With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.
One number to qualitate Dexter Fowler's value to the Cubs during his tenure on the North Side is 17. As in, 17 different Cubs have led off since the center fielder departed for the Cardinals in free agency following the 2016 season. Since then, the Cubs' leadoff production has been inconsistent, to say the least.
Cubs leadoff men ranked fourth in average (.302) and second in on-base percentage (.366) in MLB in 2018 before dropping to dead last in both categories last season (.212 and .294). The 2019 struggles can partially be attributed to not having Ben Zobrist available, as he stepped away for several months to focus on a personal matter.
It's not like Cubs leadoff hitters were world-beaters in 2017, though, when they ranked 24th in average (.246) and 18th in OBP (.324).
The Cubs acquired Fowler in a trade with the Astros in January 2015. He was a steady presence atop a Cubs lineup featuring four rookies - Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler - and was a catalyst for the offense.
Fowler hit .250 with a .346 OBP in 2015 while walking at an impressive 12.2 percent rate. He provided pop ahead of the likes of Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, hitting a then-career-high 17 home runs. Fowler wasn't highly regarded defensively (-12 Defensive Runs Saved) but he improved upon the -20 DRS he posted in 2014.
Fowler hit free agency after the 2015 postseason, and the Orioles seemingly signed him to a three-year deal to play right field. Shockingly, however, Fowler showed up to Cubs spring training on Feb. 25, 2016, signing a one-year deal to return to the North Side.
The season that ensued was a career year for Fowler, who made his first ever All-Star team - and as a starter, nonetheless. He hit .276 with a career-high .393 OBP and graded as a positive defender (1 DRS) in center field.
Cubs fans remember the team winning 103 games in 2016 en route to claiming the NL Central crown. But the season hit a rough patch in June/July, when Fowler missed a month with a right hamstring injury. The Cubs went 11-17 in his absence.
Joe Maddon's mantra for Fowler was "you go, we go," and after Fowler returned on July 22, the Cubs went 46-21 the rest of the way. The center fielder lived up to the mantra in Game 7 of the World Series, starting things off with a bang.
(The Cubs ultimately won that game to claim their first title in 108 years, in case you forgot.)
Fowler was a stellar leadoff man for two years, a guy who grinded out long at-bats and made opposing pitchers work to get him out. He's now spent more seasons playing for the Cardinals, but he'll always be remembered for his role on the 2016 Cubs. He's earned a spot on our All-Decade Team out in center field.
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