Since this week is the All-Star break across Major League Baseball, we figured it would be the perfect time to assess the Cardinals on their progress thus far this season. As a team, St. Louis comes into the break with a disappointing 44-44 record.
Where does the blame lie? We'll evaluate the players to figure out what went right, what went wrong and what needs to happen going forward for the Cardinals to have some success down the stretch.
Let's get right to it by determining how the Cardinals outfielders grade out so far in 2019:
Harrison Bader: D+
Bader’s defensive aptitude hasn’t changed. He still resides near the top of Statcast’s Catch Probability leaderboard, registering an OAA (Outs Above Average) score of 9, which ranks behind only Victor Robles, Kevin Kiermaier and Byron Buxton in all of baseball. Cardinals pitchers love having Bader roam center field behind them—at least until he’s batting with the game on the line. Before June 14, Bader flashed a rock-solid .245/.363/.455 batting line, which made him an exceptionally valuable player once you factor in his defensive impact.
Unfortunately, once he hit the wall, he hit it hard. And the wall is about all he’s hit hard for three weeks. Since June 14, Bader has been Brandon Moss circa September 2016, except… worse. Bader’s slash line is .096/.175/.096 since then. That mega-slump brings his season line to .205/.316/.359. Considering Bader’s fine start to the season, it’s harsh that he should land in the D-range with his grade. But when you’re practically an automatic out for three weeks during a team-wide offensive drought, it’s hard to justify a placement any higher than this.
Dexter Fowler: B+
The Dexter Fowler comeback season is in full swing in St. Louis. After a disastrous 2018, Fowler has performed so far this season as though last year never really happened. Fowler’s 110 wRC+ in 2019 stands just 11 points below the 121 wRC+ he posted in 2017, his first year in St. Louis. Fully healthy again, Fowler also seemed to have received a jolt from the chance to roam centerfield again on occasion. He’s posted positive Defensive Runs Saved numbers at the position, and could be in line for more opportunity there after the break, given the struggles of Harrison Bader.
In a lineup that’s featured plenty of underachievers, Fowler’s been a steady presence. It’s hard to deny the consternation that existed within the fan base regarding the Cardinals’ decision to stick with Fowler after last season, but Dex has rewarded the team’s patience. Expectations always factor into these grades, and there isn’t a lot more the Cardinals could have asked for out of him. For the record, Bryce Harper’s wRC+ is 118, just eight points better.
Jose Martinez: C
For a while early this season, it seemed like all Jose Martinez did was hit. He reached his peak with a .375 average on May 1, but in the two-plus months since, Martinez has slogged to a .241 average with a .708 OPS. While we can’t entirely discount his production in the season’s first month, Martinez’s value has always been about his bat. If he’s not consistently producing offensively, he quickly becomes a liability in the lineup because of his deficiencies as a defender. For the year, Martinez is slashing .285/.343/.426—passable, if unexceptional. If Martinez can go on another of his hitting sprees in the second half, Cardinals fans would thank him for it. But for now, 2019 has been just so-so for the energetic outfielder.
Tyler O’Neill: C-
Shuttling back and forth between everyday playing time in the minors—thriving there with exceptional power numbers—and sparse opportunity in the bigs can’t be an easy task for someone like Tyler O’Neill. When he’s got it going in Memphis, it feels like his raw ability is just waiting to be unboxed at the next level. But then things don’t pan out, for one reason or another. That’s been the story for O’Neill this season, as his .648 OPS (though in a limited, 66 at-bat sample) is lower than any other outfielder on the roster. We don’t want to be too hard on him, given the small sample, but if he’s ever going to establish himself in a more prominent role with the Cardinals, the production will need to increase for O’Neill.
Marcell Ozuna: B+
If you can look beyond the most hilarious fielding blunder of the 21st century, Marcell Ozuna’s had a pretty strong year for the Cardinals.
Before he went on the injured list with injured fingers at the end of June, Ozuna was probably the biggest force in the Cardinals lineup. Ozuna’s .515 SLG and .847 OPS easily leads the club’s season-long regulars, as do his 20 home runs and 62 RBIs. In a contract year, Ozuna had been impactful in the batter’s box, and spry and energetic on the basepaths until that awkward dive back into first base put him out of commission. Hopefully, the Cardinals get their left fielder back in a few weeks, and he can get back into a groove in the meat of the St. Louis batting order. In what could be his final months with the Cardinals, he’d surely like to go out with a bang before earning a fat check in free agency.
Lane Thomas: A-
Hey, Lane Thomas hasn’t had much of a chance with the Cardinals—he’s not even on the roster right now, replaced on July 5 by Rangel Ravelo, a guy with so little impact in his eight big-league at-bats this season that I didn’t bother assigning him a grade. But Thomas did a nice job for the Cardinals earlier in the season. For the year, he’s gone 4-for-13 with a walk and a home run. His athleticism makes him an interesting candidate for a call-up and some playing time in the second half of the year.
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