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Dexter Fowler Should Not Be an Everyday Starter in 2020

At most, he should be part of a platoon.

Wild Card Round - St Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres - Game Two Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Dexter Fowler used to be a solid player, but he has been declining since signing his contract with the Cardinals. Even though Fowler still has another year left on his contract, right field is an area that could be substantially improved by removing Fowler as an everyday starter.

Fowler’s decline began when he signed his contract with the Cardinals. At the time he was coming off a 4.6 WAR season with the Cubs. However, in his first year with the Cardinals (2017), he posted 2.6 WAR. This still made him a solid starting outfielder, but nothing more. Then his production cratered in 2018 (-1.1 WAR) before rebounding in 2019 (1.5 WAR). However, even this bounce back season demonstrated that he was declining. 1.5 WAR in 574 plate appearances is not great for a starting right fielder. Therefore, his decline is obvious, especially after a 0.0 WAR season in 2020.

The signs of Fowler’s decline are everywhere. His exit velocity has dropped from 88.4 mph in 2017 to 84.5 mph in 2020. His strikeout rate has risen every year since 2017, peaking at 27.7% in 2020. His walk rate even dropped below 10% for the first time in his career in 2020 (Although that could be a product of the COVID shortened season). Additionally, Fowler is not a strong defender in the outfield as he tallied -2 DRS in 2020 to go with a -25.3 UZR/150. He has not been much better throughout his Cardinals career as the last time these numbers were not negative were in his final season with the Cubs.

With signs of Fowler’s decline at the plate as well as his continued struggles in the field, it is clear that the Cardinals should not be relying on him to be the everyday starter in right field in 2021. Giving him the role of fourth outfielder while he plays out his contract might be an option, but it seems unlikely that the Cardinals will remove him from the lineup altogether. Therefore, another option is to make him part of a platoon.

Even though Fowler is a switch hitter, he has hit right handers much better than southpaws in the last few years. In 2020, Fowler posted a .260 batting average with four home runs and two doubles against right handers while he hit .118 with a pair of singles against lefties. It was the same story in 2019 as he batted .245 with 36 extra base hits (15 HRs) against righties while batting .213 with 7 extra base hits (4 HRs) against lefties.

The last time that Fowler was more productive against lefties was the 2016 season. Since then, his production against lefties has declined to the point where he should not be in the lineup against them. Therefore, if the Cardinals want to give Fowler some kind of a regular role, they should allow him to hit against right handers, while giving Tyler O’Neill or Lane Thomas playing time against southpaws. This should allow the team to play Fowler when he is most effective while also giving playing time to some of the younger options as well. This should prevent right field from being void of production in 2021 while also helping the team discover which outfielders fit into its long term plans.