We’re back on a busy Saturday with our “best of” series. This time we cover the first full month of the season! It’s still too short a sample to have definitive, predictive stats, but it might be just enough to identify some trends – both positive and negative. On the positive side is what Dylan Carlson is doing with his bat and Tommy Edman with his glove at second base. On the downside is the lack of production from the middle-of-the-order bats in Goldschmidt, Arenado, and DeJong. Fortunately, there’s a lot of season left. Let’s look at the best of what we’ve seen so far.
Best Offensive Player – Dylan Carlson
I’ve been following Carlson’s season almost plate appearance by plate appearance. When he’s up to bat, I’m watching. Because what he’s doing is special.
His early-season start reminds me so much of Albert Pujols. Oh sure, Pujols was better. No doubt. But when Pujols first came up, I had to stop and watch. Because you knew he could do anything and you began to expect him to do something great! Often he did.
We expect that from Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Matt Holliday, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and others veteran greats that the Cards have acquired over the last few decades. It’s different and so special when you see a player you’ve watched since A-ball becoming that kind of player.
Carlson’s bat looks like it belongs in that list. In fact, I’ve been working on a comp for Carlson over the last few weeks and will break it out in an article soon. Guess at who I’m thinking of in the comments! I bet some of you will get it right.
Heading into Friday’s game against Pittsburgh, Carlson had a .286/.371/.500 slash line with a .372 wOBA and a 138 wRC+. That’s not tops on the team. Yadi has a .420 wOBA and a 169 wRC+. He’s also on the IL, has 26 fewer PAs than Carlson, and well, we know that line isn’t going to hold up. For me, Yadi has been the most valuable player overall. Credit him for that. Carlson then gets my nod as the best hitter.
Carlson has a 10.3% walk rate. He’s K’ing just 24.7% of the time – not bad at all for a 22-year-old with power. He has a .214 ISO. He’s done all of that while going through a slight slump in hard-hit balls. That to me is what is most impressive about his season. When he stopped crushing the ball like Hercules, he started dinking and dunking hits all over the field. That’s what an elite hitter does! They just hit, even when they’re not hitting well.
What highlight do I even show? How about I just share this interview he did with MLB Network that you probably missed. The kid does everything well! And can someone get him some Ted Drewes?
Best Barreled Ball – Tyler O’Neill
I thought Nolan Arenado might find his way into this list. He certainly had one of the more dramatic home runs of the season at the home opener. He does have a 110.6 mph double that came early in a 12-1 route by the Reds. No one wants to remember that game. So, Arenado doesn’t make the cut of “best barrel” here.
Some fans might assume Carlson would fit here, but he really hasn’t been hitting balls as hard as expected. His homers are all over 100 mph and he has a sharp double, but he is well down the power list. Carp and Goldy aren’t close, either. Tommy Edman doesn’t hit the ball hard, which is a little concerning. That pretty much leaves two guys to consider.
Paul DeJong’s two-homer day on April 3 stands out. His first shot went 108.4 mph with a 34-degree launch angle. That’s an almost perfect homer. His second was 109.5 – an extremely impressive velocity – and it exited the park at just 20 degrees. It takes serious muscle to get a ball that low over the fence.
Speaking of muscle, it’s Tyler O’Neill who provided the best barreled ball of the month and a ball that very well might hold up all season. He has the hardest hit barrel – a 112.6 mph line out. And the best barrel overall: a 110.2 mph, 26 degree shot on Opening Day. I’m still waiting for O’Neill to get the big one – a home run at 115 miles per hour or higher and around 30 degrees. I suspect we’ll see one this season.
Update: O’Neill’s monster home run in Friday’s game against the Pirates immediately moves into this top spot. 112.2 mph off the bat. 36 degrees. Off a hanging slider. Perfect. Can’t hit a ball better.
Best Defensive Player – Tommy Edman
This was a tough one.
Despite missing time with his injury, Tyler O’Neill has produced an impressive 2.2 UZR with his glove in left field. That’s coupled by a +2 DRS. That’s pretty consistent ratings and great production for just a little over 120 innings played. We’re talking elite level rates from a player who won (and deserved) the Gold Glove last year.
Tommy Edman, on the other hand, also has a +2 DRS. His UZR, though, lags behind O’Neill at just .7 – still a very good rate for just 145 innings played at second base.
Maybe you can see the quandary? By my eye test, Edman has been the team’s best defensive player. He looks elite at second and DRS agrees. Tyler O’Neill, on the other hand, has the same DRS and has nearly tripled Edman’s UZR in fewer innings. That’s not something I can ignore.
What to do, what to do?
