After his 2021 season where he posted a triple slash line .286/.352/.560 to go along with 34 home runs, big things were expected from Tyler O’Neill in 2022. Unfortunately, he did not build off of his 2021 and he instead took a rather large step back. He had a triple slash of .228/.308/.392 and whilst his expected numbers were better than those it is not enough to make you sit back and say he was an unlucky hitter in 2022. However, there were definitely some encouraging numbers to take away from the 2022 season which could translate into success in 2023.
O’Neill has been a player who has posted high end quality of contact numbers throughout his career and last season was no different. His average exit velocity of 89.9 MPH was well above average as was his hard-hit percentage of 43.3 percent. Additionally, his barrel percentage of 11.3 percent was nearly 5 percent better than league average and his sweet spot percentage of 36.3 percent was 3.3 percent better than average. When a team is evaluating a hitter the quality of their contact is always going to be one of the first stats they view as it tells a story of the hitter. The harder you hit the ball, the higher the expected metrics will be based on the contact. One knock on O’Neill will always be his propensity to strikeout as his K percentage was once again well above league average last year. However, the analytics show us it is better to have a player who strikes out a ton but makes fantastic contact whenever he connects compared to a slap hitter who relies on other players to drive them in from first.
If you look beneath the hood O’Neill was actually a lot better than given credit for in a few key areas in 2022. His xwOBA of .340 and xSLG of .423 both ranked in the 67th percentile in the league. Additionally, his chase rate dropped 1.9% from 2021 to 2022 and his whiff rate went from 34.7 percent in 2021 to 30.9 percent in ‘22. His swing and miss percentage against fastballs dropped from 29.1 percent to 21.4 percent and he improved in that area against breaking pitches as well.
In addition to his talent at the dish, O’Neill is also a high-end defender and elite athlete. His sprint speed of 29.8 feet per second ranked 17th amongst all qualified players. His home to first speed of 4.28 seconds was only 0.02 seconds worse than John Berti’s, who is viewed as one of the fastest players in the league. In the field O’Neill has been an above average defender in each of his three seasons with the Cardinals where he has had 68 or more defensive attempts. Last season his outs above average of 2 was tied for fourth amongst all 40 qualified left fielders.
O’Neill saw his launch angle dip down to 13.6 degrees last season, nearly a 4 degree drop from 2021. This is largely due to the fact that his ground ball percentage went from 36.2 percent in 2021 to 42.4 percent in 2022. His flyball percentage on the other hand went from 31.4 percent to 25.2 percent. Additionally, he reverted back to his pre 2021 form in terms of how he used the field as a hitter. His pull percentage jumped nearly 6 percent to 42 percent, the second highest mark of his career and his oppo percentage fell to 22.3 percent, the second lowest total of his career. A hitter having an increase in pull percentage of this nature often indicates they are trying to do too much at the plate and getting out of their approach.
It is more than possible if not likely that we will never see O’Neill reach his 2021 heights for the Cardinals again. However, his 2022 has to be viewed as another success because of the improvements he made in multiple areas as well as how he stacked up to other hitters across the league. If he can stay healthy in 2023, something he has not been able to do over the course of his career, O’Neill should be able to be an impact outfielder for the Cardinals.