St. Louis Cardinals: The Dark Horse leadoff option
The leadoff position has been a revolving door for the St. Louis Cardinals in recent years. There is a candidate who might just take the job after a strong spring.
Ever since the beginning of the end of Matt Carpenter, the St. Louis Cardinals have struggled to find productivity at the top of the lineup. As Matt Graves mentioned, they ranked near last in the league in wRC+ from that spot, only ahead of the Cubs.
Enter Harrison Bader. He is a very talented athlete and an other-worldly defender. The problem for him has always been whether or not he can hit at the major league level. This spring may be the turning point in the young outfielder’s career.
For starters, he is walking at a much higher rate. In 2018, his first full season, Bader walked in just 7.3% of his plate appearances. In 2019, this number jumped up to 11.3%. Had he qualified, 11.3% would have tied him for 31st in MLB in walk rate. Thus far in spring, Bader is walking in 17.6% of his plate appearances.
For comparison’s sake, I sorted all players by number of plate appearances in the leadoff position across MLB in 2019, and then I compared some walk rates. Whit Merrifield led the league in PA while hitting leadoff, but only walked 6.3% of the time. Marcus Semien was second and walked 11.6% of the time.
More from St Louis Cardinals News
- Lars Nootbaar is a prime Cardinals trade candidate
- Cardinals: Former MLB GM calls Jordan Walker a superstar for 2023
- Cardinals: Cubs looking to make major moves this offseason
- St. Louis Cardinals: New CBA rule encourages Jordan Walker’s promotion
- Cardinals: These are the ways St. Louis can free up more payroll
When looking at this data, the highest walk rate I could find (min 350 PA in leadoff position) belonged to Mookie Betts with a 13.2% walk rate. If Bader can match this number, he can be a more than serviceable leadoff hitter.
For the hell of it, I also sorted hitters by walks when batting eighth, where Bader recorded a large majority of his PAs. From those hitters, Bader was third in walk rate behind Carson Kelly and Yan Gomes. Make of that what you will, I just thought I’d point it out that Bader did have a solid walk rate in 2019.
Another trend I want to point out is this: When sorted by walks out of the leadoff position, only one player in the top 13 hitters had an OPS under .800, and that was Lorenzo Cain. His name gets an asterisk due to health and age. But the general trend is that a high walk rate correlates directly to a high OPS.
As baseball becomes more and more reliant upon statistics, more opportunities arise for players to identify and resolve weaknesses in their game. This data has allowed me to demonstrate that, should he hit above say .250, Harrison Bader will make quite the leadoff hitter.