Well, thankfully, OAA over at Baseball Savant has populated their defensive infield numbers for the early season. There we can effectively break the tie. Edman’s OAA at second is +4. O’Neill is at a neutral 0.
So, Edman has an edge in OAA and the eye test. O’Neill has an edge in UZR. Both look great. Edman is the winner. Hopefully, the club never moves him off 2b again. Here’s a highlight to prove it:
Best Starter – Jack Flaherty
Here’s another coinflip category. Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty both have .4 fWAR on the season. They are tied for … third and fourth among the starters on the team? Somehow, yes. Carlos Martinez has .5 WAR in the same number of innings as Jack. Don’t ask me to explain that one. Flaherty is ahead of him in ERA, FIP, and xFIP. Then KK has .5 fWAR in just 13.2 innings because he’s looked awesome. He can’t be the best starter with fewer innings pitched than relievers, though. Gant’s peripherals are terrible.
That leaves Waino and Flaherty. Flaherty has about a run on AW in ERA. He’s beating him in FIP. Waino has a better K rate and walk rate, though Flaherty’s numbers are pretty good. Flaherty has done much better on homers. Both are very close in innings, and that’s with Wainwright’s complete game.
Why am I going with Jack Flaherty?
I don’t know. Just because. Pick your horse here. You can’t go wrong.
To me, Flaherty is beginning to show signs of being the ace that we know he can be. The walk rate is low. The Ks are rising. The homers are under control. That’s a good sign the command is returning. Take a look at the following video. Watch the catcher’s glove. Watch Flaherty hitting his spots and batters still whiffing because of the movement on his pitches. I don’t have to sell you on how good Flaherty can be. It’s good to see that not much has changed. He might not be best-half-season-in-history good, but he can be and probably will be one of the more dominant starters this season. Wainwright might be great, too.
Best Reliever – Gio Gallegos
If you’re read theses articles before, you know how much I love Gio Gallegos. He’s been the best reliever on the Cardinals for a few seasons. He’s still the best reliever on the Cardinals. He had the best month from any reliever on the Cardinals.
The fans and media love the eye-popping fastball of Jordan Hicks. Batters routinely look silly against Alex Reyes and his 0.00 ERA.
But none of them are even close to Gallegos in effectiveness. Gallegos has an 11.66 K/9 rate. That’s clown car silly. He’s walking 2.45 batters per nine. Phenomenal walk rate for a guy with swing and miss movement. His era and FIP are a steady 2.45. In 14.2 innings he has .3 fWAR. Yes, he’s percentage points behind Flaherty and Waino. That’s how important he has been to this team.
Some of you might wonder – “if Gallegos is so good, why doesn’t Shildt use him as closer?” Because that would be stupid. Gallegos can throw multiple innings whenever the game is on the line. He’s leading all relievers in innings pitched – 2 and 1/3 extra innings in the same number of outings as Reyes. He is the closer. He just doesn’t get saves. He comes in when the game is on the line and more often than not he doesn’t just shut the other team down, he shuts them down, spanks them, and sends them to bed without supper. Then Reyes walks half the league to get his three outs. Reverse those roles and this team has won fewer games.
As usual, there’s only a few positive highlights of Gio’s outings at MLB. Here’s a one-pitch video of him getting a save that does nothing to showcase what he does so well. Come on, MLB! Recognize greatness! Give us more Gallegos!
Best Moment – Fans in the Stands!
Our last category is my favorite: best moment of the season. I had a lot to choose from. Carpenter’s first homer of the season. His pinch-hit shot the other night. Dylan Carlson’s grand slam. Some great defensive plays by Justin Williams, Edman, Arenado. Arenado’s first homer as a Cardinal. Yadi being Yadi. Wainwright. I could go on and on.
The best moment for me is this one:
Quote tweeting because this one is definitely finding its way into an article. https://t.co/7NwJK5T6pb— Jason Hill (@JPHill_Cards) April 29, 2021
That’s a fan going absolutely nuts because he caught a fly ball. In Busch stadium. At a real baseball game.
After a season with no fans in the stands, I feel like this early season of baseball can be, to some extent, about us. @cardinalsgifs posted this screen shot. The fan’s family and friends saw it. Everyone had a fun moment online with what was a fun moment in the ballpark.
That’s what baseball is. Fans in stands, eating hot dogs. Drinking cold beverages. Bringing their gloves to the game to catch fly balls. Having fun together at the ballpark.
Last year, we had the game. But we didn’t have baseball.
I hope you have a chance to catch a game in Busch this year. I plan to go. Haven’t been yet, but you’ll know when I do. That’s a summer tradition that was broken last year and I mean to correct it soon. Baseball with fans. That’s the best moment so far.
Have a great Saturday!