St. Louis Cardinals: Where should Dexter Fowler start in the lineup?

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 10: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates in the dugout after hitting a grand slam home run in the 6th inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 10, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 10: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates in the dugout after hitting a grand slam home run in the 6th inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 10, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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Like it or not, Dexter Fowler is going to start the year in right field for your St. Louis Cardinals. When he’s in the lineup, where should he bat?

It has been an…interesting… Spring Training for the right fielder of your St. Louis Cardinals. Coming into the Spring, Dexter Fowler was facing a lot of negative attention from fans because of his performance last year in combination with the team’s disinterest in signing Bryce Harper.

After a stellar 2017, Fowler was an eyesore on that stat sheet last year. Clocking in with a .180 batting average and -1.4 WAR, Fowler was pretty much at the bottom of the barrel among Major League outfielders. Even after such a bad season, the team doubled down on Fowler and has continually expressed publicly their support of the outfielder, which they have to.

They have to back him because one, how can you expect a player to perform if he feels like he can’t trust his bosses to have his back, and second, they invested over $80M in Fowler. The Cardinals couldn’t be ready to eat that money after just one bad season. It makes sense they back their investment, as angry as that makes people.

This Spring, Fowler hasn’t really been changing anybody’s mind’s, even if he did just hit two homers in a game. Even after his stellar game, Fowler’s Spring numbers sit at just .227/.261/.386 with those two homers being his only ones of the Spring.

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Fowler hasn’t looked amazing this Spring from what I’ve seen but I refuse to judge fully until the Regular Season starts. The strange thing to me is how behind Fowler management has been, almost to the point where it’s too much and the public isn’t believing them when they say Fowler is having a “great” Spring. But I don’t watch every day and I don’t talk to the players so what do I know…

The question then becomes where to put Fowler in the lineup. Fowler never really stuck for too long at a batting spot last year as he moved a lot between leadoff, 2nd, and 5th-7th in the lineup. Out of all the spots in the order, his best spot was arguably the fifth spot, even though he only had 40 plate appearances.

When asked about it this Spring, Mike Shildt said that he was debating between the 2nd spot or the 6th in the order for Fowler. I know that some fans will cringe thinking about Fowler in the 2nd spot, but back in 2017, he batted .300/.386/.660 for an OPS of over 1.000.

Looking at what you want from each of those positions in the order, arguably the most important thing to look at is on-base percentage. At the second spot in the order, you are still looking for someone who can continue to set the table for the big hitters coming up at the 3 and 4 spots in the order. Some people believe you should put your best hitter in the second spot but I don’t subscribe to that philosophy.

The Major League average OBP and slugging percentage for the second spot in the lineup last year was .335 and slugged .434. For his career, Fowler has a .360 OBP. That is why he fits so well at the top of the order normally, as he did when he led the Cubs to the World Series He also has a career .347 OBP at the two hole.

At least in OBP, Fowler fits at the 2nd spot in the lineup. Looking at the 6th spot in the lineup, this is usually a player who has a couple of good skills. Either a power guy with low OBP or vice versa.

Last year, the Major League average for the 6th batter in the lineup had just a .316 OBP but a .404 slugging percentage. Yes, both of these are lower than the average second spot batter, but look around on the majority of teams; the 6th batter is rarely as good as the 2nd.

For my money, I would want Fowler to start batting second at the beginning of the year. If it’s not working after three weeks, you gave him enough time and it’s time to move him down in the order. If Fowler returns to his career numbers, he’s a great fit for that spot in the lineup and the combo of himself and Matt Carpenter should do a great job setting the table for Goldschmidt and Ozuna.

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As much as fans have crapped on Fowler’s plate from last season to this day, he is a part of this team and is going to get a chance to play. If he starts the year slow, then continues to be the player he was last year and a long-term solution is not found to get something out of him, the Cardinals need to swallow that money; something that will be hard for them to do.

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