This is now the second article in my predictions series. I started with the rotation, and if you haven’t read that article yet, you can find it here.
I’ll skip the preamble for this piece. If you want to know why I’m using ZIPS projections prorated for Depth Chart’s playing time projections or if you want to know more about ZIPS, let me refer you to the article I linked above.
Let’s now press on and see which members of the St. Louis Cardinals outfield are going to overperform or underperform their projections and let’s start with the newest baseball sensation - Lars Nootbaar
Lars Nootbaar ZIPS Projection
490 PA, .228/.328/.440, 20 HR, 13.0% BB%, 21.0% K%, .248 BABIP, 118 wRC+, 2.8 fWAR
This is an easy one for me. I feel confident that, barring injury, Nootbaar will break the 3 WAR threshold. 2.8 fWAR isn’t a bad projection for a player but that’s just above the WAR total Nootbaar tallied last year (2.7), and he did that in only 347 plate appearances. That put him on pace for 4.7 fWAR/600 PAs.
So, when I see a player with that kind of success and then I read about the work he’s put in over the offseason, it’s easy for me to take the over on a 2.8 WAR projection.
This is a player with high-end power and elite plate discipline as he finished in the 90th percentile or better in both average exit velocity and chase rate. In fact, he was 1 of just 4 players to accomplish the feat, with the other 3 being Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, and Matt Chapman. He was also just 1 of 23 players with a double digit walk rate and an ISO above .200 (min. 250 PAs).
No matter which way you slice it, Nootbaar is a truly impressive hitter with some unique traits. And it gets better because he’s also an above average defender in the outfield (4 DRS, 0 OAA in 2022), who has even made some highlight reel plays as the center fielder for Japan in the World Baseball Classic.
LARS NOOTBAAR WHAT AN UNBELIEVABLE CATCH!!— Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander) March 10, 2023
This article isn’t just about Lars Nootbaar so I don’t want to spend too long discussing him, but it’s hard not to! He excels at pretty much every part of the game and even though he has just 471 major league plate appearances to his name, I’m expecting him to be at least a 3 WAR player in the upcoming season.
I understand the conservative projection due to Nootbaar’s lack of power in the minors and lack of experience in the majors, but I do think this estimate comes up short.
The Verdict - Over
Will Lars Nootbaar finish with an fWAR over or under 2.8?
This poll is closed
Dylan Carlson ZIPS Projection
504 PA, .250/.326/.413, 13 HR, 9.2% BB%, 20.8% K%, .295 BABIP, 111 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR
This is another easy one for me. Dylan Carlson has been a regular starter for 2 full seasons (not including 2020) and do you know how many times he finished with 2 fWAR or less? Never. Even last year when Carlson dealt with a wrist injury and lost all his power last year, he still finished the season with 2.4 fWAR.
This is a curious projection, though, because I don’t have an issue with the offensive components of it yet I think the WAR figure is low. Last year, Carlson had a 100 wRC+ and the year before that, he was at 113. So a 111 wRC+ projection actually seems pretty reasonable.
So how does someone who’s bat is projected to get better than it was last year, get projected for a lower WAR total? My guess - it’s the defense. That’s really what we need to consider here when thinking about whether or not Carlson can clear the 2 fWAR mark.
And who knows what Carlson will do on defense this year. He’s been a mixed bag in his MLB career, posting 3 DRS in right field in 2021 and -5 DRS at that same spot in 2022. But if you think he took a step back in 2022, you would be mistaken as he actually increased his DRS in center field from -2 in 2021 to 6 in 2022.
If we look at OAA, Carlson took a step forward everywhere in 2022, going from -3 to -1 in right field and 0 to 3 in centerfield.
It is tough to predict how good Carlson will be defensively in 2023 but there’s an extra layer of complexity as well since we don’t know definitively what position he will play this year. My guess will be center field but there’s certainly a chance that O’Neill or Nootbaar take the position as their primary defensive assignment too.
If Carlson is playing centerfield, then he’ll get a boost as good center field defense provides more WAR than good left or right field defense. I’m somewhat bullish on Carlson’s ability to be an average or better defensive player so that’s why I’m willing to take the over on this projection.
