More than 50 games into the 2018 season, an unexpected player is the St. Louis Cardinals’ best outfielder. He may be the team’s best player, period.
Ozuna was coming off a 2017 campaign in which he hit .312 with 37 home runs and 124 RBI. The team had finally found its impact bat, or so we thought. He’s largely been a huge disappointment so far. He only has three home runs and has a .652 OPS (as of the time of this writing).
Pham also had a monster season in 2017, posting a .931 OPS and 6.2 rWAR. In March and April, it seemed he was out to prove that 2017 was no fluke. He posted a .964 OPS and was without question our best player. However, he hit .195 in May, striking out 32 times. He has been benched a few times recently simply because he’s not producing.
Fowler is largely a waste of space. Let me preface this by saying that he does have five hits over his last two games (as of the time of this writing), so maybe he’s coming around. But, overall he’s been worth -1.0 rWAR this season. He provides no value to the St. Louis Cardinals. None.
In terms of OPS, Fowler is the ninth worst hitter in all of baseball. And, in terms of defensive runs saved (DRS), he’s the third worst right fielder in baseball. He’s been worth -0.6 BsR (base running runs above average), so he is also a bad base runner. Why is he playing? That’s for another post…
So, one of the supposed strengths of the team has been below average. There has been one bright spot, however… Harrison Bader.
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Bader has quite literally been our best position player so far. He’s tied with Paul DeJong (who I know would be leading the team if not injured) with 1.7 rWAR, and he’s done it in half the plate appearances. Ozuna, Pham, and Fowler all have at least 192 PA. Bader has 108.
Bader has done everything well. He has an .830 OPS with five home runs. He’s also stolen six bases. He has 10 DRS in the outfield. That’s the third best total in all of baseball, and he’s played 200 less innings than the leader (Brett Gardner has 12 DRS). He’s also been worth 1.1 BsR, so he’s an above average baserunner too. What more can you ask of the guy right now?!
He also just plays the game extremely hard and the right way, something that not all of our outfielders can say. How many times has Fowler not hustled? It has cost the team on several occasions – last night is an example. He jogged after a ball and the Pirates’ hitter got a triple instead of a double. Again… why is he playing?!
Back to Bader… the guy has to play everyday. It should mainly come at the expense of Fowler, but we all know Matheny and/or Mozeliak won’t relegate him to a bench role. That would mean they are admitting that they wasted $82 million. So, it will have to come at the expense of all the outfielders.
Ozuna, Pham, and Fowler should slide into the lineup based on match-ups after Bader’s name has been penciled in there.
There’s really no arguing against Bader’s case to play everyday. He’s our best player, at least for right now. Can anyone find a reason why he shouldn’t be playing each game? Let me know if you do. Thanks for reading.