With the 2017 season now officially in the rearview mirror, and with the Houston Astros first-time champions, we turn our attention to the 2018 fantasy baseball season. Each week, I will be evaluating one player’s stock for next year. This week, a veteran outfielder who somewhat quietly put up a strong offensive season in the first year of a five-year contract in 2017.
Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals
2017 statistics: .264/.363/.488, 18 HR, 68 R, 64 RBI, 7 SB
Without a signature skill (beyond a fantastic eye at the plate, which means less for fantasy purposes than it does in reality), Dexter Fowler is the type of player who tends to fly under the radar come draft time. He has, however, offered consistently well above-average offensive production over the course of his career, with a well-rounded skillset that makes him an above-average contributor in just about every category. After departing the World Series champion Cubs last offseason and fighting through two stints on the disabled list in 2017, Fowler seems to be flying under the radar for next year, ranking as the 57th outfielder off the board on average according to Fantrax’s ADP tracker. On the surface, it would appear that his production last season was right in line with his career norms. A look at the Statcast data, however, would indicate differently. What fantasy owners seem to be missing is that Fowler is coming off of quite arguably the best offensive season of his career, as he managed a .264/.363/.488 line despite a somewhat depressed batting average on balls in play.
Most significantly in looking at Fowler’s batted-ball profile from 2017 is his 38.1% hard contact rate, easily the highest mark of his career. Indeed, after running a solid but unspectacular 86.7 MPH average exit velocity from 2015-2016, Fowler upped that mark to 88.4 MPH in 2017, which ranked tied for 77th among the 237 hitters with at least 250 plate appearances last season. While no one would mistake Fowler for Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, he does make consistently solid contact, manifested in the 16 home runs that he has averaged over the past three seasons, including a career-high 18 last season in only 491 plate appearances. His 39.4% ground ball rate was a career-low, continuing a four-year trend of incremental improvements in that regard, and his 13.3° average launch angle marked a personal high in the Statcast era. While Fowler does not appear to have made any dramatic changes to his swing, he was more successful than ever before at both making hard contact and at elevating the baseball, so his career-high in home runs should not be surprising. Also noteworthy was his improvement as a left-handed hitter. A switch-hitter long better from the right side of the plate, Fowler upped his average exit velocity as a left-handed hitter by nearly three MPH in 2017, taking advantage of his first season in Busch Stadium, which actually rates as slightly more favorable than Wrigley Field for left-handed power.
Join or start a fantasy baseball league at Fantrax today! Keeper, dynasty, re-draft. Fully customizable. A+ customer service. Play for free!
Most impressive is that Fowler improved his batted-ball data without sacrificing anything in the way of contact, as his strikeouts and walks remained at largely established levels. Despite his underlying improvements, Fowler’s results in 2017 were actually slightly worse than they were in 2016, thanks entirely to a .045 point drop in his BABIP from the year prior. While his .350 BABIP his final year in Chicago was always an unsustainable mark, he should be expected to post a clip higher than the mediocre .305 figure he produced last season, particularly if his batted-ball improvements hold steady next year. Even in leagues where Fowler’s high on-base percentages are not rewarded, a reasonable BABIP uptick could have him with a batting average around .270 next season.
Despite his well-rounded production, owners seem to be wary of Fowler for 2018, ostensibly due to his age and injuries from last season. Entering his age-32 season, he does figure to lose some of his athleticism, and his Statcast sprint speed last year was below his previously-established levels. That said, he still rated as an above-average runner, ranking second on the Cardinals in speed behind Tommy Pham. His seven stolen bases were a career-low, though, and, in all likelihood, he will not be a 20-25 stolen base threat moving forward. However, his raw counting totals were depressed somewhat last year by the cut in his playing time due to injuries. Fortunately, neither of those injuries seem to have had lasting effects, as Fowler finished the season on an offensive tear and seems to be fully healthy heading into spring training.
Fowler ended the season hitting in the middle of St. Louis’ lineup, but his exact lineup position for next season remains to be determined. As a high on-base presence, he figures to hit somewhere near the top of the order, where the offseason acquisition of the powerful Marcell Ozuna may help to prop up his runs scored totals. While past the prime years of his career, he is not yet at the point where he should be expected to see his offensive production fall precipitously each year, and he offers one of the higher floors among outfielders. As a potential five-category contributor with a clear path to everyday playing time, he profiles as a solid third outfielder in most leagues (more than that in OBP leagues), yet he is currently trending as a deep bench piece in most drafts. Eddie Rosario, for instance, is currently being selected over 100 picks before Fowler on average, yet the two players actually project quite similarly for 2018. (Rosario possesses the stronger long-term outlook, of course, entering his age-26 season.) While Fowler may not be the most exciting player on draft boards, similar to the player profiled last week, he offers more upside than one might expect given his slight batted-ball uptick. He’s great value play for where he is currently being selected.
2018 Player Profiles