After taking a look at the top fastball hitters from last year, this article will examine those hitters who struggled to hit fastballs. The three worst hitters all posted numbers that are not bad in terms of an overall stat line, but in terms of a fastball stat line, they under performed. The bottom three hitters is an interesting group of names as it contains two players that Cardinals fans hope can be major producers in the lineup for the next few years.
Yadier Molina (.270 BA, .323 wOBA)
Molina is the player that performed the worst against fastballs (among players with at least 150 PAs), but this is not too surprising considering that he hit them moderately well, but simply did not have much power. He played last year at age 36, so this is not too much of a disappointment. On a more positive note, the catcher recorded just a 17.1% whiff rate as he had no problems making contact with the ball, he simply had problems driving it. Molina declined slightly from the previous year when he tallied a .350 wOBA against fastballs, but he should not be expected to have an explosion of production against the pitch next year as a .350 wOBA would not have removed him from this list.
Paul Goldschmidt (.256 BA, .349 wOBA)
Goldschmidt is the most surprising name on this list as he has been one of the best hitting first basemen for the past eight years. With that being the case, it could have been expected that most of his production would come against fastballs, which are generally the easiest pitches to hit. This was the case for most of his career, but last season he did not perform up to his standards. In 2018, the first baseman tallied a .309 batting average and .414 wOBA against heaters which would have easily placed him atop the list of best fastballs hitters on the team. Despite the large difference in production, Goldschmidt’s other numbers remained relatively similar. His exit velocity against fastballs was 91.2 mph in 2018 and 90.4 mph in 2019. While his whiff rate rose from 19.1% to 22.7% from year to year, that is not a large enough jump to have such a significant impact on his production, especially considering that his exit velocity only dropped by less than 1 mph. It seems likely that Goldschmidt will return to his pre-2019 levels of production against fastballs considering that he has traditionally been a very good fastball hitter. If he can do this then he is already one of the better breaking ball hitters on the team, so he should be able to put up numbers similar to his Arizona days, when he was regarded as one of the best, and most consistent first basemen in the league.
Tyler O’Neill (.292 BA, .346 wOBA)
O’Neill’s inclusion on this list is also mildly surprising because he may struggle against breaking balls, but he crushes fastballs (at least, he did in 2018). Last season, he struggled against both kinds of pitches. In 2018, O’Neill had a .348 batting average and .442 wOBA, but last year, these numbers declined significantly. The numbers behind this drop tell a different story, however. Sure his exit velocity dropped from 94.7 mph to 91.2 mph, but 91.2 mph is exactly how hard Paul Goldschmidt hit fastballs in 2018, and he did very well. So, the drop in exit velocity explains some of the decline, but it did not drop enough to make him one of the worst fastballs hitters last years. Despite this drop in exit velocity, O’Neill greatly slashed his whiff rate from 40.4% to 31.3%. 31.3% is still too high, but it was good to see him lower his whiff rate by over 9%. This allows him to make more contact against fastballs, which should allow O’Neill to improve his numbers in the future. 31.3% should be low enough to at least allow O’Neill to hit the ball enough to provide value, but he should look to keep improving his whiff rate. With his power, if he can make enough contact then he should be able to crush fastballs. Despite his lack of production against these pitches last year, he took steps to make himself a better fastball hitter by slashing his whiff rate and keeping his exit velocity above 91 mph.
While it is unlikely for Yadier Molina to improve against fastballs next year, there is hope for Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill. If Goldschmidt improves his production against fastballs then he should be able to return to his Arizona levels of production and if Tyler O’Neill can make consistent enough contact then he should be able to showcase his power and become a solid producer for the team. If Goldscmhidt and O’Neill improve this year (and they should), then this list could look very different next year.