St. Louis Cardinals: Learning to appreciate Harrison Bader’s defense

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 07: Harrison Bader #48 of the St. Louis Cardinals makes the diving catch in the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on August 7, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 07: Harrison Bader #48 of the St. Louis Cardinals makes the diving catch in the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on August 7, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals are finding consistent playing time for one of the best defensive outfielders in the league – Harrison Bader.

The St. Louis Cardinals have one of the best defensive players in all of major league baseball.  No, I am not talking about annual gold-glove candidate Yadier Molina.  I am talking about wunderkind outfielder Harrison Bader.

An outfield with Bader in it is better than it is without him. The likes of Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler need the machine-like abilities of Bader roaming the field in center. Even more so, Bader is a dramatic improvement over Tommy Pham. That is not meant to take anything away from Pham but Bader is simply better defensively.

Before I say another word about Bader’s prowess roaming the outfield, take a look at some of his gems.

In this next video, Bader sprinted at 30 feet per second covering 92 feet to catch a ball that only had a 13% catch probability.  That is a five-star catch.

Let’s just call this a routine diving catch by Bader.

Another early-season robbery, this time of the Chicago Cubs.

Finally, we have Bader victimizing Joey Votto.

The above-listed videos provide a glimpse of a rising star St. Louis Cardinal.  These are some of the reasons why Harrison Bader won the heart and hustle award for the Cardinals, and why he continues to impress in his young career.

While Bader passes the eye test with gravity-defying dives and leaping grabs, we should take a deeper dive into his defense to assess whether he is truly one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.

The statistics show that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball.

This year, the St. Louis Cardinals have deployed Harrison Bader in all three outfield positions.  He has played in 70 games and tallied just over 500 innings in the outfield, with the bulk of his time coming in right field and center field (since the Tommy Pham trade).  In that time, Bader has exactly one error.  He has five outfield assists, and 136 putouts.

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Bader has recorded 16 defensive runs saved, he has an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 6.1 and a UZR/150 (runs above average on defense across 150 games) of 19.5.   Most of that value, according to Fangraphs, comes from his time in center field – one of the most important and difficult defensive positions on the diamond (especially when he is regularly flanked by subpar defenders).  He has made 100% of his routine and likely plays, and he makes more than half of the very difficult or unlikely plays in the outfield.

Do you prefer Statcast?  He is tied for the MLB lead in outs above average.  He has made 100% of catches with more than 50% catch probability out of 32 chances recorded by Statcast.  More impressively, he has made 5/6 4-star catches, which have a catch probability of 26-50%.  Most impressively, he has made 6 5-star catches out of 12 opportunities.

That ties him for the league lead in five-star catches with Lorenzo Cain – and Bader has a better 5-star catch percentage than Cain who has made 6 5-star catches out of 16 chances (Hamilton has 5/22 chances).  In fact, Bader has the highest 5-star catch percentage out of anyone with more than 2 chances.

One way Bader gets to all of those balls in the outfield is his blazing speed.  He is one of only five players in the MLB this season to eclipse 30 feet per second in top sprint speed.  That is only .1 slower than Billy Hamilton and .5 slower than Byron Buxton – the only two players ahead of Bader.  That’s seven feet per second faster than Yadi’s top speed.

St. Louis Cardinals have a historically good defensive prospect.

The St. Louis Cardinals have not seen a player like Bader roaming the outfield at least since Peter Borjous was in St. Louis.  Bader has the potential to be as gifted a fielder we have seen since Jim Edmonds and Willie McGee.  The main question is will his bat catch up to his blazing speed and world-beater defense?  That is a question that remains to be seen.

The only good that I can see from the Tommy Pham trade is that it freed up Harrison Bader to play center field for the St. Louis Cardinals.  We are now treated, nightly, to this amazing player.  This is how it feels to watch Billy Hamilton every night, Cardinals fans.  But, we all know Bader has much better flow than Hamilton and hits better than Hamilton too.

I just hope he can develop into a better on base guy so he does not get benched in the future.  Either way, this is an exciting player for years to come and he should be a front runner for a gold glove this year.  Get your salsa ready.

Next. JAG is in the building. dark

What do you think?  Do you think Bader’s ascension as a defensive superstar has placed him atop the national league defensive leader boards?  Is he better defensively than Lorenzo Cain and Billy Hamilton?  Let me know what you think on Twitter.