Fowler return solves two problems for Chicago Cubs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • The Chicago Cubs' chances of winning increase when center fielder Dexter Fowler reaches base.

    The Chicago Cubs' chances of winning increase when center fielder Dexter Fowler reaches base. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/9/2016 9:44 PM

Before Dexter Fowler took his at-bats in each game for the Chicago Cubs last year, manager Joe Maddon had these words for him: "You go, we go."

In other words, if Fowler was making things happen from the leadoff spot, good things would happen for the Cubs.

 

That proved to be true.

When Fowler reached base at least once last year -- via basehit, walk or hit by pitch -- the Cubs were 82-44 for a .651 winning percentage. When he reached twice in a game, the Cubs went 52-22 (.703).

The Cubs went 12-18 (.400) when Fowler played but did not reach base.

For the longest time this off-season -- and it was a long off-season for Fowler -- it looked like the veteran center fielder would end up anywhere but back with the Cubs.

But just after the beginning of spring training, Fowler shocked everybody by showing up on the field in Mesa, Arizona, at the start of the day's drills. If there weren't an inherent danger involved, it would have been easy to imagine Maddon having Fowler parachute down onto the field.

But his walking out onto the field and surprising Cubs players had just about the same result.

So the soon-to-be 30-year-old Fowler is back after signing a one-year contract with the Cubs with a mutual option for 2017. The Cubs originally brought him to Chicago in a January 2015 trade with Houston.

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In his first year with the Cubs, Fowler had a batting line of .250/.346/.411 with a career-best 17 home runs. His 84 walks also were a career high, and in the "you-go, we-go" department, he scored 102 runs, also tops for his career.

A switch hitter, Fowler batted .228 from the left side and .326 from the right, but 13 of his home runs came when he batted left-handed. With that surge in power, the Cubs probably didn't mind Fowler's career-high 154 strikeouts.

A little bit more luck at the plate this year might result in Fowler hitting for a higher batting average and his on-base percentage ticking up closer to his career mark of .363. Fowler's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .308, the lowest of career, suggesting that some line drives were caught.

Fowler's return also has another important benefit for the Cubs in addition to giving them back their leadoff hitter. Heading into spring training, Jason Heyward was going to be the center fielder after a career as a stellar right fielder.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Heyward now returns to right and does not have to worry about a position change.

The advanced fielding metrics have not always been kind to Fowler, but center field is not huge at Wrigley Field, and the Cubs believe he passes the "eye test" out there.

Fowler played in 156 games last year, and if he stays healthy again he won't take many days off. If the Cubs do need a backup, they began getting infielder Javier Baez some reps in center field in winter ball.

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