clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nolan Gorman and Tyler O’Neill: Similar Hitters with Opposite Results

Gorman and O’Neill are actually quite similar at the plate, except for the fact that one hitting is raking and the other is not. I look at why that is.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Nolan Gorman is having one heck of a rookie season for the St. Louis Cardinals. At just 22 years old, he has a 121 wRC+ and has been worth 1.1 fWAR in 66 games. That’s a 2.7 fWAR per 162 game pace. That’s almost equal to Dylan Carlson’s age 22 season.

He’s been even better lately, posting a 159 wRC+ in August. Gorman is clearly a player trending upwards.

Tyler O’Neill is heading in the opposite direction. He was one of the best players in all of baseball last year with 5.7 fWAR. That’s changed mightily this season as his wRC+ has dropped from 144 to 83 with his fWAR sitting just above an even 0 (0.2).

The interesting thing is that these two players are actually pretty similar at the plate. Both have a ton of power and both whiff a lot, In fact, the similarities are pretty uncanny. Take a look at this.

Gorman vs. O’Neill

Player K Rate Whiff Rate Avg Exit Velo (mph) Barrel Rate (%) ISO
Player K Rate Whiff Rate Avg Exit Velo (mph) Barrel Rate (%) ISO
2022 Gorman 31.1 34.5 89.7 15.6 0.223
2021 O'Neill 31.3 34.7 93.0 17.9 0.274
2022 O'Neill 29.2 30.6 89.5 9.9 0.130
O'Neill MLB Average 31.8 35.9 91.0 14.1 0.214

Notice how similar Gorman’s 2022 is to O’Neill’s career average. Last year’s version of Tyler O’Neill had more power than Gorman has shown this year, but they are similar hitters and that holds true this year too. So how has one been productive this year while the other hasn’t? Let’s take a look.


Nolan Gorman and Tyler O’Neill are hitting the ball equally as hard. Gorman has an average exit velocity of 89.7 mph and O’Neill is sitting at 89.4 mph. It’s not like that causes a 63 point difference in wOBA.

O’Neill isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he did last year, but he’s still in the 56th percentile in average exit velocity. Even though his exit velocity has declined, it’s not low enough to the point where we should expect O’Neill to be only slightly better than Corey Dickerson (77 wRC+).

One of the key differences between Gorman and O’Neill is barrel rate. Gorman has a 95th percentile barrel rate (15.6%) while O’Neill is much lower at 9.9%.

The short Baseball Savant definition for a barrel gives a good overview of what it is and why it’s important.

A batted ball with the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle goes a little deeper, though, defining barrels as...

batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015.

Consistently hitting the ball hard is one thing, but a barrel is more than just a hard hit ball. It’s a hard hit ball with an even higher chance of becoming a hit and doing damage.

The two players may have nearly identical exit velocities, but Gorman’s barrel rate is far superior which had led to more production. I’ll talk about this more later.

Batted Ball Type

With that being said, O’Neill barrel rate is in the 66th percentile. That gives him an above average exit velocity and an above average barrel rate. He might be worse than Gorman in both of those categories, but that doesn’t explain why he’s been a below average hitter.

Batted ball data does that.

Now, before I go any further, I want to mention that there is a discrepancy in batted ball data between Fangraphs and Baseball Savant (as I mentioned in a previous article), but my case holds true regardless of which data is used. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use Fangraphs’ data instead of referring to both sites.

Now that I’m done with that little disclaimer, here’s the batted ball data for Gorman and O’Neill. I added the league average for comparison.

Batted Ball Data

Player Groundball Rate (%) Line Drive Rate (%) Fly Ball Rate (%)
Player Groundball Rate (%) Line Drive Rate (%) Fly Ball Rate (%)
Gorman 24.8 26.2 48.9
O'Neill 41.2 23.6 35.2
League Average 42.8 20.0 37.2

The first thing I want you to take away from this table are that Gorman hits an absurd amount of fly balls and a lot of line drives. That means almost he hits practically no grounders. The second thing I want you to take away is that O’Neill doesn’t hit enough balls in the air.

Over three quarters of Gorman’s batted balls are hit in the air, which is the optimal profile for a power hitter, Why hit the ball on the ground when you can jut hit it over the fence or line it into a gap?

This is where O’Neill could do better. He doesn’t hit the ball in the air enough. His groundball rate is close to average and that shouldn’t be the case. It wasn’t the case last year as he’s seen a 5% increase in his groundball rate this season.

The decline in exit velocity isn’t great but it’s the rise in grounders that is actually more detrimental to O’Neill’s production. Now, you might say, “O’Neill actually hits an above average amount of balls in the air so I really don’t see the issue.”

My response to that would be that he hits only a slightly above average amount of balls in the air.

Tyler O’Neill is a slugger. A power hitter. He’s not any old schmuck. Take a perfectly average hitter. Lets say...Dylan Carlson, for example. He has a 100 wRC+ exactly and he can do a little bit of everything. Should Tyler O’Neill be hitting more or fewer fly balls than Dylan Carlson? The answer is absolutely more and it shouldn’t be particularly close. Those two aren’t really comparable in terms of power.

So, sure, O’Neill is hitting an above average amount of balls in the air, but that’s not enough. A power hitter is meant to hit the ball in the air. A lot. He can’t really use his power on the ground. He needs to let it fly a lot more than the average hitter.

