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The Emergence of Richie Palacios

Richie Palacios has had some huge moments for the Cardinals after being acquired for practically nothing.

St. Louis Cardinals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

I gotta say, a lot has happened since I went on vacation: Waino tallied win #199, Juniel Querecuto is in the majors, and Matthew Liberatore is in the bullpen. I’ve had a lot to catch up on.

The last article I posted discussed next year’s bullpen, looking at both in-house options and offseason strategies. That article posted on September 5th. Then Matthew Liberatore pitched out of the bullpen two days later.

I did not mention Liberatore as an option in my article.


To be fair, I wasn’t expecting the Cardinals to put him in the bullpen (yet) although I completely understand why they did. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

The other notable development is Richie Palacios’ superstar turn. Okay, fine, I’m being hyperbolic but it’s been cool to see Palacios having big moments.

Take, for example, his home run robbery that first introduced him to Cardinals fans:

Or how about his two home run game:

And then there’s his latest home run which gave the Cardinals a 1-0 victory (one of their few 1-run victories this season):

So, hey, maybe I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that he took a superstar turn. I haven’t watched much baseball in the last two weeks but I’m pretty sure that Palacios is now the best player in baseball.

So where did he come from? How is this happening? And is it sustainable? And how awesome is it that a 26-year-old prospect who began the season in Triple-A with Cleveland is adding some excitement to a losing team? (it’s pretty awesome.) That’s what I want to cover with this article.

Plus, who knows, by the time this article is posted, Palacios may have added another exploit to his resume.

The Background

Teams typically don’t get great players for “cash considerations”. Usually, they don’t even get MLB contributors. Yet that’s exactly what Palacios has become - an MLB contributor. There’s usually not a whole lot of upside attached to 26-year-old minor leaguers traded for cash but Palacios could be different.

Am I being optimistic because it’s fun to see a player come out of nowhere on a losing team? Absolutely. But take a look at his Fangraphs page to understand where I’m coming from.

Take a look at that wRC+ column. It’s pretty impressive. And that’s what I find interesting. Palacios pretty much blew through every level of the minors, including Triple-A, but then weirdly struggled this year with Cleveland while repeating a level he had already dominated.

Stuff like that happens with players all the time (look at Moises Gomez for an example) but it’s still weird. It’s easy to see how the Cardinals saw some upside with Palacios considering his past performance.

It’s not hard to see what went wrong for Palacios in his stint with my local Columbus Clippers this year. Look at his Fangraphs page again and you’ll see it. His power was down but the main issue is that his BABIP dipped to just .249 despite never previously finishing lower than .338 in the minors.

That screams poor batted ball luck to me. You should note that Palacios’ BABIP recovered somewhat after his trade to the Cardinals and his power went right back to normal. As a result, he went right back to dominating Triple-A.

There’s plenty of other things to look at, such as the uptick in walks and decrease in strikeouts, but a lot of Palacios’ underperformance earlier in the season seems BABIP fueled to me. One thing I will add is that he had a career high ground ball rate and career low pull percentage prior to the trade. That’s not typically a great combination when it comes to production.

So that’s this season. But there’s something else weird in Palacios’ profile that you may have noticed. Namely, it seems that he ceased to exist between the 2018 and 2021 seasons.

That’s a key consideration because Palacios was drafted in 2018. So he started his career by playing 45 games after being drafted and then missing the entire 2019 season with a torn labrum and the entire 2020 season because of COVID. So after having only brief exposure to full season ball and not playing in a competitive game for two years, how did Palacios respond in 2021? By dominating Double-A, earning a promtion to Triple-A, and then dominating Triple-A.

But it doesn’t stop there because Palacios then went to the Arizona Fall League and posted a .900 OPS.

That’s pretty incredible.

So the first time that Palacios really struggled at a level was in the majors in 2022. And if not for the two year gap in his career, he likely would have been there much earlier.

So between his MLB struggles in 2022 and Triple-A struggles in the first half of 2023, recent history isn’t kind to Palacios. But when his career is examined in totality, it’s easy to see a good player. So is his resurgence with first the Memphis Redbirds and then the St. Louis Cardinals a mirage or a return to form?

The Profile

We can’t truly know the answer to that question right now but we can look at Palacios’ profile for help. Luckily, Prospects Live provides Triple-A metrics so we have some reference points for Palacios’ MLB numbers.

