Who would represent the St. Louis Cardinals in a must-win home run derby?
By Matt Benson
With lots of discussion happening to get us baseball in 2020, one idea is to decide all extra-innings games with a home run derby. This poses the question of who would represent the 2020 St. Louis Cardinals in a must-win battle of the homer?
The idea is an interesting one, particularly in a potentially shortened season when there are going to be fewer off-days and more games back-to-back. This means minimizing the number of long extra-inning games is important for player health. But could a home run derby to finish extra-inning games be realistic for the St. Louis Cardinals?
Justin Turner, the third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, came up with an idea which won’t be for everyone (get ready to hate on this baseball traditionalists) but would be an interesting watch. Turner’s proposal is: if a game is tied after the normal nine innings, then a tenth inning would be played to try and decide the match. If the game stays tied at the end of the tenth, then the game should be completed via a home run derby between the two teams.
This not only saves player health and stops any marathon games (like the Cards 19 inning epic against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019), but also keeps fans in the stands until the end of the game.
The logistics of the derby would be a three-man competition for each side with each hitter having all five outs. Then the team with the most home runs from their three hitters, after all 15 outs have been made, would get the W for the game.
In 2019, there were a total of 117 games in MLB that were tied at the end of the tenth (out of 2,429 games in total) and therefore would have utilized this home run derby to decide the game. For the St. Louis Cardinals, the team played in five games of at least 11 innings where the fans would have seen a home run derby. These would have come against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres and twice against the Miami Marlins.
Power hitting isn’t necessarily the Cardinals forte, with the redbirds finishing with the seventh-fewest homers (210) in 2019, behind even the Baltimore Orioles. But home run derbies require a slightly different skill set, particularly for those players who struggle with breaking balls.
This, therefore, opens up an interesting question: If the Cardinals were to play a must-win home run derby to decide a tied game, who would be the three best players to participate?
The easy selection: Paul Goldschmidt
Goldy was the simplest choice when choosing these Cardinals derby participants. Goldy is the Redbirds’ key power bat with his team-leading 34 homers in 2019. This was preceded by four of the prior six years with at least 33 homers in Arizona, really showing his power.
Additionally, Goldschmidt currently stands at number 20 on the all-time active player list for the most home-runs hit (243). Of these top 20 players, he has the sixth-highest homers hit per season (27) behind only Albert Pujols (34.5), Mike Trout (31.7), Giancarlo Stanton (30.8), Miguel Cabrera (28.1) and Edwin Encarnacion (27.6).
All-in-all making Paul a simple choice for the first man on the list for St. Louis Cardinals home run derby lineup!
The youthful exuberance: Tyler O’Neill
Youth has recently been a sign of success in home run derbies with the average age of the winners over the last 4 home run derbies being just 25 years old. The St. Louis Cardinals have a number of players who tick this youthful box and have shown some good signs with the bat. Lane Thomas, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O’Neill would all be interesting options for this second position in the derby lineup.
Lane Thomas topped all Cardinals batters in 2019 with the highest number of barrels per plate appearance (9.1%). This is a good indicator of hitting the ball hard which could be optimized for a home run derby, particularly with his average exit velocity (91.7 mph) coming in second place on the team and 32nd in all of MLB (with at least 25 batted ball attempts) in 2019.
Dylan Carlson is an interesting option. He greatly upped his power in 2019, hitting 26 bombs at AA Springfield and AAA Memphis plus has the confidence and drive to really excel in a derby, particularly when the pressure is on.
However, Tyler O’Neill is the choice to take that second spot on the derby lineup. He has raw power (I mean just take a look at the guy!), is excellent against fastballs (with eight of his 13 career home runs coming on the fastball) and his key challenge to date has been his inability to deal with breaking balls. In a home run derby, breaking balls can be removed and O’Neill can go to town on hitting fastball after fastball out of the park!
Tyler, therefore, takes the second spot on the derby lineup as a great second option behind Goldy.
The challenging decision: Harrison Bader
This final spot is really not an easy one. Lots of options here with Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader all coming to mind as good options to fill the final spot on the derby team. All are different hitters with different qualities to bring to the plate.
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Matt Carpenter had an excellent year for home runs in 2018, hitting a career-high 36, but regressed back to the mean with 15 in 2019 which was much closer to his career season average (16.4). Carp has the power to hit a bomb, evidently from 2018, but traditionally has been more of a doubles machine so I think there are better options out there than a guy who has struggled for consistent power of late.
Pauly D was really close to taking this for me. His 30 home runs in 2019 were second-highest on the St. Louis Cardinals, and he’s averaged nearly 25 bombs a year since hitting the majors.
Paul though doesn’t show up well on the advanced stats with a poor average exit velo (87.0 mph which is in the bottom quartile of all qualified hitters in 2019), poor hard-hit percentage (34% which is also in the bottom quartile of all qualified hitters in 2019) and an average barrel per plate attempt (5.7% which is marginally above the 2019 mean for MLB). Therefore he may not necessarily excel in a home run derby situation.
This leaves Harrison Bader. A crazy choice some might think after his .205 batting average in 2019 and .366 SLG, but there is certainly hope here. Similar to O’Neill, Bader mashes against fastballs with a .611 xSLG in 2019 against the fastball. Which, if maintained through a full season, would have finished fifth overall in MLB ahead of the likes of Anthony Rendon, Jorge Soler, and J.D Martinez.
Bader has hit 12 bombs in back-to-back years now, and his average home run distance (412 ft) further shows off his power. That lengthy average home run distance of 412 ft topped the 2019 Cardinals and puts him in the top 7% of all qualified hitters in MLB. So although not a conventional choice, Bader has the advanced stats to really kick the St. Louis Cardinals derby lineup towards a winner.
The home run derby lineup then is set, with Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader completing the three participants. The St. Louis Cardinals may not necessarily scare all that many teams if they were to take them on, but with Goldys big bat and experience, plus the raw power and youth of O’Neill and Bader this could make a challenging matchup for lots of NL teams!