splits, Fowler was a much more productive hitter when he hit in the 2-3-4 spots in the lineup. With Matt Carpenter likely to get most of the nods at leadoff this season, one of those spots is where Fowler figures to settle in this year.
Newcomer Marcell Ozuna is the Cardinals’ best option at cleanup, so that leaves Fowler and Tommy Pham to round out the first four. Either Fowler or Pham will likely hit second, with the other hitting third.
You can’t really go wrong here. If Fowler and Pham can repeat their 2017 seasons in 2018, it wouldn’t make a huge difference who his hitting second and who is following him hitting third.
Fowler historically has done a better job than Pham at working counts and drawing walks, and is at his best when he is posting high on-base figures. That alone may make Fowler better suited for the second spot in the lineup, with Pham’s ability to drive the ball and drive in runs ideal for the three hole.
Plans can change quickly. Fowler went from being the leadoff hitter the Cardinals needed to being, on paper at least, an integral part to the middle of the St. Louis lineup this season.
Don’t forget Pham’s emergence last year didn’t only net him a starting position heading into spring this year because of his bat, but also because of his glove. Pham’s defensive prowess makes him the favorite to play every day in center field, meaning Fowler will shift to a corner spot.
Ozuna has played essentially all of his career in left field, leaving Fowler to man right field. Perhaps his defensive numbers will see a boost with less room to cover in the outfield.
Either way, with a full season of right field and the middle of the lineup ahead of him, expect Fowler to build on his strong Cardinals debut in 2017 and turn it into an even more productive 2018 season.