The slugging outfielder has a 210 wRC+ when he hits the ball in the air. That pales in comparison to Gorman’s 271, but that should be expected since Gorman has been able to find the optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle much more often.

Still, here’s the thing with O’Neill. He has an average exit velocity of 95.2 mph on line drives and fly balls. He only has an 82.7 mph exit velocity when he hits the ball on the ground. That’s quite the difference.

What may be more shocking is the fact that when he hits balls in the air, he actually hits them harder than Gorman does (94.3 mph exit velo on fly balls/line drives).

O’Neill hits the ball hard when he hits it in the air. Everyone does that. But not everyone averages 95 mph. That’s where a hitter does damage. More 95 mph fly balls (and line drives) and fewer 82 mph ground balls would work wonders for O’Neill’s numbers.

This is where barrel rate comes into play again. 95 mph at a 35 degree launch angle isn’t optimal. 95 mph at a 25 to 30 degree launch angle is much better.

He already has an above average barrel rate but part of the reason he was so successful last season is because he barrelled so many balls (17.9%). That’s a huge part of the “hit more fly balls” equation.

This is why Gorman has been so successful when he’s hit the ball in the air this season. He doesn’t just hit the ball hard, he barrels it quite often (95th percentile barrel rate).

Regardless, what’s clear is that O’Neill’s 5% increase in groundball rate has really hurt his production this year.

Gorman should be an example for O’Neill this year. Gorman hits everything in the air. That’s what O’Neill should do too. I’ve never seen a groundball go over the fence and they rarely even go for doubles.

O’Neill is a slugger. He needs to hit the ball in a way that maximizes damage. That way is putting the ball in the sky. He did that last season. He’s not doing it this year.

Crushing Meatballs

Now, I love meatballs and apparently Nolan Gorman does too because this is where Gorman thrives. It’s actually insane. If you throw a pitch middle-middle to Gorman, you should just expect to land 440 feet away.

Look at this.

I mean, come on. That’s just crazy. Gorman simply crushes mistakes. He’s a really good low ball hitter but he makes his money when the pitcher messes up. That’s called being opportunistic.

He doesn’t let pitchers get away with anything, either, because he swings at over 87% of the meatballs that he sees.

Slider? Fastball? Changeup? It doesn’t matter to Gorman. A meatball is a meatball. Here’s an example of each.

Here’s the slider. This one was smoked at 105 mph off Hunter Greene.

Here’s a four-seamer off everybody’s favorite second placed team. This one landed approximately a mile away.

And here’s the changeup. This one landed a measly 374 feet away.

It doesn’t matter what you throw. A middle-middle pitch simply isn’t going to beat Gorman. That’s an amazing approach. Say all you want about the whiffs and the chases and the strikeouts, but Gorman doesn’t miss pitches to drive. He may not have a perfect approach, but his power makes an imperfect approach really effective.

Now let’s take a peek at O’Neill.

That’s...not as good. I mean, it’s fine, but it’s really not great. He doesn’t crush mistakes. He hits them well, but he doesn’t do nearly enough damage against them. He also doesn’t swing at them often enough. His meatball swing rate (an incredible name for a statistic) is 3% below average at 73.8%.

He is neither maximizing his opportunities nor taking them enough. Again, this is something that Gorman can model for him.


I have been a bit hard on O’Neill in this article and that comes with the territory of him being a below average hitter. Yet, I don’t want you to walk away from this piece with the impression that I think O’Neill is a bad hitter.

I assure you, I think quite the opposite. I can’t finish this piece without mentioning O’Neill’s injuries.

He’s dealt with a shoulder injury and a hamstring injury this year and hamstrings can be notoriously finicky when they get hurt. Hamstring injuries have a tendency to linger. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be shocked if O’Neill isn’t fully healthy.

Think back to all the things I have mentioned in this article.

Barrels — O’Neill declined drastically this year.

Batted ball data — He’s hit many more ground balls

Meatballs — He’s not taking advantage of middle-middle mistakes at nearly the same level.

He’s what O’Neill’s production looked like last year.

Now that’s how you crush a meatball. He had no problems with that last year. So is his decline injury related or was he just a flash in the pan last year? That’s the million dollar question. I say he has way too much power to be a below average hitter.

I’m content with O’Neill in left field for the forseeable future. I’m curious to see how he finishes the year but a fresh and healthy start next season could make a world of difference.

I do think that poor health has played a major role in his decline this season. It would have been hard for him to replicate a nearly 6 WAR season, but he should still have been comfortably above average.

O’Neill’s down year isn’t necessarily a sign of things to come. Let’s see what he can do when he gets fully healthy again. (Of course, I am simply speculating that he’s not back to 100%. I have been wrong before so feel free to disagree.)

When it comes to Gorman, I’m impressed. I think we all are. We can acknowledge his defensive struggles and whiff and chase problems while still being impressed with his overall production. Especially for a 22-year-old.

Gorman is a prototypical power hitter. He finds the barrel a lot and puts everything in the air. That can help him overcome a ton of issues. If he can improve his other issues then he could be quite the masher.

I mean, his power production is pretty incredible for someone so young. He’s certainly on the right track and exactly the kind of hitter that the Cardinals needed this year.

Thank you all for reading! Let’s collectively bask in the series win over Milwaukee a little bit longer while hoping for some revenge against the Rockies this week. The Brewers have a tough series against the Dodgers so this is the perfect chance to get some breathing room in the division.

Enjoy your Tuesday!