Tyler O’Neill has been crushing the ball recently. The St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder has crushed four home runs in his last seven games while batting .407. This is a hot streak that has helped the Cardinals offense score plenty of runs as he has also tallied seven RBI and seven runs in these games. O’Neill has seemingly hit everything hard after struggling a bit in the beginning of the season. However, there are still plenty of red flags that surround O’Neill that suggest that his numbers may not be sustainable.
To begin with, O’Neill’s 31.9% chase rate is above the league average of 28.4%. The 25-year-old has never been known for his plate discipline, but chasing so many pitches prevents O’Neill from putting the barrel on nearly one third of all the pitches that he swings at. This is certainly not ideal for someone with just a 23.3% contact rate on chased pitches. Additionally, O’Neill has a whiff rate of 40% this season which is significantly higher than the league average of 24.4%. These numbers are what have caused O’Neill to post a 1.6% walk rate and a 36.1% strikeout rate to open the season.
Such numbers make it difficult to see O’Neill sustaining his success at the plate. With such a lack of plate discipline and ability to make consistent contact, it will be difficult for him to have consistent production as he will need to crush the pitches that he does make contact with.
The good news, is that O’Neill does exactly that. The outfielder has an 18.9% barrel rate, 45.9% hard hit rate, and a 92.6 mph average exit velocity. This is helping him maximize his production at the plate as he hits the ball hard when he does make contact. However, it leaves him little room for error. If he stops hitting the ball hard, then there is not other way for him to add value at the plate. He will struggle to get bloopers to fall for singles because he makes so little contact, and he also does not take walks, so it will be difficult for him to get on base. This could be a problem, and it could leave O’Neill prone to a boom or bust cycle of production instead of consistent production.
However, it is not impossible for him to produce at the plate with such a high chase rate and whiff rate. There is some precedent for this. In 2019, Miguel Sano struck out at a rate of 36.2% to go with a 38.1% whiff rate. Despite this, he managed to tally a .137 wRC+ due to his .329 ISO. Another example is Aaron Judge in 2019 who struck out at a 31.5% rate and whiffed at a rate of 36.7%. He also had a strong season due to his .267 ISO as he posted a 141 wRC+. Finally, Fernando Tatis Jr. managed a 150 wRC+ in 2019 despite a 29.6% strikeout rate and a 35.2% whiff rate. His ISO that season was .272. Other names on the list of players with a comparable whiff rate and strikeout rate are Jorge Soler and Franmil Reyes. Therefore, it is clear that one can have success at the plate despite striking out and whiffing at a high rate.
However, what all of these players have in common is an above average chase rate. While these players whiff at a high rate of pitches, they also have a decent eye at the plate and avoid chasing pitches outside the strike zone. This is not yet the case with Tyler O’Neill. Additionally, they all are capable of taking walks as everyone except Reyes (8.6%) and Tatis Jr. (8.1%) had a double digit walk rate. Due to this, they were capable of getting on base and adding value to the team through more than just extra base hits.
There are plenty of players with a comparable whiff rate and strikeout rate to Tyler O’Neill who have not had success at the plate. These include players like Chris Davis, Austin Hedges, Keston Hiura, and Brandon Dixon. Thus, while it is possible for power to carry a hitter, he needs to have more than just power as there are plenty of players who cannot overcome such a high whiff rate and strikeout rate.
Tyler O’Neill’s .271 ISO this season is comparable to the players on the above list, but he is not yet advanced enough with his eye at the plate. He made improvements on this last season as his 9.6% walk rate was a career high and his 27.4% strikeout rate was a career low. Additionally, his 25.2% chase rate and 33.9% whiff rate were career lows.
Despite this improvement, however, O’Neill did not have a good season at the plate (70 wRC+). He has also not managed to build on these improvements in 2021, although the season is still early and he has taken just 61 plate appearances. This is something that he will need to improve if he wants to maintain his production at the plate throughout this season.