In 2021, Tyler O’Neill showed flashes of potential to be a cornerstone piece for the Cardinals for the next decade. Last year, O’Neill posted a triple slash-line of .286/.352/.560 to go along with 34 home runs, 80 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. Most importantly, O’Neill had an average exit velocity of 93 MPH, good enough to be in the 94th percentile. He also had an xBA of .279, xSLG of .583 (96th percentile), xWOBA of .392 (93rd percentile) and an xWOBAcon of .550 (93rd percentile). His swing and miss was still prevalent though as his strikeout rate was in the bottom 4th percentile and his whiff rate was 34.7 percent — 10.1 percent higher than league average. So what changed in O’Neill’s game that resulted in the flip of him going from one of the better hitters in all of baseball to a well-below average hitter in less than a year?
The biggest change for O’Neill thus far has been his quality of contact. His average exit velocity has dipped down to 88.4 MPH this season, which is in the bottom 37th percentile, and his launch angle lowered from 17.8 degrees to 15 degrees. His xWOBAcon dropped down to .393, and his hard hit percentage dropped nearly 20 points, 52.2 percent 35 percent. O’Neill’s flyball rate in 2021 was 31.4 percent and is down to 25 percent; his pop up rate has gone from 7.5 percent to 8.8 percent. His barrel rate has dropped considerably, from 17.9 percent to 11.3 percent, with his barrel/PA rate going from 10.6 to 6.8. O’Neill is not going the other way as much either, with his pull rate going from 36.2 percent to 38.8 percent, and his oppo rate going from 27 down to 20 percent.
When it comes to individual pitch types, O’Neill has regressed significantly against just about every single pitch. Against four-seam fastballs, his xBA has went from .271 to .260, his xSLG from .616 to .458, his xwOBA from .410 to .32, and his hard hit rate from 64 percent to 35 percent. O’Neill’s run value per 100 pitches against them has dropped from 0.9 to -1.2. Against changeups —- which makes up 11.5 percent of the pitches O’Neill is seeing this season, compared to 8.4 percent he saw last year — O’Neill is also struggling. His xBA went from .303 to .067, xSLG from .547 to .089, xWOBA from .376 to .118, and hard hit rate from 42.9 percent to 28.6 percent, to go along with his run value dropping from -0.1 to -3.7.
O’Neill has seen fewer curveballs this year, as they make up 7.5 percent of the pitches he has seen, down from the 11.4 percent he saw last year. In his limited sample size this season. O’Neill’s xBA against curveballs has gone from .317 to .117, xSLG from .705 to .263, xwOBA from .439 to .213 and run value from 1.6 to -3.8. O’Neill has seen sliders 31 percent of the time this year compared to 25 percent. His xBA has dropped from .221 to .174, xSLG from .529 to .257, xwOBA from .334 to .242, and run value from 0.4 to -1. The only pitch in which O’Neill has improved in some areas is his sinker which he is seeing 15.3 percent of the time this year, compared to 18 percent last season. His xBA has gone from .337 to .330, xSLG from .557 to .692, xWOBA from .411 to .460, and run value from 2.2 to 0.5.
Against pitches in the heart of the strike zone, O’Neill has also regressed significantly. In 2021, his run value on pitches in the heart was +18, with a +25-run value on swings in the heart and -7 run value on takes in the heart of the zone. However, it has been the complete opposite for him this season, as he has a total run value of -6 on swings in the heart of the zone and a -2-run value on takes. This effectively tells us that he is struggling to punish any pitches that are thrown for clear-cut strikes, something every player has to do in order to have a successful season. His meatball swing rate, which is simply swings on middle-middle pitches, has dropped from 82.3 percent in 2021 to 76.7 percent in 2022.
O’Neill, in general, has been less of an aggressive hitter both in the zone and early in counts this season. His 1st pitch swing rate has went from 34.5 percent to 27.1 percent, and his zone swing rate from 73.9 percent to 68.9 percent. However, many of his other plate discipline numbers have stayed in line with his 2021 statistics or even improved. His chase rate has remained steady, from 27.5 percent to 27.7 percent, chase contact rate from 43.9 percent to 51.3 percent, and his whiff rate has lowered from 34.7 percent to 33.9 percent. So, there are some positives that can be taken away from this, as his struggles are not paired with an increased chase or whiff rate — like we see with many players when they take a significant step back.
Another interesting note in O’Neill’s statistics this season is how often he is being shifted. Last season, he was shifted 33.9 percent of the time with a wOBA of .349 when not shifted and .451 when shifted. However, this season he is being shifted 43.6 percent of the time, with a wOBA of .250 when not shifted and a wOBA of .244 when shifted.
It is still early, and he has a lot of time to turn it around; however, there are a lot of concerning numbers in O’Neill’s offensive game thus far in 2022. His overall quality of contact has significantly dropped, as has his hard hit rate. The Cardinals need O’Neill to turn it around if they want to go deep into October. Hopefully once he returns from the injured list, his turn around will begin.