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Early Season Stats that Might Stick

There isn’t much about this early season that’s likely to stick around, but three encouraging stats just might have staying power.

Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

Short one today.

I’m taking a minute to come up for air from underneath a (literal) pile of scanned articles on qualitative research methodologies for my doctoral studies. Today, I can either give you 10 to 15 thousand words on ethnographic interviewing and appreciative inquiry. Or 1000 words on some early season stats that might prove predictive.

Things are getting serious around here. I finish my second-to-last class in two weeks. One to go. These two classes will help me finalize vital elements of my doctoral dissertation and flesh out half of the 100+ page text. Then, I write the rest of the thing. Then I die. I think that’s how it goes.

Anyway, I’m only telling you this because I know that detailing my dissertation progress is actually more interesting right now than watching the Cardinals. The good news is that they aren’t playing a 12 game season. They are playing 162. And there’s a really good chance that the team that we are watching right now won’t look the same as the team we’ll watch in mid-August.

I fully expect the club to target an outfielder at the deadline. If the starting rotation can’t right itself and get healthy, they’ll have to either shop for a starter (or two) or bite the bullet on the kids and give Liberatore and Thompson a chance. They could also change course and do what they should have done when Mikolas went out: give Reyes a shot as a starter.

Eh, who knows. This season was always going to be a transitionary year. The club will figure some things out, eliminate a few players from their future plans, and maybe find a few new ones. All while recouping their lost income from 2020 and resetting their budget for 2022 and beyond. They still could make the playoffs.

Some of what we’re seeing now will determine what we see down the road. Let’s investigate three of those things.

Tommy Edman’s BB and Contact Rates

There were a lot of things about Tommy Edman’s 2019 debut season that were unsustainable. His power and BABIP were certain to fall. On the other side, his walk rate under 5% was destined to rise. Edman routinely averaged between 6.5-8.5 BB% in the minor leagues. Last year, he raised his MLB rate to 7.0% in an overall rough COVID season. Now it’s up to 8.9% entering Friday’s game. For those keeping score at home, that’s 349 PAs as a rookie with a BB rate below 5. And 283 PAs since where he’s well over 7%. I wouldn’t predict that Edman’s rate will rise to the 10% range but it shouldn’t fall below 6.5% either.

I realize that’s not all that exciting for a leadoff hitter. Coupled with his impressive contact, ability, however, the club might just be onto something. Right now, Edman is hitting .294. His BABIP is a sustainable .311. Even in the high minors, Edman’s K rate was in the low teens. Right now, it’s 8.9% – exactly the same as his walk rate. Start adding it up. Edman doesn’t K. He’s improving his walks. His batting average is nearing .300 and his BABIP is right on with projections. In the minors, Edman routinely carried a BABIP of .333 or higher.

The point? Edman can be a .300 hitter. Think of that as a range between .280 and .310. With those relatively unexciting but likely stable walk rates, that translates to an OBP in the .360 range. That’s not too shabby long-term.

Nolan Arenado’s (weighted) Slug%

Everyone was rightly worried about whether or not Arenado’s power would translate out of Busch Stadium. It’s early but I think that we can start putting some of those fears to bed. So far, Arenado is slugging .574. That’s pretty much right on with an average season for him playing half his games in Colorado. From 2015-2019, Arenado slugged a cumulative .575. I would not expect Arenado to stay that high for the rest of the season in power-suppressing Busch. At the same time, I see nothing about his swing that makes me believe he will be the .434 slugger that he was in 2020.

Let’s do a little quasi-math — the perfect kind of math for a qualitative researcher. Right now, Arenado’s slugging percentage translates to a 154 wRC+ – weighted runs created neutralized to a 100 league average scale. That’s a little high for him. In his prime seasons in Colorado, his wRC+ (with comparable slugging numbers to this season) was in the 130 range. That gives you a sense of the stadium-related decline we could expect.

Thankfully ZiPS helps us put a bottom to it. They give him a .477 slug% and rate him out as a 109 wRC+ player. Arenado will fall off from his 152 wRC+. But if he lands in the 130 range that was typical of his recent past, the Cardinals are still looking at a slugging % in the .525 range. Weighted to park, that’s about the same player that he was in Colorado. Would you take that? I would. He can do it. Easily.

Dylan Carlson’s OPS

OPS? Really JP? Follow me here. I think that things are about to flip for Carlson. His early-season power surge was accompanied by a head-scratching inability to put anything into play for non-outs. That’s starting to shift even now. He’s getting more hits. He’s walking more. Balls aren’t leaving the park quite as regularly. Instead, they’re getting ripped all over the field for singles and doubles. THAT’S the Dylan Carlson I watched in the minors. Sure, the homers were there too. But this a player who hit .281 in AA and .361 in AAA as a 20-year-old.

I suspect that Carlson’s ISO will fall. It’s currently .270. That’s a bit excessive to me. Possible. But I can’t defend it. At the same time, Carlson’s BABIP is just .273. I expect Carlson’s batting average to climb a bit – probably to the .265-.280 range. He might not maintain his 13% walk rate, but considering his age per level and the walk rates he carried in the minors, I’m not ready to rule it out. An 11% as a 20-year-old in AA could easily become a 13% for a 2nd-year major leaguer with all-around elite batting skills. Add it up and we could expect a .030 drop in slug% that’s balanced by a .030 rise in batting average and on-base percentage. That creates a different-looking slash line than what he currently carries but roughly the same … wait for it … OPS! He looks like an 850’ish OPS hitter to me. That change would probably lower his current wOBA and wRC+ a little since less of his production would come from home runs alone. I would expect that.

That’s all I have for you. There’s still a lot of volatility in the rest of the early season stats. As much as I want to say that Paul DeJong can maintain his BB%, I just can’t do it. On the flip side, he’s definitely not going to have a BABIP under .150. Likewise, Molina won’t have a BABIP of .393. He also won’t have a K rate over 20%. Eventually, a lot of the Cardinals stats will settle down and the club will be a bit more consistent. Let’s hope it happens soon.

Hey, you still got 1200 words! Enjoy your Saturday! And think of me as I read and write less interesting but more serious things.