If you are a Dexter Fowler owner, chances are that either your fantasy team is off to a great start, or if it isn't, Fowler is probably one of the brighter spots on your team. If we go right to Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement Rankings, Fowler leads everyone in Major League Baseball in WAR, at 2.0. But has he been anywhere near as valuable in fantasy? And will the fantasy value he provided in April continue?
Not surprisingly, Fowler comes in third in the majors in BABIP at .431. When it comes to on base percentage, Fowler is tops in baseball, with a fairly ridiculous OBP of .470. He is tied for fifth in average at .350 and tied for sixth in runs with 20. He doesn't show up anywhere near the top of the leaderboards in the other counting stats, however, with 3 home runs, 3 stolen bases, and 15 runs batted in.
It's not a bold prediction to guess that the batting average and OBP will come tumbling down, and with his other numbers looking just average, there doesn't seem to be much here to motivate a team to buy high and acquire Fowler in a trade. But should current owners be selling? Should I be trying to hastily unload him in my NL-only league that uses OBP instead of average, since the category in which Fowler should be providing the greatest value can only go down from here?
My guess is probably not. Fowler feels like a guy who falls into the "hold" category to me -- I'm not going to scramble to acquire him expecting a shocking breakout, but if I already own him, I'm happy to stand pat and see how his season plays out. While his average will no doubt fall as the season progresses, he should continue to provide exceptional value in runs, and decent value in homers, steals, and RBI. He came into the season with a legitimate shot to go 20/20 after last year's 17/20 performance, and it seems very likely that he'll at least hit 15/15. Personally, I always prefer a guy who'll help a little in most categories instead of a lot in only one, but of course it depends on the depth and parameters of your league.
So what are Fowler's actual numbers likely to look like between now and the end of September? According to Joon Kim's Week 5 Top 100 Steamer Ranking which he published Sunday, they won't look that great: Fowler is nowhere to be found on this list, or even on the bubble. Are any of the number crunchers predicting unprecedentedly great numbers from Fowler this year? Probably not. Dan Szymborski's ZIPS rest-of-season projections: 12 HR, 70 R, 42 RBI, and 13 SB. Fowler has been relatively consistent over the last few years even while playing for three different teams, and the numbers above would put him pretty fairly close to his 3-year average of 12 HR/78 R/41 RBI/17 SB (with a potential bump in runs and the power stats this year, over his 3-year average). Batting average remains a wild card, but if you're in a league where a little bit of everything might help more than a lot of one thing, I think even without keeping up his current pace, Fowler could still be a pretty sneaky value this year. Just realize that, in deeper leagues, the 21/21 season he's on pace for may not come to fruition.
While we're talking all things Dexter Fowler, I want to address a few non-statistical factors that could conceivably come into play to affect his final numbers this season. I will freely admit, by the way, that even though I can be a complete math nerd at times, I still often find myself getting too emotional about baseball players. On occasion I let it affect my fantasy decisions more than I should (and this topic may warrant a separate conversation, given how many of the fantasy baseball owners I know have a handful of "man crushes" that temporarily can affect their judgement come draft day or trade time). At any rate, Fowler is an interesting guy who had an interesting off-season, and I do believe that these off-the-field factors have a chance to at least slightly impact his statistics this year.
First, let's think about his walks. Fowler has been quoted as saying that the concept of plate discipline was driven in to him by his father when he was still a kid. As he learned the game of baseball, he was taught not to swing at a ball out of the strike zone, which in my opinion is a pretty big difference from the way I think most kids learn to hit a baseball. Couple that with the Cubs 2016 plan to take as many walks as possible (which seems to be working team-wide), and overall I just don't expect Fowler's on base percentage to drop back down as far as sheer number-crunching tells us it will. He is a smart hitter, and has said in the past that he knows he could hit more home runs if he changed his hitting approach, but I don't suspect he'll have any reason to do so as long as he's leading off for the Cubs and keeps the mindset that his job is to get on base every time he goes to the plate. While he's not going to finish the year at .470, I think there's a legitimate chance Fowler ends the season as one of baseball's OBP leaders. With the Cubs lineup behind him, this should also put him near the top in runs. His current projections have him at 140, which of course is just silly... but he scored 102 runs last year, and I feel like he could actually top that this season, putting him with the fantasy elite in at least one category.
Another thought that doesn't involve numbers but I believe could affect fantasy stats: Dexter Fowler appears to be an incredibly happy guy, the opposite of a head case, with his priorities in order in a way that most athletes at his level are not able to achieve. His Twitter account is full of positive messages about fatherhood, including videos of his 2-year old watching Daddy playing baseball on TV that would melt even the crankiest fan. He doesn't seem to let a tough game get to him, and has found an environment with the Cubs that plays to this strength. After an ugly loss to the lowly Braves yesterday, the Cubs are splashed all over the internet this morning -- not because of their disappointing play, but because they turned their post-game flight to Pittsburgh into a team party involving clown-like suits and, one would assume, an attitude to match. Also, with Kyle Schwarber down, Fowler knows he'll be in the lineup every day. And we can't forget the bizarre circumstances that preceded Fowler's 2016 return to Chicago. Whether he actually had a deal in place with the Orioles or not, he ended up on the Cubs because, to paraphrase Mr. Fowler himself, that's where his heart was. He's happy in Chicago, but don't forget that he's also motivated. He supposedly said no to Baltimore because they wouldn't give him an opt-out clause. While taking a one-year deal with the Cubs may look like (and could prove to be) a "hometown" discount, it may ultimately be a bigger win-win for Fowler than it initially appeared. In addition to playing in the environment he wants to be in now, a stellar 2016 could put him in line for a huge payday amongst what's likely to be a fairly weak crop of free agent outfielders next year.
Current happiness and confidence, combined with intense motivation to succeed, can be a powerful combination. Are these factors enough to suddenly turn him into a 25/25 hitter this year, and a top-round mixed league fantasy value? Nope... but they make me confident that he'll not only put up the numbers the stat machines spit out for him, he'll most likely add a little added value here and there to make me, as a fantasy owner, happy I didn't unload him after his great month of April.