The St. Louis Cardinals added Dexter Fowler to strengthen and stabilize the offense. However, it seems teams have found ways to exploit him at the plate.
The St. Louis Cardinals and new lead-off man Dexter Fowler have been off to a slow start this season. The Cardinals have lost five of their first seven games including two to the Cincinnati Reds. They started the season off with a victory over the Chicago Cubs but since then, have been unable to adequately prevent runs and maintain a consistent offense.
The offense all starts with the lead-off hitter who is meant to set the pace. The St. Louis Cardinals this offseason went out and got one of the best lead-off batters in the game in Dexter Fowler. However, he has had little success since the season began. So far, Fowler is batting .148/.258/.148 in 27 at-bats with five runs scored, four hits, four walks, and nine strikeouts.
During his first series as a Cardinal against his former team it seemed very obvious that Fowler was being attacked at the plate. The Cubs have an incredible pitching staff, but Fowler often looked overmatched and unprepared, especially for a top level lead off hitter. There also seemed to be a very deliberate plan by the Cubs pitching staff on how to attack Fowler at the plate.
I teamed up with the great CardinalsGifs to create a gif of three of Fowler’s first six strikeouts (one including against the Reds). In the following three strikeouts there tends to be an obvious trend.
Here, we see three down-and-in off speed pitches to Fowler for three swinging strikeouts. In all three strikeouts, we see the pitcher throw an offspeed pitch that starts in not only the strike zone, but in Fowler’s hot zone and break down and in to one of his coldest zones and outside of the strike zone.
What isn’t shown here, is the previous pitches of the at-bats and that is equally as important. Fowler has been seeing a ton of pitches down and away to start his at-bats. In each of those at-bats Fowler was given multiple pitches on the outer part of the plate and down in the zone. He often swung and missed or fouled off those pitches. But once he had two strikes, Fowler then was given an offspeed pitch down-and-in. This trend occurred in almost all of Fowler’s 27 at-bats.
If we look at Fowler’s hot and cold zones, courtesy of BrooksBaseball, we can see why he struggles with those pitches. (Remember to picture this image flipped for the viewpoint from a pitcher’s perspective and to match the zones in the gif above).
His whiff rate in the same zones also show that Fowler struggles heavily on pitches down-and-in. Some of his highest/worst whiff rates (23.41%, 21.68%, 17.82%) occur at that location. So not only is he chasing pitches out of the zone, he’s also missing them.
Clearly, Fowler has had issues down-and-in throughout his career. He has also had issues down and away. As a heavy OBP kind of batter, Fowler will need to make some adjustments going forward since it is very clear that teams are attacking him in those areas.
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Fowler has a career walk rate at 13% and when looking at active players with 2,000 PAs or more, only six other batters have walked more frequently including Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Santana, Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, and Mike Trout. His ability to take poor pitches and walk has been his strength in the past but it seems he cannot lay off the down and in approach teams are exploiting this season.
Fowler was brought in to St. Louis to be the guy that sparked this methodical and stable offense that Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak dreamt up. Right now, Fowler has been unable to do that and this offense has been anything but stable or methodical.
The blame doesn’t all fall on Fowler’s shoulders, but the man who signed a contract north of $80 million will have to start getting on base if this team has any chance of succeeding. And in order to do that, his pitch selection needs improvement and he needs to go back to walking first and swinging second. Let Aledmys Diaz and Matt Carpenter bat with a man on base so that this offense can start performing like a well oiled machine.
He’s being attacked early on this season and as a result, the St. Louis Cardinals offense is suffering. His former team the Chicago Cubs did other teams a favor by exploiting his weaknesses in the very first series of the season. However, they may have also done him and the Cardinals a favor by showing them what he needs to work on.