Two Go, We Go: Could Dexter Fowler Better Serve the Cubs Batting Second?

Joe Maddon’s quippy, screen print-friendly words of advice and encouragement to his players can be a bit tedious at times. “Try Not to Suck” is a winner. “Respect 90″ is basic, but strong. “Do Simple Better” and “The Process is Fearless” encapsulate these Cubs so wonderfully, one can excuse the fact that they’re inherited Maddonisms, repeated because they work, like Aaron Sorkin dialogue.

When it comes to “You Go, We Go,” though, count me out. The words Maddon says (or said; it’s not clear whether the tradition continues) to Dexter Fowler before he goes into the on-deck circle don’t carry all that much meaning, really. They’re just dugout blather. Any skipper, or fan nearby, could and has piped up something similar to a batter, any old time. The idea that Fowler is the spark to the Cubs’ offensive flame is appealing, but a little overblown. No batter is an island, but no batter makes the waves, either. The Cubs have been a dominant offense since last August, thanks to Fowler’s stellar work at the top of the lineup, but also to the other eight guys in the batting order, who have consistently put together very strong, focused plate appearances. Without Fowler, the Cubs would be weaker, but without the other Cubs, Fowler would be less noteworthy, too.

None of which is intended to diminish what Fowler has done so far this season. Stranded on the free-agent market by a broken qualifying offer system to which the MLB Players Association never ought to have agreed, Fowler ended up signing what amounted to a make-good deal, but the good news is that he’s made more than good. He’s been one of baseball’s best players this season, and the Cubs do need him to keep hitting if they want to sustain something close to this level of dominance over the course of the full season.

Instead, what I want to do is to get us away from the idea that Fowler’s value is tied inextricably to his role as the Cubs’ leadoff hitter. It isn’t. To the contrary, as a player with as much power as speed, and in his evolved form (he has grown up as a left-handed power hitter over the last two or three seasons, making him much more dangerous and dynamic as an offensive threat), Fowler might not even be cast perfectly as the Cubs’ leadoff hitter. So today, I propose a new Maddonism for a new Fowler role: Two Go, We Go.

Okay, that’s derivative. We can do better. For now, however, I’ll leave poetry to the pros, and focus on the meat of this argument. Fowler should bat second in a new-look Cubs lineup, one that looks like this, off the top:

  1. Jason Heyward – RF
  2. Dexter Fowler – CF
  3. Javier Baez – 3B
  4. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
  5. Kris Bryant – LF
  6. Ben Zobrist – 2B

This mix of personnel will be somewhat controversial itself, I’m sure. So many people want to see Jorge Soler play more, not less. If it helps you get over that hurdle, put Soler third, playing left, and switch Bryant to third base. It works either way. Against some particularly tough righties, of course, it should go:

  1. Jason Heyward – RF
  2. Dexter Fowler – CF
  3. Kris Bryant – LF
  4. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
  5. Ben Zobrist – 2B
  6. Tommy La Stella – 3B

In any event, the key case I want to make is for switching Heyward and Fowler at the top of the order. Heyward, of course, is going to need days off both because of his sore wrist and because of his current struggles to make key adjustments at the plate, so the leadoff hitter might sometimes be La Stella or Zobrist or Addison Russell. Fowler batting second, after such a long turn as the established leadoff hitter, might seem like unnecessary tinkering. For my money, it isn’t.

First of all, consider Fowler’s power. He had a .161 isolated power (ISO) last season, the third-highest of his career (remember, he used to play his home games at Coors Field). He hit a career-high 17 homers in 2015. Since the start of last season, he has 71 extra-base hits in 822 plate appearances. (Over the previous two full seasons, he’d notched 66 extra-base hits in 997 trips to the dish.) He still looks like the guy who got the nickname Daddy Long Legs back in his youth. He’s still very thin, he still runs well, and he will always fit the pitch-perfect description Vin Scully attached to him several years ago: “I suppose the ladies would say he’s high-waisted.” Quietly, though, under the official tutelage of John Mallee and (unofficially) Barry Bonds, Fowler has grown into a very good power hitter. Obviously, some of that power is wasted in the leadoff spot. He automatically bats with the bases empty and nobody out once in a game, when the value of power (relatively speaking) is lower than ever. He also lacks the benefit of extra runners on base when he comes up subsequent times, unless and until Maddon goes back to batting some position player ninth. (I’m of the opinion that, while the second leadoff hitter formulation works, it’s not necessarily in the Cubs’ best interests to go back to it.)

Secondly, Fowler’s and Heyward’s strikeout rates and batted-ball profiles argue for the switch. Fowler’s contact rate has improved this season, but he’s still struck out a little under 22 percent of the time since the start of 2015. When he puts the ball in play, this season, he’s putting it on the ground about 46 percent of the time. That’s higher than most Cubs’ figures, but lower than Heyward’s 48.8 percent. Heyward also strikes out considerably less often than Fowler. Those who have read The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball know why that matters: the preferred outs for second hitters are strikeouts. Ground-ball guys are a poor fit for that second slot—too much risk of double plays.

Considering his whole skill set (and weighing it against Heyward’s), Fowler really does belong in the second place in the order. If you buy into the player he’s been since the All-Star break last season (and we’re talking about 450-plus plate appearances, so I’m inclined to, to a certain extent), he’s even a really, really good second hitter. If Maddon is willing to modify “You Go, We Go,” this Cubs offense could become an even more well-oiled machine.

Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports.

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6 comments on “Two Go, We Go: Could Dexter Fowler Better Serve the Cubs Batting Second?”


By all means. Let’s remove the .462 OBP guy for the below league average ..317 guy. That’ll provide great momentum at the top of the order to make the team feel like they have something to work with…sheesh. Did you have a managerial tips dinner with Dusty while he was here or what?


Well… let’s remember that .462 is unsustainable, and Dex will most likely have some serious reversion headed his way. His career best obp is .389, which would be fantastic, and is probably about the best that can be hoped for (realistically), which would mean he’ll likely average .350 obp or so for a long stretch of time in the near future.
Similarly, Heyward is pretty well tracking his career splits for early season performance, and his career average obp is .351. He historically gets on base at a .360 ish clip from june through the end of the season, so this suggestion may be destined to be successful simply due to reversion on the part of both players.


An OBP of .320 is average, per FanGraphs. We know Heyward will likely be well above average by the end of the year. Fowler would benefit from those first inning chances.

The other component is Heyward’s high ground ball rate and the capacity for double plays.


If “preferred outs for second hitters are strikeouts” then the logical two hitter is Bryant.

Heyward needs to either fix himself or get fixed if he’s injured. I know you would hate to kill a guy’s confidence but they would be better off moving Russell up and dropping Heyward down.

Robert Pattillo

Leave well enough alone. Fowler at lead off is working. What’s wong c with 25-6?


Interesting. I’m revisiting this idea after a few weeks and wondering “why not?” I’ve been trying to find out how many times Heyward has hit into a fielder’s choice this year. He doesn’t hit into a ton of double plays (4 on the year) but that may be due to his speed. Does anyone know where one can find out how often he’s hit into a fielder’s choice? I can’t find it.

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