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Blasts, Barrels, and the Cardinals: An August Update

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More love for Tyler O’Neill’s amazing season

St Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Last week, I updated an early season article about True Hard Hit percentages. After all, I had written the original article in mid-April when the season was just a few weeks old. Similarly, I introduced VEB readers to an Alex Chamberlain concept- “blasts”- back in the first week of May, and it’s time to refresh that info as well. It’s certainly better than writing about the grim mediocrity in analyzing the bigger picture of this St. Louis Cardinals season. Plus, the two bits of info (True Hard Hit% and Blasts) go hand in hand for explaining incongruencies in production.

To refresh your memory, Chamberlain divided barrels into two categories. The first, the blast, are batted balls hit at launch angles and exit velocities that procure the most damage. The second, then, are labeled “weak barrels.” And to demonstrate the difference between the two, Chamberlain provided the production on blasts vs. weak barrels from 2017 to 2020.

Weak Barrels: 1.140 wOBAcon, 38% HR/BBE, .707 AVG
Blasts: 1.744 wOBAcon, 82% HR/BBE, .919 AVG

I’m sure updating that info for 2021 would yield similar results. Barrels are great. Even weak barrels are great. But blasts are in a class of their own. If you’d like to think of it in horror movie terms, a weak barrel is An American Werewolf in London (1981). It’s awesome! You love to see a horror movie as good as An American Werewolf in London. But it’s not as amazing as, say, Psycho (1960) or The Thing (1982) or... you get the point. And if not, ask me for the Edgar Wright movies version of that same analogy.

How do the Cardinals look, through Monday’s games? We’ll look first at their True Blast%- the percentage of their plate appearances ending with a blast, and their corresponding league-wide percentile.

Cardinals Blasts/PA and Percentile Rank (min. 70 PA)

Name Tru Blast TruBlast Pctile
Name Tru Blast TruBlast Pctile
O'Neill 8.01% 99.14%
Goldschmidt 4.96% 89.53%
DeJong 4.19% 84.02%
Bader 2.36% 54.64%
Arenado 2.36% 54.64%
Knizner 2.21% 51.94%
Williams 2.19% 51.08%
Carlson 2.09% 48.81%
Carpenter 1.94% 45.90%
Molina 1.92% 44.92%
Sosa 1.36% 32.07%
Edman 1.15% 26.67%

Right away, we can deduce a few things. For starters, Tyler O’Neill has been an absolute monster this season. Here’s the list of players with 75 PAs or more who have hit a blast more frequently than Tyler O’Neill:

  • Shohei Ohtani
  • Byron Buxton (110 PAs)
  • Fernando Tatis Jr.
  • Ronald Acuna Jr.

The Prince of Poutine has had a hell of a year and nothing about it is fluky. Whether or not he can replicate it for the rest of this year and into next is an open question but his 2021 season has not been an illusion.

For that matter, Paul Goldschmidt is no slouch, landing in the 89th percentile. In fairness, Goldschmidt’s true hard hit % from last week and his blast percentage here raise a lot of questions. He’s 98th percentile in true hard hit percentage. That he’s 89th percentile in blasts tells us that his loud contact is hardly empty. Not only is he hitting the ball hard with high frequency; he’s hitting it at optimal angles and velocities with high frequency as well. It’s vexing that he has a wRC+ under 120 (entering Wednesday).

Paul DeJong is an interesting test case, with a subpar THH% (35th percentile when we looked last week) but tremendous blast percentage (84th percentile). He’s essentially an all or nothing hitter in 2021, and his overall production (88 wRC+ entering Wednesday) suggests he needs a lot more all and a lot less nothing. Bader’s THH% left us a little perplexed last week, as his overall production outpaced his low THH%. His blasts give us a small clue, as he’s a little better than average.

The only other noteworthy case is Tommy Edman, whose blast percentage is very low. We saw last week that his THH% was quite good- 72nd percentile. But we also saw that very few of his hard hits were barrels (20th percentile in the league). Now we know that his barrels are even more limited than that. To answer J.P.’s article yesterday... If you want to know how a fast hitter can rack up a ton of doubles but have a below average SLG and well below average ISO, there’s your answer. He makes lots of good contact but almost none of it is premium contact.

Blasts Per Barrel

Which Cardinals have the highest amount of blasts baked into their barrels? From Chamberlain’s original article, we know that from 2017-2020, 46% of barrels were blasts and 54% were weak barrels. Here are the Cardinals’ blasts-per-barrel and their percentile league-wide:

Cardinal Blasts per Barrel and Percentile Ranks

Name Blast/Barrel Blast/Barrel Pctile
Name Blast/Barrel Blast/Barrel Pctile
O'Neill 77.50% 95.90%
Knizner 75.00% 94.49%
DeJong 70.00% 91.15%
Bader 66.67% 88.01%
Goldschmidt 59.09% 76.35%
Sosa 50.00% 60.58%
Molina 46.67% 53.78%
Carlson 43.48% 46.65%
Arenado 41.38% 42.33%
Williams 37.50% 34.56%
Edman 33.33% 28.08%
Carpenter 28.57% 20.30%

Theoretically, players with a high percentage of blasts per barrel will have more production. They’re maximizing their hardest hit balls. Sure enough, there’s O’Neill again. DeJong’s ability to square up pitches more frequently, as reflected by his 91st percentile rank here, is basically his only saving grace at the plate this year.

Remember the Bader puzzle? Here’s another part of the answer. A high percentage of his barrels are blasts. He’s the opposite of Tommy Edman- low percentage of hard hits, but a decent percentage of blasts and a very high percentage of optimal barrels. We also can see how Matt Carpenter’s high percentage of hard hits have been so unproductive, or at least less productive than you’d think at first look. His barrels are of the weak (less productive) variety. This also helps explain Nolan Arenado’s production, which- while very solid- has room for more.

We’ll do one more update to these numbers after the season is over. I’ll also note one more item, this time not Cardinal-related. Shohei Otani is leading MLB with 51 blasts. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is second... with 35.