The Verdict - Over
Will Dylan Carlson finish with an fWAR over or under 2.0?
This poll is closed
Tyler O’Neill ZIPS Projection
574 PA, .249/.320/.459, 28 HR, 8.3% BB%, 28.3% K%, .305 BABIP, 122 wRC+, 3.8 fWAR
I’m a believer in Tyler O’Neill. I want to state that up front because O’Neill is the only outfielder I will take the under on. And that’s because jumping from 1.3 fWAR to 3.8 fWAR is a lot. O’Neill clearly has the talent to bounce back in a big way this year but there’s a lot of other considerations beyond talent in my assessment here.
The first is obviously health. Injury issues kept O’Neill off the field a lot last year, and even when he was playing he wasn’t exactly right. That’s a huge reason for his massive drop of from 5.6 WAR in 2021 to 1.3 WAR in 2022.
Will O’Neill be fully healthy all year? Nobody knows. He absolutely could be and if he is then I’m sure my prediction will be wrong and I sincerely hope it is.
The other consideration is Jordan Walker. And, to a lesser extent, the other young outfielders like Alec Burleson, Juan Yepez, and Moises Gomez. If the Cardinals decide to move an outfielder (maybe at the deadline for pitching help), then I would expect O’Neill to be the odd man out.
I think Nootbaar’s job is the safest and I think the Cardinals will have Carlson ahead of O’Neill because he has more years of control left and he still has plenty of untapped potential. It’s difficult to know where Jordan Walker fits into this equation but this year, to me, seems like a competition between Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill to see who has a long term future with the club and who is trade bait.
Everything I’ve said could be completely wrong but we really don’t know anything yet so it’s all grasping at straws at this point. As of now, I’m guessing O’Neill will lose that competition, in part due to reasons outside his control.
So, what happens if O’Neill gets hurt for a few weeks and Walker comes up to St. Louis and rakes? Does O’Neill come back into the lineup when he’s healthy? Who does he displace? These are all things to consider, especially given O’Neill’s injury history.
Maybe I’m looking into this too much and maybe the excess of outfield depth and Jordan Walker situation won’t affect O’Neill’s ability to reach 3.8 fWAR but with the uncertainty there and the injury history of O’Neill, I’m not willing to project him as essentially a 4 WAR player this year even though he could very well reach that mark.
To me, this is the toughest prediction to make but unfortunately I’m going to be a bit pessimistic here and take the under.
The Verdict - Under
Will Tyler O’Neill finish with an fWAR over or under 3.8?
This poll is closed
Jordan Walker ZIPS Projection
441 PA, .237/.299/.380, 10 HR, 7.0% BB%, 25.8% K%, .303 BABIP, 94 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR
Just for fun, I added Jordan Walker to this piece so you all can see his ZIPS projection if you haven’t yet and so we can make a prediction about perhaps the most interesting player who will be on the roster at some point this year.
I’m absolutely taking the over. No questions asked. Perhaps I’m looking at Walker through spring-training colored glasses but after watching him completely wreck the grapefruit league and make a few nice plays in the outfield, I don’t see a way in which he finishes below 0.5 fWAR unless he doesn’t come up until late in the season.
Will Jordan Walker finish with an fWAR over or under 0.5?
This poll is closed
Before I end this piece, I want to recap you on the voting results for the starting pitchers.
Jordan Montgomery (2.7 fWAR) - 71% Over
Steven Matz (1.2 fWAR) - 88% over
Miles Mikolas (1.9 fWAR) - 89% over
Adam Wainwright (1.1 fWAR) - 55% under
Jack Flaherty (1.5 fWAR) - 66% over
The results for the starters went about how I expected them to go, with Adam Wainwright being the only pitcher predicted by readers to finish below his ZIPS projection.
For the outfielders, I wouldn’t be shocked to see readers take the over on every player and that would be understandable even though I didn’t do that. Remember to get your votes in and hit the comments to explain your reasoning or talk about anything else you want to talk about.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t include Alec Burleson and Juan Yepez, that’s because I’ll have a separate piece featuring all the bench players. Be on the lookout for that and a piece on the infielders and the bullpen as well.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Sunday!