Looking at his 2019 campaign from two perspectives, offensively and defensively, last year was truly a tale of two seasons for Harrison Bader.
Bader, who turned 25 in October, posted 13 defensive runs saved in 122 games for the Cardinals in center field last year and was mentioned as a finalist for the Gold Glove Award. (Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers eventually took home the hardware.) When he was starting regularly, it seemed like Bader turned in a noteworthy play every week.
At the plate, it was a different story for Bader. Finishing the year with a .205/.314/.366 slash, Bader experienced a near-60-point drop in average and a 76-point difference in his OPS when compared to 2018. Bader did walk more often (46 walks in 406 PA in ‘19; 31 in 427 in ‘18), but his 117 strikeouts — equating to a 28.8 K% — was the worst on the team. Following Bader on the strikeout percentage ‘leaderboard’ were Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Paul Goldschmidt, who each struck out at rates of between 24 and 26 percent.
For about three weeks in the middle of the summer, from 7/29 to 8/20, Bader spent time in Triple-A Memphis in hopes of working through some of his offensive flaws. With a .317 average and seven homers in 16 games for the Redbirds, Bader returned to St. Louis in late August; he hit .222 (28-for-126) the rest of the way for St. Louis with four doubles and six long balls.
2019 Statistics: 406 PA, .205/.314/.366, 12 HR, 39 RBI, 28.8 K%, 11.3 BB%, 81 wRC+, 1.8 WAR
2020 ZiPS Projections: 487 PA, .238/.321/.413, 17 HR, 53 RBI, 29.6 K%, 8.8 BB%, 93 wRC+, 2.2 WAR
Strikeouts are projected to come even more often for Bader in 2020, though a 30-plus-point increase in average and near-50-point uptick in OPS would be very welcomed. After an 81 wRC+ in 2019, it would be nice to see Bader get in the 90s again, especially after his 107 wRC+ back in 2018. Bader figures to open the 2020 regular season as the Cardinals every day center fielder, but the team has several options (Tyler O’Neill, Tommy Edman, Lane Thomas, and Dylan Carlson) to fill his place shall he not perform as anticipated.
Video is credited to MLB.com.