After being acquired by the Chicago Cubs this past offseason, most of the discussion on Dexter Fowler focused on his defense in center field. That’s because everyone expected that he’d provide a solid leadoff bat – he has – but opinions on his defense varied greatly. Advanced metrics were pretty sure he stunk. Eyeball reports (and the fact that he’d been left in center field for his whole career) disagreed.
How have things gone so far this year? Well, once again, it depends on whom you ask.
FanGraphs’ defensive value has him above average for, essentially, the first time in his career. UZR and UZR/150 say he’s basically average (after being well below average for the rest of his career). DRS has him at -8, which is typical for his career, and is near the bottom for center fielders in baseball.
I still think the striking range of opinions on Fowler’s defense have something to do with his changing defensive positions among teams and the unique outfields in which he’s played at home (though I’m not smart enough to be able to justify that using data), so I can really only go with what my eyes tell me. I’ve seen a guy who looks solid out there, though probably short of “plus.” He makes the routine plays, has decent range and closing speed, and an adequate arm. I don’t see a defensive stud out there, but I also don’t see a liability. Given that he’s been sandwiched most frequently between a couple guys with relatively limited range and the Cubs haven’t been killed in the outfield this year, that’s probably a good sign.
Meanwhile, he did make a fantastic grab in center field yesterday:
Obviously Fowler was playing very shallow on that to cut down on hits, but made a great read on the liner and quickly got to the only spot where he would be able to make the catch – and only if he timed his jump just right.