The St. Louis Cardinals have not had a great offense all season. For the rest of 2020, Dylan Carlson should be in as cleanup hitter.
By almost every offensive statistic other than on-base percentage, the St. Louis Cardinals have a bottom-five offense in the league. They don’t hit for power, they don’t hit for average, they don’t excel at limiting strikeouts, but man can they take walks.
Outside of Paul Goldschmidt and Brad Miller, the Cardinals don’t have a single player above a 105 wRC+. Even though Miller sits at a 121 wRC+, the bulk of that was earned in the first half of the season.
Since September 1, Miller has hit for a slash of just .200/.299/.424. This is no fault of Miller’s as he wasn’t expected to contribute as he has, but the problem is that during the past month, he has hit almost exclusively cleanup.
Enter Dylan Carlson.
Carlson was not good by any metric in his first stint in the MLB. However, he got a 10-day mental reset and since his return, he has been producing better than any other batter in the lineup.
Since his return on September 18, Carlson has a .313/.361/.688 slash. He has raised his OPS 185 points from .453 to .638. Just as he was playing way below expectations before his reset, he is definitely playing over them right now. However, the Cardinals need to ride the wave.
Carlson has batted somewhere between 7-9 in the order almost exclusively since his return. It was clear the first time up that expectations being too high hurt his performance the first time, and batting low in the order and succeeding is perfect for building confidence long term. However, the Cardinals can’t afford to sit around and worry about protecting Carlson’s confidence right now. They need to win games and continuing to bat Miller or Matt Carpenter (84 wRC+) at cleanup won’t work.
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On Sunday, the last game of the season, Mike Shildt made the change to put Carlson in the cleanup spot behind Goldschmidt. Writing this as Sunday’s game is happening, Carlson hit a 103 mph lineout in his first at-bat, but we will have to wait and see how this experiment goes.
One thing is clear: Carlson is this team’s second-best hitter right now, he needs to bat cleanup. The Cardinals are more or less a lock to make the playoffs and Carlson should keep batting cleanup in the playoffs.
There is no more time for playing around or playing to help or hurt a player’s feelings. The Cardinals need to field the best team in the playoffs and they need to optimize everything they can. That means Carlson at cleanup.
Sunday will be the first test of the Carlson-at-cleanup experiment. There’s plenty of argument for keeping him lower, but I do like the aggressiveness and excitement that Carlson at cleanup.