One St. Louis Cardinals player was ruled out after a down year in 2018. After his 2019 season, he deserves all the credit in the world.
Dexter Fowler‘s 2018 struggles have been chronicled many times. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder was more-or-less ruled out as ever being a possible contributor again for the team by many fans after last year.
Fowler was also the topic of a lot of frustration with the front office when the team neglected to pursue Bryce Harper very hard in the offseason and instead doubled down on their $82.5M investment.
How wrong we all were.
Fowler’s 2018 included a sub-.200 batting average and -1.4 bWAR and whether it was due to the manager or the mental struggles that brought down Fowler, he needed another chance with Mike Shildt and a fresh season. Fowler was the Opening Day right fielder for the Cardinals in 2019 and now finished the year with a 1.7 bWAR and a .238/.346/.409 slash line while setting a career-high with 19 homers and 67 RBI’s.
After batting most of the year lower in the order, Shildt finally moved Fowler to the leadoff spot as Matt Carpenter‘s struggles continued. While Fowler’s overall numbers were slightly below career norms, he flourished as a leadoff man like he did when he led the Cubs in the World Series in 2016.
The batting average doesn’t look great on the year but the important change at the beginning of August was getting his ~.350 OBP at the top of the order. Fowler was a big part of the offense’s improvement over the final two months of the season.
The confidence at the plate spread to the field as well. In 2018, Fowler didn’t play a single inning outside of right field and for a career center fielder, this was a definite ego hit. It reflected in his play as he posted a -4 DRS in right. This year, Fowler was again mostly a right fielder but saw 33% of his innings in the field in center field.
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Fowler embraced his role a lot better this year as well as the rotation of Harrison Bader, Jose Martinez, and himself. The rotation changed a bit towards the end of the year as Jose Martinez struggled at the plate but Fowler clearly swallowed some of his pride after 2018 and did whatever was best for the team. This confidence in his role led to a better performance in the field as his -4 DRS in right field and +4 DRS in center field took him back to or slightly above career norms.
Fowler was no All-Star but under the management and confidence of Mike Shildt, he returned to an above-average player that helped the team with his on-base skill and outfield leadership. The other thing to consider is that Fowler’s 3.1 point WAR swing from 2018 to 2019 will likely have him in the conversation for Comeback Player of the Year in the NL. This award would be wholly deserved for the 33-year-old.
Fowler’s story is also a great example as to why you don’t give up on a player after just one year. If the team had traded him away for the bucket of baseballs he was worth over the offseason and he gave this performance for another team, fans would be livid.
Nobody could’ve asked for any more from Fowler than what he gave in 2019. This season was more than enough to prove that he is back and that 2018 was a fluke. He was even more valuable this year than he was in 2017 in his first year with the Cardinals.
Fowler might not be as valuable as he was for the Cubs in 2016, but as a player with playoff experience and the ability to get on-base at the top of the lineup, he is an extremely important cog in the offense as the team goes to the NLDS and hopefully beyond.