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Barry Bonds-esque? Analyzing the Production of the Cardinals Outfielders So Far


As a student during finals week, finding time to play video games has been hard to find. I do play a phone game though, where I am part of a Cardinal fan community where we often chat about the Cards. A few days ago, a member of this community was attacking Bader and O’Neill for their lack of production so far this year. I felt like the outfield had started relatively strong, especially when compared to preseason expectations. This prompted me to delve into the stats to see if my thinking was out in left field, or if my fellow gamers were being overly critical of the Cardinals’ outfielders.

Note: all stats are taken from https://www.baseball-reference.com/

The Rook: Dylan Carlson

What a pleasant surprise Dylan has been. After struggling through 2020, Carlson has really turned into quite the surprise Rookie of the Year hopeful. Dylan has had nine more at bats so far this year than last year and the results have been drastically better. This year, Dylan has outproduced his 2020 numbers by 12 runs and 14 hits, while maintaining the same RBI production from last year batting mostly second for Mike Schildt. This has resulting in his oWAR (offensive Wins Above Replacement) going from -0.3 to 1.2. There are still some question marks though. Some of this production has been the result of a .388 BAbip. League average is only .290 BAbip, so a .388 mark indicates some amount of luck. Hard hit percentage has also dropped from 42.1% to 29.5%. Line drives have dropped, and fly balls have jumped. Overall, the results have been everything a Cardinals fan could hope for. Hopefully Carlson can find his power stroke but keeping this production consistent throughout the season will surely result in ROY consideration.

The Vet: Harrison Bader

When Harrison Bader was on the IL, the outfield was not looking pretty. Carlson in center field was not the slick center field Cardinals fans are used to, and Justin Williams failed to make a few routine plays in right, though he did make several great plays too. So far this year, Williams in right and Carlson in center have combined for -0.5 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement). Williams had some upside statistics, but I was happy to see Bader back in the lineup. So how has he done so far? In short, amazing. At least amazing compared to previous versions of himself. Keep in mind, this is a tiny sample size of only ten games played and 37 plate appearances. So far, Bader’s OPS is .887 (.160 above his career average). Harrison has already accumulated a WAR of 0.7 (he is above zero in both offensive and defensive WAR). IN TEN GAMES!! Averaged over a 162-game season, Bader would have a WAR of 11.34. For reference, that would be the highest WAR by any player in a season since Barry Bonds in 2002. His 3 homeruns in ten games would average out to 48+ homeruns over a full season. His BAbip is also relatively low at .200. One drastic change has been in his strikeout rate, dropping from around 30% career average to 13.5%. To keep this from getting too long, I will just say that if Harrison Bader keeps this up, he could receive some MVP votes at the end of the year. Obviously, that seems a little unsustainable for Harrison and I do not expect him to put up Barry Bonds numbers this year. That said, being critical of Bader at this point in the season is crazy, as he is producing better than he ever has before and at rates comparable to MVPs of previous years. At least wait until he starts slumping before calling for a trade.

The Gold: Tyler O’Neill

O’Neill also missed some time during the season, though not as much as Bader. Tyler has 84 plate appearances so far in 2021. This is still a smaller sample size but is starting to get to the point of being reliable. O’Neill has the same WAR as Bader at 0.7 so far. Tyler is batting with a .241 average, has five homeruns, twelve RBIs. Overall, he has produced in line with his career average numbers, about a 30% strikeout rate and an average exit velocity of 91.8 mph. Overall, O’Neill has been a solid producer that has been consistent with his career averages, which are generally all better than his numbers from 2020.

Nearly a quarter of the way into the season, the outfield looks surprisingly good. There is bound to be some regression, okay a lot of regression with Bader. But Carlson looks legitimate, and O’Neill is looking consistent. The largest question mark entering the season for the Cardinals has turned out to be very productive so far. So maybe let’s shift our critical attitudes towards Carpenter and Dejong, and leave the outfield to hopefully continue their success.

Thanks for reading my distraction from finals, and GO CARDS!