(I’ll also preface this section by saying that’s it’s practically meaningless to look at a 50 plate appearance sample like we have with Palacios’ Cardinals stint so don’t look too much into those numbers.)

Let’s start with his exit velocity profile.

Richie Palacios EV Profile

Exit Velocity Type Clippers (CLE) Redbirds (STL) Cardinals MLB Average
Exit Velocity Type Clippers (CLE) Redbirds (STL) Cardinals MLB Average
Avg EV 84.5 85.1 87.9 88.4
95% EV 103.3 102.2 103.2 105.6
Max EV 108.7 108.1 106.8 109ish

For the most part, Palacios had the same exit velocity profile between the Clippers and the Redbirds. The average exit velocity ticked up in Memphis but the 95th percentile exit velocity ticked down while the max exit velocities were about the same. Again, more or less it was the same profile.

And then we get to St. Louis where Palacios is hitting the ball harder on average than he was in Triple-A. It’s a notable increase too, rising by about 3 mph, That matters. His top end exit velocities haven’t improved but I would imagine this is helping Palacios produce in the majors even though I’ll hedge my bet against him having somehow unlocked more power, at least for now.

So I don’t expect Palacios to keep an average exit velocity near 88 mph. As he gets more plate appearances, I would expect that number to dip closer to the lefty swinger’s Triple-A marks.

So, right now, at least in terms of EVs, Palacios is probably performing above what can be expected. Basically, it seems like he’s on a hot streak. I don’t expect this to be who he is but that’s not exactly shocking since his wRC+ is a whopping 149 right now. A normalization in exit velocity doesn’t automatically mean he can’t be a good hitter.

Let’s move to Palacios’ batted ball profile next.

Richie Palacios Batted Ball Profile

Batted Ball Type Clippers (CLE) Redbirds (STL) Cardinals MLB Average
Batted Ball Type Clippers (CLE) Redbirds (STL) Cardinals MLB Average
GB% 50.6 44.2 56.1 42.5
FB% 25.3 27.5 29.3 37.5
LD% 24.2 28.3 14.6 20.1
SwSpot% 34.2 39.4 33.3 33.1
Barrel% 2.2 2.3 9.5 6.9

So this is weird. Palacios is raking in the majors despite hitting a ton of ground balls and almost no line drives. That’s unusual. But, again, we should consider the sample size. This will be a much more fruitful exercise if we note that Palacios started hitting the ball in the air more after joining the Cardinals. That’s the key takeaway here.

His numbers improved as he elevated more.

I’m not going to take the time to list his batted ball direction metrics but I will say that Palacios’s pull rate jumped from 32.4% with the Clippers to 36.2% with the Redbirds and then to 40.5% with the Cardinals.

So not only is he hitting the ball in the air more, he’s also pulling the ball more. Generally, that’s a great combination and it helps explain his increased production in the Cardinals organization.

The final call out here is the spike in barrel rate. That helps explain Palacios’ small sample size spike in power and is almost certainly not going to continue. He’s never been great at barreling the ball and 50 plate appearances don’t change my mind, though he does seem to be capable of hitting the ball at ideal launch angles pretty consistently which is a plus.

Next, we have the plate discipline profile.

Richie Palacios Plate Discipline Profile

Plate Discipline Metric Clippers (CLE) Redbirds (STL) Cardinals MLB Average
Plate Discipline Metric Clippers (CLE) Redbirds (STL) Cardinals MLB Average
Swing% 45.8 43.2 47.2 47.1
Chase% 26.6 24.6 26.8 28.5
BB% 15.2 16.4 4.0 8.6

This is really where I want to dig in.

It’s easy to see the change between the Clippers and the Redbirds. Palacios chased less, swung less overall, and walked more. That sequence all makes sense. I would love to know what his in zone swing rate was as a hitter hasn’t necessarily improved his plate discipline by chasing less if he also swung at fewer pitches in the zone too. That just means he swung less overall.

A hitter truly improved his plate discipline if he maintained simply dropped his chase rate without a corresponding drop in in zone swing rate. Unfortunately, I don’t have those numbers for Palacios. At least not for his time in Triple-A so we can only gloss over it.

