After seeing who the top three hitters against breaking balls are, it is time to see who are the worst three hitters against these pitches. Among regular starters, the worst three hitters against breaking balls are Harrison Bader, Matt Carpenter, and Dexter Fowler. However, among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances, the three worst are Bader, Matt Wieters, and Tyler O’Neill. This makes sense because all of these hitters stuggled to a degree last season. This list is a mix of disappointing veterans and some young players, so it is not too surprising to see these names on the list.
Harrison Bader’s struggles against breaking balls have been well documented over the course of the last year, as they were the main cause for his overall struggles at the plate. The young outfielder batted just .141 with a .164 wOBA against curveballs and sliders last season and his average exit velocity of 83.3 mph left a lot to be desired. Additionally he swung and missed at a rate of nearly 37% against these pitches. If Bader could improve against breaking balls then he could see his production at the plate improve vastly as he recorded a strong .399 wOBA against fastballs. If he could simply become an average hitter against breaking pitches then he could see a rise in his offensive production next season which would entrench him even further as the starting center fielder of the present and the future.
Another young outfielder — Tyler O’Neill — also struggled to hit breaking balls. He batted just .176 with a .183 wOBA against these pitches. Also, his whiff rate of 56.4% is very high, even for a power hitter that experiences plenty of swing and miss. Even though this is one part of his offensive game, a whiff rate of 56.4 % against breaking balls is simply too high. If O’Neill wants to experience more success against these pitches then he will need to start by making contact with them first. After that, he can look to improve on his 83.6 mph exit velocity, which was much lower than his 89.0 mph average exit velocity against all pitches. With O’Neill looking to claim a starting job in left field this year, he will have plenty of opportunity to improve. If he can improve, then he will be an even more dangerous hitter who will be able to more fully tap into his prodigious power.
In limited at-bats as the backup to Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters also struggled immensely against breaking pitches. The veteran tallied just a .116 batting average with a .217 wOBA, which is much higher, but still not great. While Wieters struggled, his struggles were clearly not as bad as Bader’s and O’Neill’s. He posted a whiff rate of just 28.8% and an average exit velocity of 85.3 mph. This seems to be the norm for Wieters though as he has posted similar numbers against breaking balls in each of the past couple years. Additionally, his struggles are not as important as both Bader and O’Neill could be starting in the outfield this season, while Wieters will remain a backup to one of the most durable and reliable catchers of all-time.
Matt Wieters is 33 years old and a backup catcher, so it is not as important for him to improve than it is for Bader and O’Neill. However, it is not atypical to see young hitters struggle to hit breaking balls, but this is an obstacle that Bader and O’Neill will need to overcome if they want to become/remain starters at the big league level. Swing and miss is still a part of each of the games of each of these young outfielders, and it is on breaking balls that they swing and miss the most. However, each of them has the potential to be a very good starter with the Cardinals as Bader has elite defense and speed and O’Neill has elite power to go with very good speed. If these two hitters could take the next jump in their development this season and improve their performance against breaking balls, then they could experience a major uptick in offensive production.