The Cardinals, as a whole and especially compared with most of baseball, were not particularly hurt by the shortened season. With the possible exception of Yadier Molina, just about everybody remotely important is going to be on the team in 2021. And I have a better chance breaking my hand while typing this post than Molina does of not being on the Cardinals next year.
But one particular area of the Cardinals that I do think was harmed by the shortened season is the outfield. The outfield was and is full of question marks, and they’re the good kind of question marks, but they’re also the kind of question marks that are only solved by seeing what the players have. What is Tyler O’Neill? What is Lane Thomas? Is Austin Dean another Jose Martinez? Does Dexter Fowler have anything left? Can Harrison Bader bounce back? How soon will Dylan Carlson be ready?
So far, none of these questions have been answered. Carlson is physically in the MLB, but given his start, I don’t think we can confidently say “he’s ready” quite yet. Which is not say he isn’t, but I don’t think that question has actually been answered. Austin Dean hasn’t played an inning and he’ll count himself lucky if he gets any sort of playing time at this point. As for the players actually getting playing time, they’ll be getting less than two months playing time so we can’t even answer those questions either. This was a season that really could have used the 2,1000 or so plate appearances outfielders get per season plus whatever Carlson would do in AAA until someone sucked or got injured.
Alas, instead we’ll have to go into 2021 with no real clear idea of what Tyler O’Neill is still. He’ll have over two years of service time, and we’ll still be hoping that he brings enough power and patience to offset his strikeouts. Which is really, really frustrating. I’m suddenly grateful for the many, many doubleheaders because it will at least guarantee O’Neill gets playing time this year, since it looks like for the moment, he’s the odd man out in the outfield depth chart.
It’s not completely undeserved. Of the outfielders competing for playing time, O’Neill has the worst results, with the exception of Dylan Carlson. And obviously while Carlson is up, he will play. If the Cards reach a point where they don’t want him to play, they will send him down. But Fowler’s doing pretty much what’s expected, Bader has exploded, and Carlson will start every game. It unfortunately leaves O’Neill has the odd, underperforming man out.
Except that doesn’t tell the whole story. It’d be easy to write off O’Neill’s start. After all, the results aren’t good. But anybody who watches every game will notice that O’Neill has been a different hitter. This is an entirely different player than we saw the first two seasons of O’Neill’s career. Well, so far anyway. Like I said, above, there is a frustrating lack of clarity on his numbers due to the small sample.
But given the information we have, O’Neill seems to have improved as a hitter. He has shown a more patience eye, with a 9.5 BB%. He’s striking out significantly less, with a 22.2 K%. And after his power wasn’t really there last year, his ISO is at .212. This all lines up with a player that should be having a good season. But BABIP isn’t cooperating. He has a fantastically small .158 BABIP. His average exit velocity of 88.9 (before last night’s screamer) is just a little below last year’s 89.1 average... when he had a .386 BABIP. Not to say he deserves a .386 BABIP, but I don’t know if I’m blame it on weak hits, especially with one as low as .158.
And then there’s the fact that, bewilderingly, he’s getting hands down the worst strike zone of anybody on the Cardinals. Can someone explain this to me? Is there a quirk in O’Neill’s batting stance or approach or that he yells at the ump before getting in the batter’s box that is causing him to consistently get screwed in the strike zone.
That... seems like a ridiculous amount of pitches clearly outside that have been called strikes on him. It happened two more times last night. What the hell’s going on? This is like Matt Carpenter in the prime of getting screwed over levels of bad for Tyler. Despite this fact, O’Neill still has a 22.2 K% which is significantly lower than his career 34.7 K%, which of course his lower than both his 2018 and 2019 seasons.
What is my point? My point is I’d hate to see O’Neill get buried on this depth chart. I know the playing time will be tough. Bader is making it pretty impossible sit him, Carlson needs to play, and Fowler is playing as expected. Making matters more difficult is that Brad Miller has essentially played his way into the DH role, so they don’t even get the advantage of having that extra spot in the lineup.
But you got to make it work. Sit Tommy Edman, sit Matt Carpenter, mix and match the players. Carlson doesn’t really need to play literally every day, you can give him time off sometimes to keep everyone playing. Of course, these are good problems and they’re barely problems because the Cardinals have NINE doubleheaders coming up, which means that everyone will play. Hence, the bright side of this stupid schedule.
So to end this post, I simply say: find a way to play Tyler O’Neill, because I think he’ll turn it around.
Comment on Last Night
So, the Cardinals considered making a political strike and not playing yesterday’s game, but decided against it with the exception of Dexter Fowler and Jack Flaherty. I speculated before I found out the reason and it was pretty much confirmed by O’Neill that the tough scheduling had something to do with it. The Cardinals faced an altogether different problem than some other teams when considering a strike.
For example, the Dodgers and Giants had a game scheduled against each other for tomorrow. I’m glad they got to strike, but they get to play a doubleheader tomorrow. They have no other doubleheaders scheduled. Same goes for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners. Same goes for the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds. Neither team had to worry about their schedules.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals do not play each other tomorrow. They do not play each other at all for the rest of the season. In fact, the Cardinals already have a doubleheader tomorrow. Would they have cancelled the game if they didn’t miss 11 games from a coronavirus outbreak? I guess we’ll never know. From postgame interviews, it is at least implied they may have.
I just wanted to get that point across. You can disagree that’s a valid excuse, and that’s fine. You can get mad at me for even bringing this up, and that’s fine. They considered it, they made the decision as a team, and that’s honestly more than I expected. Only through the collective words of Fowler, Flaherty, and Adam Wainwright in particular with their past comments would I have even entertained that they might strike in protest of police brutality. And just in case you misconstrue the intent of what I’m saying, black lives matter. That’s my position. I just understand the Cardinals position too, which I don’t think contradicts my own. I know this is touchy and I’m probably taking a position that makes nobody happy, but I felt I had to share my thoughts on this.