What I will say is that while Palacios is chasing more in the majors, he’s also seen an even bigger increase in overall swing rate. That means that while he is chasing more, he’s swinging at more strikes too, and disproportionately more strikes. That matters.

So you’ve probably gathered that a strength of Palacios is his plate discipline. I mean, his walk rates are just insane, and they have been throughout his career.

Even in the majors this year, his chase rate is about 2% below the league average while his in zone swing rate is right at the league average. So he swings at an average amount of strikes and a less-than-average amount of balls. That’s exactly what you want a hitter to do.

Yet, Palacios has a 4% walk rate. For starers, that simply doesn’t match his historical walk rates, but it also doesn’t make sense when considering his chase rate. For example, Palacios has a chase rate in the Andrew Benintendi, Josh Rojas, and Charlie Blackmon territory. Those three hitters have walk rates between 8 and 10 percent. That’s probably about where Palacios should be right now.

And yes, that’s still lower than his career rates in the minors but there are two connected reasons for that. Palacios is swinging more than he did in the minors but that’s likely because he’s seeing a well above average amount of pitches in the zone.

Keep in mind that we’re still dealing with small sample sizes but Palacios is doing exactly what a hitter needs to when pitchers pound the zone - he’s swinging more. That means he’s putting more balls in play and his numbers are generated more from his results on contact and less from his walks.

If pitchers started throwing him fewer pitches in the zone, I would expect to see him start swinging less, and thus walking more. So his walk rate should probably be in the 8-10% range right now but it could go even higher based on how pitchers approach him. It would be unrealistic to expect Palacios to post a 4% walk rate in any meaningful sample. He’s far too disciplined of a hitter for that.

We’re now left with just one more area to examine - Palacios’ contact profile.

Richie Palacios Contact Profile

Metric Clippers (CLE) Redbirds (STL) Cardinals MLB Average
Metric Clippers (CLE) Redbirds (STL) Cardinals MLB Average
IZ Contact% 84.7 88.7 86.6 82.0
Whiff% 19 15.5 15.1 24.8
K% 15.2 10.3 12.0 22.7

You may have seen Palacios’ walk rates and thought that plate discipline was the best part of his game, but it’s not. His contact ability is his strongest asset. He simply refuses to swing and miss, can hit pretty much anything in the zone, and rarely strikes out.

I’m not saying that this is his most valuable tool necessarily but it is his best tool and all you have to do is compare these numbers to the MLB average to see just how far Palacios rates in the upper echelon of even MLB hitters.

I also want to point out the drastic improvement that Palacios has made since coming to the Cardinals. He was already a good contact hitter but he’s really elevated his game since the trade in June. That’s huge for him because he needs to be an elite contact hitter to succeed with so little power and these improvements give him a better chance of doing just that.


So, we’ve learned some things about Palacios as a whole and about what changed for him after being traded to the Cardinals. I’ll start with the latter.

Since being traded, Palacios has elevated the ball more, pulled the ball more, hit the ball harder on average, and made a lot more contact. It’s almost like he’s a brand new hitter and that’s reflected in his improved numbers. It’s not just improved batted ball luck that has made Palacios a better hitter in the Cardinals organization. He truly has been a better hitter.

As a whole, Palacios is a disciplined hitter with the potential for double digit walk rates but it’s his hit tool that really stands out. The lefty hitter makes contact with everything, which is an especially great trait to have when he limits his chases.

He is limited by his lack of power but it remains to be seen just how much of a limiting factor that will be given that he is hitting the ball harder than usual during this hot streak. If we take Palacios’ 85.1 mph average exit velocity with the Memphis Redbirds as a good representation of how much power he will have in the majors (which isn’t necessarily the case) then Palacios is left with a 1st percentile average exit velocity. That’s rough and it does concern me.

It’s not impossible for him to be a productive hitter with so little power; it’s just unlikely. With that said, Jake Fraley has a 115 wRC+ with an 85.1 mph average exit velocity this year so there is some precedent.

Palacios almost certainly isn’t a 149 wRC+ hitter but can he be an average hitter? Maybe. I generally bet against that for hitters with so little power but elite contact and good discipline does give him a chance. Ultimately, we won’t know for sure until we see more from Palacios.

Regardless, it’s been a lot of fun seeing a player that was largely unknown at the beginning of the season have so many big moments this team. These are the kinds of things that make a losing season fun.

Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a fantastic Sunday.