The Fate of Ending a 108-Year Curse May Lie in the Hands of Dexter Fowler

The Cubs' leadoff man has been an important cog, making this prolific offense go. When Fowler has been out of the lineup, Chicago hasn't been the same team.

This offseason, the Chicago Cubs made a move that, quite frankly, surprised a lot of people. Even with what seemed like an endless supply of depth -- before Kyle Schwarber went down with a nasty knee injury in their first series of the season -- they gave Dexter Fowler a 1-year, $8 million contract with a mutual $9 million option for 2017.

That cheap, unexpected signing could help the Cubbies snap a 108-year championship drought. Amongst all of the superstars in one of the best lineups in the league, Fowler is the engine that makes this lineup go.

The Big Three

By a lot of different metrics, the Cubs have one of the best offenses in baseball. They rank 3rd in wOBA (.333), 3rd in wRC+ (106) and 3rd in runs scored (710).

When you think of the Cubs and their offense, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo rightfully come to mind. In 2016, they've had great seasons and are major contributors to the Cubs success. Bryant and Rizzo have enjoyed great health in 2016 and put up monster years, both ranking in the top 15 in OBP, wOBA and wRC+. In fact, only one other pair of teammates appears in the top 20 in any one of these categories, and that's Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez in wRC+.

Name Games OBP wOBA wRC+ Runs Home Runs RBIs Steals
Fowler 122 .388 .364 127 82 13 48 12
Bryant 152 .387 .399 150 120 39 101 8
Rizzo 152 .386 .393 147 92 32 106 3

But Fowler's not too shabby in his own right. Certainly, his counting statistics are depressed due to the injury he suffered, which created a disabled list stint from June 19th to July 21st. But he actually is a tick above Bryant and Rizzo in OBP while ranking 32nd in wOBA and 28th in wRC+.

You Da Real MVP, Dex

Fowler suffered a hamstring injury running out a ground ball to first base in late June. One could argue that prior to that injury, Fowler was the best player in baseball.

OPS wOBA wRC+ Hard Hit %
Apr 1.087 .457 189 45.6%
May 0.879 .383 139 32.3%

His April numbers ranked him fourth in OPS, third in wOBA, third wRC+ and fifth in hard hit rate.

Cubs' fans got familiar with a site like this to start off a game.

Fowler has always been a solid player, but seeing him put up elite numbers was definitely unexpected. What's more surprising, though, is how the Cubs' lineup has performed without him.

With and Without Dex

Even as Bryant and Rizzo have had spectacular seasons, the Cubs' offense declined without Fowler in the lineup.

The reality is that even with their superstars having monster seasons, missing their table-setter was holding them back. Taking a look at their wOBA and wRC+ with and without Fowler paints a pretty clear picture.

The Cubs two worst months in terms of wRC+ were in July, where Fowler missed most of the month due to injury, and September, where the Cubs clinched the division early and have enjoyed the luxury of tinkering their lineup in preparation for the postseason.

Fowler's impact to the lineup was felt pretty quickly, as the Cubs went 1-6 immediately after his injury, and then Chicago had a 1-8 stretch to start July -- both stretches where Fowler was on the shelf.

For a team that currently sits at 102-57-1 (yes, a tie in baseball), that 2-14 stretch puts them at an astounding 99-43-1 outside of those 16 contests. That's a winning percentage of .695, or extrapolated over a full season, 113 wins, which would place the Cubs with the fourth-most wins in one regular season in the history of baseball.

Maybe it's a coincidence, and maybe they still have a few rough patches if Fowler never hits the disabled list, but it sure looks like he's one of the most important players on this roster.

Cubs' manager Joe Maddon is on board with that idea.

The MLB playoffs have proven year after year that they're incredibly tough to predict. Our models give the Cubs a 31.7% chance of winning it all, seeing them as clearly the best team in baseball. Only one other team -- the Boston Red Sox at 19.2% -- has better than an 11% chance to take home the title.

If Fowler can keep producing at an elite level, he may help propel the Cubs to a historic World Series title this October