Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

dexter fowler homer ballAs presently constructed, Jason Heyward is set to replace Dexter Fowler in the field and in the lineup for the 2016 Chicago Cubs. As much as Fowler meant to the Cubs in 2015, that replacement has been celebrated in all corners of Cubdom, in part because Fowler was already out the door anyway as a free agent, in part because Heyward is four years younger and the Cubs now have him for at least three years, and in large part because Heyward is a uniquely elite defender.

But all that thinking got me curious about one other aspect of the “Heyward replacing Fowler” thing: is the bat an upgrade, too? After all, Fowler set the table really well for the Cubs in 2015, and, even if you’re happy about getting Heyward for a few years or longer, it would stink if it came at the cost of an offensive downgrade.

In short, though, Heyward is probably also an upgrade for the Cubs on the offensive side. Maybe even a really significant one.

Some comparisons for your consideration:

Since 2010, Heyward’s first in the league (and Fowler’s second full season), Fowler and Heyward have posted identical .268 batting averages, and Fowler’s got the better OBP (.364 to .353). Heyward has the edge in slugging (.431 to .422), and also has the overall offensive edge when parks are considered (118 wRC+ to 110 wRC+). In that time, though, Heyward has been a little healthier and made nearly 150 more plate appearances. Given that, and the wRC+ edge, Heyward has a huge lead in offensive runs above average (94.5 to 50.3).

And you could argue that comparison seems a little unfair, given that Heyward was a 20-year-old rookie in 2010, and Fowler was a 24-year-old second year starter. Then again, Heyward’s rookie campaign was one of his best offensive seasons, so maybe there’s no unfairness there after all.

Still, let’s look at the more recent years for a little more context.

Since 2013, the gap actually narrows a little bit, with Heyward hitting .274/.353/.415 (117 wRC+), and Fowler hitting .262/.361/.406 (112 wRC+). Heyward is up in offensive runs above average 41.9 to 30.6.

And how about 2015, only, since it’s the most recent year? Heyward was up pretty big in 2015, with a .293/.359/.439 line (121 wRC+, 21.6 offensive runs above average), as compared to Fowler’s .250/.346/.411 (110 wRC+, 8.1 offensive runs above average). Each guy was traded before the season and played with a new team in 2015, by the way.

So, then, even before considering their age trajectories, it looks like Heyward figures to be a pretty substantial upgrade for the Cubs over Fowler, offensively speaking.

The Steamer projection agrees, putting Heyward at .284/.362/.449 (123 wRC+, 19.6 offensive runs above average), and putting Fowler at .250/.347/.387 (105 wRC+, 4.5 offensive runs above average).

In the end, concluding that Heyward figures to be a big upgrade over Fowler in 2016 for the Cubs is not an earth-shattering revelation. The Cubs didn’t commit $184 million to Heyward – perhaps as much as four times what Fowler is going to get from some other team – for nothing. But the conversation about Heyward and the Cubs usually focuses on his overall impressive game – notably defense and baserunning – and rarely looks at the actual overall upgrade the Cubs might see.

Even just isolating the offense of these two players, the Cubs figure to be even better in 2016.

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