The man who every Cardinals fan has a strong opinion on: Dexter Fowler. Whether their sentiments towards the outfielder are positive or negative, or rooted in truth or hearsay, they stand firmly by it. The case of Dexter Fowler:
Fowler would probably like to use a mulligan on his 2018 campaign. It certainly was a rough season for the veteran outfielder. He compiled a slash line of .180/.278/.298 to go along with an fWAR of -1.2. Defensively, he had -5 defensive runs saved and an ultimate zone rating of -5.2, in 649 innings patrolling right field. He is entering the third season of his five-year, $82.5 million contract, the richest free-agent contract in Cardinals history. Is all hope lost for the 32-year old?
There is reason for optimism as it pertains to Fowler having a bounce back year. His numbers were the worst of his career in 2018, but the blame does not all fall on his shoulders. He was extremely unlucky last season, hitting .210 on balls put in play (BABIP). The MLB league average BABIP is .300, which goes to show just how much his production was hindered by an uncontrollable, luck-based, factor. As for his defense, like any player entering their mid thirties, there is definitely some regression. Even with his defensive abilities degrading slightly, he still provides decent range in the outfield.
Additionally, Fowler has something else he didn’t have last season: full backing by the coaching staff and front office. Last year there were multiple incidents with the team that created some drama. Mark Saxon of The Athletic reported in early July that Fowler’s relationship with then Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was reportedly fractured. He added that the two barely talked and they haven’t communicated for months. Fowler also reportedly blocked the daily motivational texts that Matheny sent out to the players.
Another log was tossed into the fire when Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak publicly criticized Fowler’s effort, saying, “But I’ve also had a lot of people come up to me and question [Fowler’s] effort and his energy level. You know, those are things that I can’t defend.” Fowler responded saying, Everybody is entitled to their opinions. He told me it wasn’t directed towards me, but obviously my name was in it. If your name is in it, it’s kinda towards you, whether it’s rescinded or not. I want to win more than anybody. I want to get the chance to help win.”
Fowler and his family also received so much negativity on social media that he and his, then pregnant, wife Aliya Fowler deleted all the tweets off of their Twitter accounts.
The 2019 season gives Fowler a fresh start. Shildt coming in for Matheny has made a noticeable difference. Shildt is a players’ coach; Matheny, not so much. Entering his first full season as the Cardinals’ skipper, Shildt has made it clear he is fully supportive of Fowler, and plans to give him consistent playing time. As for John Mozeliak and Fowler’s relationship, that seems to be patched up as well.
Fowler’s spring could look like it’s not going well if you just take a quick peek at the stats, as he is slashing .194/.237/.222, however it’s going just fine. According to Derrick Goold’s Cardinals Chat, the right fielder’s average exit velocity this spring on hard-hit balls is above his single most hard hit ball from a season ago. He also added, Fowler’s numbers are low because he is swinging a lot to show that he has the bat speed and the health that the Cardinals wondered about. For the fans worrying about his range in the outfield, per Goold, he’s moving better in right than he was at any point last season. When Derrick Goold spoke with a scout, he shared the same sentiments, saying how much livelier Fowler’s movements in the field and running look compared to 2018.
The Cardinals aren’t just hoping that Fowler will have a bounce back campaign in 2019, they have the evidence to back it up.