Well, what’s done is done. After the North side of Chicago poached Jason Heyward from their fierce rivals last winter, St. Louis has retaliated with their recent signing of Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. With the 2016 season in the books, most Cardinals fans are probably thrilled with that swap, and are hoping that Fowler’s transition will go a bit smoother than Heyward’s did.
This past season with Chicago, Fowler finally put to bed the idea that he was just a Coors product. His OPS+ of 126 in 2016 was the best of his career, and his .276/.393/.447 topped his average numbers during his time with the Rockies The question is, what sort of impact will his move to Busch Stadium have?
For starters, Fowler seemed to really enjoy his time at Busch Stadium this season, hitting .405 in 37 ABs with 3 of his 13 HRs coming in St. Louis. The park factors for Wrigley and Bush are almost identical, so we can’t chalk that up to anything more than small sample sizes.
What we can look at, though, is how his power will likely translate from Wrigley to Busch. ESPN’s HitTracker can tell us that 6 of Fowler’s homers had “just enough” distance to clear the fence, and the chart below can say for sure that at least 1, if not 3 of his home runs would have died at the warning track in St. Louis. Leaving the “Windy City” could also have an impact on Fowler’s power. Wrigley is known for either mercilessly knocking balls down at the warning track, or carrying lazy fly outs over the fence, depending on the night. HardBallTimes.com found that the HR/FB rate is 23% with the wind blowing out, but just 13% with it coming in. It’s not a longshot to say Fowler might struggle to break double digit home runs next season.
Fowler was the huge beneficiary last year of the Cubs’ stacked lineup. His 84 runs scored came largely as a result of having Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Ben Zobrist hitting behind him. He won’t be quite as lucky this year, as St. Louis will likely have some combination of Aledmys Diaz, Matt Carpenter, and Stephen Piscotty in positions to drive in runs. It’s definitely not a shoddy group, but it doesn’t exactly measure up to the trio that Joe Maddon penciled in each day. Unfortunately, it’s easy to envision how 84 runs could turn into 75 or even 70.
One of the funny things about Fowler making the change within the same division is how he’ll go from facing off 19 times against Yadier Molina and St. Louis to playing 19 games against a Cubs defense that gobbles up base hits. Fowler did chip in 13 steals in 2016, and even though he’s headed to a team that was 29th in the league in stolen bases, that was a product of roster construction more than anything. Since Fowler can’t wait around on the bases to be driven home by “Bryzzo,” he’ll likely look to swipe a couple more bags.
Now, for that vaunted Cubs defense. Much has been made about their historic ability to turn balls in play into outs, and even though it’s unclear how that will carry over into next season, it’s still something to keep in mind when rostering anyone in the NL Central in 2017. Fowler, especially, was the huge beneficiary of a .350 BABIP in 2016, one that actually doesn’t stand out too much from his lifetime .342 clip. The Cubs finished their 2016 season allowing a .255 BABIP, an incredible mark which was more than 25 points better than any other team. Next season, Fowler’s .350 will square off with the Cubs’ .255 allowed and there’s going to be a clear victor.
With all of that taken into account, it makes sense to expect Fowler to resemble his 2013 form where he hit .263 with 12 HRs, 71 runs, 42 RBIs, and 19 SBs. That sort of projection would likely be a bit of a disappointment for the Cardinals faithful, but he likely can make up for it by providing that same level of all-star caliber defense.
Photo taken by Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports