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Ranking Confidence Levels in the Current Outfielders - An Open Thread

Uncertainty abounds in the outfield, so let’s discuss which outfielders we should have the most confidence in.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals have two big needs this winter. The first is obvious - a catcher. The team was 27th in fWAR behind the plate, with a grand (or not so grand) total of -0.6. Even a replacement level player would have been a huge improvement.

After that is the stating rotation. I wrote about that in my last piece. Just because the team brought Adam Wainwright back doesn’t mean they should stop adding. They have merely preserved the status quo.

Beyond that, the outfield could be an area for improvement. It’s a weird sentence to write after the team finished 3rd in outfield fWAR just a year ago. Yet this year, the outfield did not perform as expected.

Keeping in mind that the team may look to add some insurance to the group, I want to rank each outfielder according to my confidence level in them.

1st - Lars Nootbaar

Yes, the player I am most confident in wasn’t even a part of the vaunted 2021 outfield group that looked like it was the present and the future. Nootbaar outperformed all of them this year and took a huge step forward while every other outfielder took a step back.

He broke out at the plate with a 125 wRC+ while playing an average to above average outfield (4 DRS, 0 OAA). Some may doubt his breakout at the plate, but I am not among that group.

I think his breakout is for real. To begin with, he had a 90th percentile exit velocity (91.7 mph). That could still be a fluke, but there’s at least something we can point to as a cause. Namely, improved bat speed from working at Driveline.

With an easily identifiable cause for his improved exit velocity, and then an easily identifiable cause for his production (hitting the ball harder), it’s easy to make the conclusion that Noot’s breakout is for real.

Maybe it’s not. But I feel pretty good about him, especially after the offensive struggles of Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson.

2nd - Tyler O’Neill

I am putting Tyler O’Neill in second largely because I think injuries sapped him of most of his production. He had “only” a 66th percentile exit velocity, which is still solid but definitely lower than O’Neill’s standards.

His defense also took a step back.

Tyler O’Neill Defense

2020 9 4
2021 11 4
2022 1 1

We saw what he can do when he’s at his best, and even if he peaked last year, he’s a better player than the 1.3 fWAR version of himself that we saw this year. He has power and he has speed. And he keeps his strikeout rate low enough (~30%) to tap into his power consistently. That’s a combination I will bet on.

Now, I will say, I have a somewhat large gap between him and Nootbaar. Nootbaar created that gap with strong season that put him on pace for 4.7 fWAR per 600 plate appearances.

I’m buying into his breakout. Even if he doesn’t hit these heights again, I think there’s a 4 fWAR player in there somewhere.

O’Neill hit 5.6 fWAR last year, so it’s not hard to imagine him reaching 4 WAR again either. I simply have more confidence in Nootbaar after the power/patience/speed combination that he showed this year.

3rd - Dylan Carlson

Don’t let this lukewarm placement make you think I’m low on Carlson, I’m still a beleiver but I just want to see more power before I rank him any higher. I also want to see him prove his defensive capabilities in centerfield.

I think his injuries sapped him of a lot of his power, so I can’t completely hold his 7th percentile exit velocity against him. He has a well rounded game and playing centerfield would really boost his value, so I certainly still think he can be an above average starter. He also just turned 24, so he’s still young.

I don’t think there’s a huge gap between Carlson and O’Neill. Even with Carlson’s exactly league average production at the plate, he was still worth 2.4 fWAR. That’s solid production. Better health could have mean more power which could have easily pushed him over the 3 WAR threshold.

I even debated putting Carlson over O’Neill, but I see as pretty close to equal. That could change after this year, but I also think O’Neill could end up getting traded this offseason.

4th - Alec Burleson

I’ve seen some grumbling about Alec Burleson’s season and I don’t think that’s warranted. Sure, he wasn’t great, but there’s some reason to be hopeful.

First, he did nothing but hit in the minor leagues. He didn’t even spend two full years in the minor leagues before debuting and that was almost entirely due to his bat.

53 plate appearances doesn’t change that.

He also hit the ball hard. His 91.7 mph exit velocity was impressive but it didn’t lead to much production because he beat the ball into the ground. In fact, nearly 60% of his plate appearances ended with a ground ball or a pop up. His power will show when his batted balls begin to normalize. That happens with a larger sample.

I think he can be a solid player next year and I would expect him to be the first injury fill-in when needed.

5th - Jordan Walker

I want to put Jordan Walker on this list because I think we’ll see him in St. Louis this year. He hits the ball harder than perhaps anyone else in the system. He’s the kind of guy who is going to open eyes in Spring Training with the sound of his bat. Granted, those eyes should already be wide open.

I think he’ll be behind Burleson on the depth chart because I don’t think the organization will want to pass Burleson over. Burleson has already reached Triple-A and torn through it. Walker is still young and yet to play in Memphis.

He’s dominating the AFL right now, and that certainly helps his stock (which is already super high), but I would still expect Burleson to be ahead of him.


Those are my thoughts, but this is an open thread so I want to hear yours too. How would you rank your confidence in the current outfielders? Discuss that or anything else amongst yourselves.