It’s time to give a final grade to the St. Louis Cardinals’ much-maligned outfield.
The outfield of the St. Louis Cardinals struggled last season, and that’s putting it mildly. It was the worst in baseball by several metrics, and for many fans, the success of Marcell Ozuna and Randy Arozarena shined a spotlight on what the Cardinals’ outfield might have been. Let’s take a look at how each outfielder performed in 2020.
Tyler O’Neill had some of the most severe struggles of any outfielder on the team, and that’s saying a lot. He hit a lackluster .173/.261/.360 on the season, and while he showed flashes of finding a groove at the plate, none of them lasted. Meanwhile, the metrics show O’Neill as an elite fielder, but if one goes by the admittedly much more rudimentary eye test, he didn’t appear to possess the fielding instincts one would expect from such a speedster.
Harrison Bader was his usual light-hitting, elite-fielding self for most of the season, but unlike O’Neill, he ended 2020 on a high note, going five for 10 in his final five games. A line of .226/.336/.443 is hardly something to be enthusiastic about, but if he can build on the very small sample size at the end of the season, Bader might be able to finally put something together and be a decent center fielder. A promising stat was his barrel percentage, which was in the 80th percentile.
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Dexter Fowler only played in 31 games, but he had the highest batting average of any Cardinals outfielder at .233, and his OPS was second behind Bader at .706. Fowler was unimpressive defensively, but he may need to take his lumps in the field in 2021 if the DH is not instituted in the National League. As his dreadful 2018 slips further in the rearview mirror, it’s worth hoping that he can be at least a replacement-level player in the last year of his contract.
Lane Thomas was a player many fans had high hopes for after his Statcast numbers indicated that 2019 might not have been a fluke. Thomas absolutely cratered in 2020, though, hitting .111/.200/.250 in 36 at-bats. He was dropped from the active roster in mid-September, and his future with the organization is in doubt.
Dylan Carlson was the team’s top prospect who largely disappointed for most of the season, hitting .162/.215/.243 before being optioned to the alternate training site on Sept. 5. When he returned on Sept. 18, Carlson was a new player, ending his season at the Mendoza line and providing promise that he can be a solid outfielder for years to come.
The outfield was in shambles throughout 2020, and it’s hard to believe it can be any worse in 2021. Carlson is a bright spot, and the Cardinals are still only a rebound or trade away from having a solid outfield once again.
The future is brighter for the outfield than what the group showed in 2020, but it may need an influx of outside talent. The Cardinals can’t let this group hold them back offensively for another season.