Kris Bryant led baseball in Baseball Prospectus’ WARP and finished with the NL’s highest fWAR en route to what might be a league MVP. And teammate Anthony Rizzo will likely get his share of MVP votes for what he did hitting behind Bryant, as they created one of the most fearsome hitting tandems in baseball.
Dexter Fowler isn’t likely to crack anyone’s MVP list, but he is inarguably one of the Cubs’ most valuable players. In many ways, he might be the most invaluable piece in the Cubs’ everyday lineup.
The on-base skills are a secret to no one (“You go, we go”). Fowler has a .483 OBP when leading off games, and has coaxed 15 game-starting walks – which adds up to a 12.7 percent walk rate in lead-off situations. His .393 OBP was the second best among lead-off hitters and the 79 walks were the most among his peers at that position.
But it’s what Fowler does when he is on the bases that merits additional attention.
BsR, or Base Running Runs Above Average, measures the number of runs above (or below) average a player is worth on the bases based on steals/caught stealing, extra bases taken, outs on the bases, and avoiding double plays. Fowler’s 5.8 BsR ranks 13th in all of baseball and fourth best among regular lead-off hitters.
FanGraphs’ UBR (Ultimate Base Running) metric measures the number of runs above (or below) average added by a player in non-stealing situations. Fowler’s 4.0 UBR is tied for ninth in baseball and third among lead-off hitters.
The Cubs have three players in the top-20 in this category (Ben Zobrist, fifth, and Kris Bryant, 18th) and they hit in the first four spots in the order. That seems like a good thing to excel at, especially when home runs could be harder to come by in October.
As a team, the Cubs make the grade as one of baseball’s best. The team’s 15.2 BsR ranks fifth in baseball and is the third best among current playoff teams, behind only the Indians (17.1) and Nationals (15.9). The club’s 9.4 UBR is the third highest in baseball and the only playoff team that ranks ahead of them is the Indians (9.7).
Fowler leads the way with his base running, while adding a hint of power at the top of the order (.720 slugging percentage when leading off games) with 17 extra-base hits in his game-opening plate appearances.
The surprise late addition of the offseason, Fowler had a career year that featured an All-Star nomination and a career-best 126 OPS+ as he set the table for the offense that scored the second most runs in the National League.
His well-rounded game, which blends patience, power and speed, seems suited for October.