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Let's Talk About Dexter Fowler

Many Cub fans are lamenting what sure looks like a poor season from Dexter Fowler. But let's take a closer look to see what we can expect from the Cubs' center fielder in the second half.

Dexter confuses teammates by using a standard high five as a celebratory mechanism.
Dexter confuses teammates by using a standard high five as a celebratory mechanism.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The calls to dump Dex have already started. Some fans, including some BCB'ers, are hoping the Cubs will pick up a left-handed hitting center fielder to kick Dexter Fowler to the short side of a platoon, if not somewhere farther (like Pluto).

Fowler's slash line gives good reason for fans to look for an upgrade. The 29-year-old, eight-year veteran put up this line in the first half: .232/.308/.369. If my math is right, that adds up to an OPS of "ewwwww".

Dragging those numbers down are Dexter's really rough splits as a left-handed batter against right-handed pitching: .211/.291/.364 with a 23.2% strikeout rate.

Since Dexter's odometer hasn't rolled into his 30s yet, I think most of us were expecting something more along the line of Fowler's career line: .266/.360/.414. So it's time to kick "Disappointing Dexter" to the curb, right?

Well... not so fast, my friend. Let's look beyond the surface and see why Fowler's numbers are lagging.

One factor is that Dexter is getting a raw deal from umps. If you haven't seen that link yet, take a look. So Dexter could see an increase in his numbers if the calls just even out. An advantage isn't necessary, boys in blue... just keep it fair.

Another big influence is Fowler's BABIP. It's .283. If you're thinking .300 is about league average (and dropping, for that matter), then you'd also think "well, he's not getting unlucky."

But by his standards... he is. Fowler carries a career .341 BABIP. This makes sense for someone with a line-drive, slashing swing, a good eye, and with some speed who is never at a platoon disadvantage. Derek Jeter carried a career .350 BABIP. Now, Jeter will be enshrined in Cooperstown while Fowler will have to visit as a patron.

But, do we have a compelling reason to think that Dexter Fowler's eight year career BABIP is a fluke? Not one I can think of. And, to that end, he's getting "unlucky" to the tune of nearly 60 points below his career BABIP. If we add even half that back (above MLB average, but below Fowler's career BABIP) his line jumps to: .262/.338/.399 (if all singles, to say nothing of the occasional double dropping instead of being caught). That's not a world-beater line, but it's ok.

In particular, Fowler has been getting especially unlucky as a left-handed batter. His BABIP from that side is just .257. That helps explain some of his sad looking splits.

I'm not here to tell you it's only bad umping and bad luck that has plagued Fowler this year. I've never liked his hitting mechanics, which look to me like a somewhat jerky combination of slap, slash, and buggy-whip. He just doesn't look fluid. But those mechanics have worked for Dexter in the past. What isn't working? He's not hitting the ball hard often enough. His hard-hit ball percentage is down to less than a quarter, down nearly five percentage points from his career average of 29.1%. And his walk rate is down, though we should probably attribute some of that to the umpiring, while pointing the lion's share at Dexter just not playing well.

So what do you think we can expect from Dexter in the second half? Will the calls and BABIP luck even out at least a little, drawing his numbers closer to his career norms? Or is he in a funk and just needs to be replaced at the top of the Cubs' order?

I'm leaning toward the former, with a wary eye. But let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Let's talk about Dex, baby.