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Saturday SOC: Early Season Statcast Oddities

It’s early. And that means some interesting stats that might or might not hold up all season.

MLB: APR 05 Braves at Cardinals Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Good morning, Viva El Birdos!

Happy early Easter, otherwise known as Holy Saturday! This is a busy weekend for me, so sorry that I’m both late with an article and short on content. Still, I don’t want you to be fully deprived today.

It’s early in the season and that’s one of my favorite times to look at baseball statistics. Not because they’re meaningful. They aren’t. We don’t have the sample sizes for either hitters or pitchers to make any kind of predictions or declarations for the season as a whole.

No, I enjoy looking at them after a week or so because the stats are so interesting! Yes... I just outed myself as a nerd but you all already knew that.

As we wait around for an early evening Saturday game, it’s a good time for us to look at some of the weird, unexpected, likely not-lasting stats from the Cardinals. Some are good. Some are bad. Some will hold up — and I’ll tell you which those might be. Some won’t hold up — and I’ll tell you which those might be, too.

These aren’t in any particular order. I don’t have time for organization today. They’re just listed in the order I found them. Starting with the offense.

Jordan Walker’s Walk Rate - 0%

Jordan Walker has 29 plate appearances on the very young season. In those 29 PAs, he’s managed a .321 batting average and an even .500 slugging percentage based on a lot of hard-hit ground balls and his first career home run. Here’s the oddity: his BA is .321. His OBP — on-base percentage — is just .345. His walk rate so far? 0%. He hasn’t drawn a walk yet.

And he’s not alone. Dylan Carlson also hasn’t walked, though he has seen only 13 PAs on the season as he’s settled into his switch-hitting-center-fielder-when-Tyler-O’Neill-is-in-Oli’s-doghouse role that we all expected. Andrew Knizner, who had to start a few games with Willson Contreras fighting a knee contusion, also hasn’t walked.

Is this one of those stats that will prove significant? Yes! I fully expect Jordan Walker to not walk-er all season.

Or course it’s not significant. Not for Walker. Not for Carlson, who should end up with a BB% between 10-12%. Not for Knizner... Ok, maybe for Knizner. Someone has to fill that part of Yadi’s shoes and it won’t be Contreras.

I fully expect Walker to have a low walk rate relative to his power. We saw this at times in the minors. It took him a while to settle into a balanced offensive approach. In AA last year he started with a similar high BABIP, high BA approach with limited power. The power exploded later when he got used to the level. The walks ended up being there — 10.8%. That’s after a 6.1% in A+. What he’s doing now in the majors feels a lot like what I saw from him early in AA last year.

Which might mean the explosion of power is coming. Speaking of that...

Average Exit Velocities - Walker, Carlson, Burleson

Who is leading the team in average exit velocity? Take your guess before you look at the next line.

That’s right! Taylor Motter! He has seen 5 pitches over 2 PAs and has a 114.8 mph avg. EV to show for it. That’s pretty impressive stuff.

After that, based on what I have seen so far, if I was going to rank the team’s offensive starters (plus Carlson) by average exit velocity so far this season — something I do track regularly — I would have put them in this order:

Jordan Walker
Paul Goldschmidt
Alec Burleson
Tyler O’Neill

I would have been wrong. Very wrong. Here’s the actual order with their current average exit velocities:

Paul Goldschmidt — 96.4
Alec Burleson — 93.7
Dylan Carlson — 92.8
Willson Contreras — 92.0

Walker comes in next at 91.3. Who is shocked that Goldy is leading the pack? No one. But I bet many of you are surprised by Burleson, who has done nothing but smoke the ball since he was called up and is finally getting the results he deserves. (.396 wOBA and .263 ISO).

We’ve talked here and on the podcast about the hard work Carlson put in this offseason to improve his exit velocity. He added weight. Did some techy stuff over at Marucci. You can tell he looks bigger and stronger at the plate and so far that doesn’t look like it’s slowed him down in the field. Carlson’s avg. EV was high all spring as well.

What’s real on this list? Goldy, obviously. Walker will likely move ahead of Carlson at some point. Contreras will get the results eventually. He’s a better hitter than I expected him to be. Burleson and Carlson will slip a little in their average once they cool off, but both could easily have impressive numbers relative to expectations.

On to pitching...

Walk Rates — Flaherty, Hicks, Woodford

Walks have been part of the story so far early in the season. The pitching has been pretty abysmal overall and the massive walk totals we are seeing are certainly contributing to the current losing streak. But how widespread is it?

The problem feels worse than it is. Really only three players have a walk rate that’s even concerning.

Jordan Hicks is walking 12.46 batters per 9 innings. That’s a 23.1% BB%.

Jack Flaherty is right there with him. He has an 11.7 BB/9 and a 28.9% BB%. That has translated to a 1.80 ERA and a 6.03 FIP.

Jake Woodford has walked 13.6% of his batters and has a perfect (terrible) 1.0 K/BB ratio.

Neither Hicks nor Flaherty has even been able to balance their walks with their K’s. Both are K’ing just over 15% of the batters they face.

That’s a lot of truly terrible production from two pitchers who are near the top of the list in innings pitched. With two starts, Flaherty leads among starters with 10.0 innings. Hicks is tied with Pallante for second among relievers with 4.1. Perhaps surprisingly, Packy Naughton leads relievers with 5 IPs. Perhaps that’s not so surprising when we consider the team just got swept and lost the first game to the Brewers.

After that, the rest of the pitching staff has done pretty well at limiting free base runners. Zack Thompson is next on the list at a 9.1% walk rate. That’s really good. Especially when you consider his huge breaking ball and his 45.5% strikeout rate. It’s only down from there.

What do we make of this?

Well, Hicks has never displayed control. I don’t know why the Cardinals believe he’s a high-leverage reliever. Despite his high velocity, he’s never been able to miss bats or keep the ball in the zone. He’s not going to continue walking batters at his current rate. But he’s not going to turn that into a strength.

Flaherty is an odder case. I fully expected him to have to spend a few months shaking off a few years of rust, but eventually, he should settle in. His spin rates have looked good. Velocity is down a little, but a lot of that stems from him trying to regain control in his first game and dropping down to 88-91 mph fastballs. He’s not getting hit hard and batters haven’t been able to square him up at all.

The stuff is there. I would guess that either his shoulder is keeping him from replicating his delivery or he just needs more time for everything to loosen up. One of those would be a chronic problem. The other just takes patience. Considering his velocity and spin rates, I lean toward the second option. I think if there was still a shoulder-related issue, he wouldn’t be spinning the ball like he is.

And Woodford? Well, have you checked out what Liberatore is doing down in AAA? And Wainwright is throwing. So, he’s going to have to fix his problems fast or he’ll lose his shot at the rotation.

That’s it for now! The boys in red need to end this losing streak and they have Jordan Montgomery on the mound. I think today is a win. Enjoy your holiday weekend!