Dexter Fowler has not had a great start to the season after signing an $82.5 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. He's batting .230/.323/.446 with a .328 wOBA and a 0.8 WAR a third of a way through the year, a far cry from the level of excellence he established during his time with the Cubs in 2015 and 2016.
But fear not my friends. Fowler has had a sluggish start to the year, I believe he might be hitting the ball better than ever.
Yes. I believe Dexter Fowler is hitting the ball better than ever. And I think a lot of this has to do with him discovering a power stroke.
Dexter Fowler has never been known as a home run hitter. His .429 SLG ranks 130th among qualified batters since 2012. However, this year Fowler is posting a .216 ISO, by far the best of his career. His previous high water mark was in 2012 when he had a .174 ISO with the Rockies. This time we can't point to a Coors Field effect, something has changed.
The first thing that stood out to me was a decline in walk rate, which has been a strong suit for Fowler in recent years. This hints towards a change in approach, which can also be demonstrated using his Swinging Strike rate. Here is a chart from Fangraphs displaying the rolling average of his Swing%.
This shows Fowler has definitely been more aggressive.
Since 2012, 63.9% of Dexter Fowler's pulled fly balls were categorized as a hard hit by Baseball Info Solutions. This ranks near the top 10% of baseball, minimum 50 batted balls. This year, 79% of his pulled fly balls have been hard hit. In addition, his fly ball rate is up to 40.8%, up 5.5% from last season. His pulled rate, 43.3%, is a bit higher than his career average of around 40%, but roughly in line with his numbers in recent years.
In other words, Dexter Fowler is more efficiently taping into his underlying strength as a batter: pulled fly balls. Alas, more power.
Pitchers have even seen this too, pitching him outside more often. Here are his pitch heatmaps from last year and this year.
(click the image or the arrows to switch between seasons)
Dexter Fowler has probably been one of the unluckiest hitters in the league this year, which has hidden the wonderful strides he's made in his approach. The concrete results have not been there (yet), with Fowler sporting a .769 OPS and 103 wRC+. xStats says he has been hitting more along the lines of a .860 OPS, with bad fortune holding him back.
The xStats believe in the power too, tabbing him at 10.9 xHR, compared to his actual 9. About a third of the way through the season, he is already more than halfway past his xHR total from last year.
Here is some more evidence to suggest his added power is for real.
|Season||PH%||VH%||Flyball EV||High Drive EV|
So in short, Fowler has been able to make better contact, especially in the air. This is a great recipe for more balls to land over the fence.
Added Power, But No Added Strikeouts?
The thing that has probably impressed me most about Fowler has been his ability to add some pop without sacrificing his plate discipline for the most part. This is very hard to do. His strikeout rate is around his career norm still. Like I mentioned above, he has seen a decline in walk rate. Though, he still is no slouch. Here is a list of hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, 11 BB% or higher, a .210 ISO or better, and less than 21 K%.
Not a bad list to be on, especially if you want to be considered a power hitter.
With this new approach, I expect some success to start showing up for Fowler. If he can keep pulling the ball with success, like he has been, I can definitely see him finishing with a slashline of something like .275/.365/.465. I might be getting bold here, but I think a new career high in home runs isn’t out of the question. That would be a very pleasant surprise for Cardinals.
So expect the batting average to start trending the right way for Dexter Fowler. And expect the power to stay.