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Statcast Insights from the Cardinals First Week

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Cardinal hitters are making some strides... but not all of them

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images

“Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

...

That’s @*&%in’ ingenious, if I understand it correctly. It’s a Swiss @*&%in’ watch.
― The Dude, The Big Lebowski (1997) and the best cinematic adaptation of The Big Sleep ever made

I have to be blunt with you, friends. Writing about baseball for the last 12 months has been difficult. There’s data for all of those games, but it was so abnormal that it feels pointless to put any meaning to it. It’s an issue that baseball forecasters entering 2021 struggled with mightily. That said, baseball is returning to normal now. Adam Wainwright started a game at Busch Stadium in front of fans and everything, so you know baseball is healing itself. Looking at numbers over the past year through the first week of this “it’s-finally-real” season has felt a lot like that Chandler quote from The Big Sleep. The fog is thinning. The surf is curling and creaming, almost like a thought- about the actual quality of baseball players- trying to form itself. But it’s still just a week of baseball, ergo the sarcastic follow-up quote from The Dude. Enough about Raymond Chandler lest anyone think I’m a consumer of detective novels rather than just someone who knows way too much about The Big Lebowski. Anyway, here are some Statcast insights from the first week of the season.

Nolan Arenado looks vintage

I literally started to type that sentence just as he blasted the go-ahead homerun in the 8th inning of yesterday’s game, as if Arenado didn’t want to do anything from the 8th inning on to make my statement look bad. You obviously knew Arenado had looked great in his first week as a Cardinal, but the Statcast data backs it up. His average exit velocity (EV) entering yesterday’s game was 91.6, better than at any other point in his career. That number will rise between now and when you read it thanks to a 96.4 mph grounder and the 95.7 mph dinger on Thursday. His 110.6 mph double off of Jeff Hoffman in Cincinnati was his hardest hit ball since 2016, and max EV like that becomes meaningful quickly. His barrel percentage- 10.5% through Wednesday- is the highest of his career.

I know it’s only a week, but all of these are positive signs. There were legitimate questions about the health of his shoulder following a wonky 2020. He has answered those pretty affirmatively- he is healthy and he’s raking.

Multiple Hitters Have Surpassed their Maximum Exit Velocity from 2020

Again, it’s just a week. And in a lot of cases, these guys have been downright dreadful at the plate. Still, it’s good to see players hitting the ball harder than they did last season.

Cardinal Max EV, 2020 vs. 2021 To Date

Player 2020 Max 2021 Max Times over 2020 Max
Player 2020 Max 2021 Max Times over 2020 Max
DeJong 105.5 109.5 2
Carpenter 106.2 106.6 1
Arenado 108.9 110.6 1
O'Neill 107.4 110.2 2

That list doesn’t include John Nogowski, whose 108.1 mph single tops his 2020 high of 101.4. Nor does it include Edmundo Sosa’s 108.2 mph missile, which ended in a double play but was a missile nonetheless. Justin Williams smoked a pitch 106.8 mph off the bat, higher than last season. All of these were small sample guys from 2020. Still, it’s all a good sign.

As a team, their average EV was 89.9 before Thursday. That’s higher than any Cardinal team in the Statcast recorded era. The second best is 88.8 in 2018 and 2016. They’ve also collected the fourth most barrels and solid contact hits in the league with 29. Again, it’s only a week and we’ll have to see if it continues. But it’s a wonderful sign that the offense this year can do more damage.

St. Louis Cardinals v. Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Paul Goldschmidt is Off to a Great Start

Hopefully Goldschmidt’s back woes don’t keep him sidelined for too long because he was blistering the ball. His 95.7 average exit velocity is 39th out of 387 hitters with 10 batted ball events. The impressive part is how consistent he’s been. Of his 19 batted balls, 11 have gone 100 mph or more. His hard hit percentage (69.2%) is 11th in the league. There’s probably a larger article to write about the continued evolution of the way he produces, but consistently hitting the ball hard is going to help his whole game, and the consistency of it is liable to raise his BABIP.

Radar Gun Readings Are (Mostly) Positive

Back at the end of spring training, I flagged Genesis Cabrera’s velocity as a light concern. Thus far, it has proven to be unfounded- his 95.9 four-seamer is right in line with his 96.1 in 2020. Carlos Martinez has mercifully seen an increase in his four-seamer velocity from 93.3 last year to 93.8 in his first start. Giovanny Gallegos is up from 93.7 to 94.2. Adam Wainwright of all people saw his four-seamer increase in velocity from 89.2 to 90 mph before yesterday’s start, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to hold steady or even increase from that 90 mph figure. Jordan Hicks’ velocity has been down the tiniest bit, but he’s still most assuredly melting faces.

On the negative side, Ryan Helsley is down from 96.9 to 96, and that was before he averaged 94.8 on his four-seamer yesterday. Jack Flaherty’s four-seamer is down from 94 to 92.9, and my brain can’t handle that anxiety just yet. Let’s just hope it turns around. Andrew Miller’s fastball is down nearly 2 mph (it was down 2.2 mph but yesterday’s velocity was a little better).

The conflicting info on Jack Flaherty is that his spin rate on his fastball is way up. Or at least, his Bauer Units (RPM/MPH) are way up. His four-seamer last year was 94 with a spin rate of 2199 RPM. Now, at 92.9 mph, it’s at 2207 RPM. The faster a pitch, the more it’s going to spin. For Flaherty to get more spin out of 1.1 less mph is... an interesting development.