Fastballs are just about every hitter’s favorite pitch. Hitters tend to swing at fastballs at a much higher rate than any other pitch, and they tend to do more damage against them on average. Being able to effectively hit fastballs can help a hitter make up for production that he lost against other pitches (as we will see in this list). For the Cardinals, it was not the best hitters that actually performed the best against fastballs. In fact, Among all Cardinals players to receive more than 150 plate appearances, including Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez, the best fastball hitter was actually Dexter Fowler. Additionally, Matt Carpenter (.285 BA, .386 wOBA) just missed the top three despite struggling at the plate last season.
Dexter Fowler (.303 BA, .409 wOBA)
Fowler was barely an above average hitter last season (103 wRC+), and he posted a pedestrian .326 wOBA. Despite this, he crushed fastballs. 16 of his 19 home runs came against the heater, as well as 15 of his 24 doubles, and his average exit velocity of 87.6 mph against fastballs was nearly 2.5 mph higher than his overall exit velocity. Fowler’s problems last year were that he could not hit anything else well as he struggled against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Clearly Fowler’s ability to hit fastballs has allowed him to provide at least some level of production at the plate. However, it remains to be seen if this success is sustainable as his exit velocity against fastballs is a bit low for the amount of success that he experienced. Regardless, it is surprising to see Fowler atop the list of best fastball hitters as he was certainly not one of the Cardinals better hitters in the past season. If his struggles against offspeed and breaking pitches are going to continue, then he will need to keep hitting fastballs in order to provide value at the plate.
Harrison Bader (.262 BA, .399 wOBA)
Despite Bader’s relatively low batting average, he performed very well against heaters last season. Similar to Fowler, much of Bader’s power production came against fastballs as he hit all 12 of his home runs against the pitch as well as 9 of his 14 doubles. Unlike Fowler, he posted an exit velocity (90.5 mph) that is not cause for concern. However, this exit velocity was nearly 4 mph higher than his average. As we have already seen, this is because he struggled immensely against breaking balls. However, this production against fastballs demonstrates the kind of an impact that Bader can have at the plate. If he could improve against breaking pitches, then he could be a solidly above average hitter that plays gold-glove caliber defense. Bader also managed to make good contact with fastballs as he tallied a whiff rate of just 17.4%. For a player that can struggle with swing-and-miss this is an encouraging sign. Clearly he just needs to work on hitting breaking pitches now.
Tommy Edman (.310 BA, .386 wOBA)
Edman is the first player on this list who was not relatively disappointing at the plate last season. 2019 was a breakout year for the rookie, and his ability to hit fastballs was a big reason why. The 24-year-old hit 9 of his 11 home runs and 14 of his 17 doubles against the pitch while whiffing at a rate of just 12.7%. Interestingly, Edman’s average exit velocity against the pitch (87.7 mph) was only slightly higher than his overall exit velocity (87.1 mph). This is much different from Fowler and Bader, but it makes sense because both of them are basically fastball-only hitters as they both struggled against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Edman, however, performed very well against other pitches as well. He is clearly an advanced hitter that can produce against any pitch that is thrown at him, which is a rare trait for a rookie, and especially for a previously unheralded rookie. Even if his .346 BABIP suggests that some decline might be in store for him this season, his ability to hit any pitch and play multiple positions will make him a valuable player for the Cardinals this year. Additionally, his high BABIP is actually perfectly normal when compared to his minor league seasons in each of the past two years, so there is a chance that he can maintain his success from last year.
This is an interesting list for many reasons. For one, it is led by Dexter Fowler with Harrison Bader right behind him. Additionally, Matt Carpenter almost made it despite his struggles last season. Finally, the player with the best batting average against the pitch (Kolten Wong, .315 BA) did not make the list. This is because the top three players not only hit the ball at a high rate, but they did damage. Wong was very good, but his .371 wOBA lagged behind the leading trio due to his 83.8 mph exit velocity that limited his power. With two hitters who could have been perceived as having disappointing seasons at the plate on this list, it will be intriguing to see who will make the list of the worst fastball hitters on the team last season.