St. Louis Cardinals: Don’t give up on Tyler O’Neill just yet

Tyler O’Neill hasn’t seen results often this year for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, he’s putting together the foundation for success.

By most statistics, the St. Louis Cardinals outfield is among the worst offensive groups in the MLB. The group has plenty of potential, but there’s a reason why they frequently bat 7-8-9 in the order.

Between Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Lane Thomas, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O’Neill, the Cardinals have gotten just 13 homers and 37 RBI which, funny enough, is exactly the production the Braves have gotten from Marcell Ozuna on the year.

I am not a fan of bashing the Cards for not signing Ozuna because there’s no guarantee he would’ve put up that production here, but the fact that the Cardinals’ entire outfield has equaled his production is pretty bad. It says more about the Cardinals than Ozuna.

With Fowler on the IL and Carlson in the Minors again, the Cardinals have told Bader, O’Neill, and Thomas that this is their time to show what they’ve got. To this point, Bader has been the only one who has been performing well and the seat below Tyler O’Neill has heated up recently.

Now, I have been on the Tyler O’Neill bandwagon for a very long time. I love his power/speed combo, and I think he has a ton of potential. This year, we haven’t seen much in terms of production from him though.

On the year, he has a .192/.279/.384 slash line with five homers and has an 80 wRC+. When you look at the deeper numbers, his hard hit percentage and other underlying statistics don’t tell a very exciting tale either.

By the eye test, we’ve seen O’Neill really in between at times at the plate this year. During his recent stretch of struggles, O’Neill has a lot of weak fly outs to right field like these.

He’s been visibly frustrated with himself at the plate, but slowly, we’ve seen him get more comfortable, especially in the last week or so. I’m not writing this piece based on just the last couple of games though.

I felt myself falling off the O’Neill bandwagon, so I dug into his stats to see if there was any reason for hope. Interestingly, there was.

Whether or not you have noticed, O’Neill is a completely different hitter at the plate this year batting profile-wise. He dropped his strikeout rate 9 points to 26.1% and upped his walk rate by 2.5% up to 9%. He’s in the top 1% in sprint speed, and statistically, he grades out as a better left fielder than Bader does in center field. O’Neill’s 4 OAA in left beats Bader’s 3 OAA in center, even if he looks awkward at times out there.

With all due respect to everyone’s opinion of O’Neill based on the eye test, the defensive stats don’t lie. He’s a really good left fielder.

O’Neill hasn’t seen results yet, but in the long run, changing as a batter at the plate pays off. That is what we are seeing with Paul DeJong. Last year, he didn’t hit the ball very hard on average and was at best average by OPS+/wRC+. However, he continued his three-year trend of lowering his strikeout rate and increasing his walk rate. This year we see a much more complete hitter.

DeJong has built his foundational plate approach and is now creating off of it. This year, we have seen O’Neill completely redesign his approach too. When you think about it in that lense, it’s no surprise that he isn’t always getting results when he’s focusing on adjusting his approach.

At a certain point, the results need to be there for O’Neill though. The Cardinals can’t survive with an outfield like this forever. What I will say though, is that if the Cardinals trade O’Neill away, don’t be surprised if he turns into a good major leaguer somewhere else if this change in approach holds.

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An improved approach at the plate will pay off for O’Neill eventually. The better the approach, the better value O’Neill will have to the Cardinals. If he can keep walking more and striking out less without sacrificing power, he’s going to be scary at the plate. For now, don’t give up on O’Neill just yet. The foundation for success is there, it just hasn’t happened quite yet.

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