3 unexpected presents from the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2021 season

Jul 2, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Genesis Cabrera (92) on the mound in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 2, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Genesis Cabrera (92) on the mound in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /
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St. Louis Cardinals
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – MAY 12: Tyler O’Neill #27 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run during the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on May 12, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Tyler O’Neill is finally here

After another rough season in 2020 in most offensive categories, a portion of the fanbase was ready to give up on the Cardinals’ left fielder. However, a deeper dive into his plate discipline numbers showed huge gains and the potential of a breakout on the horizon.

In 2021, Mike Shildt and the Cardinals gave O’Neill his first true opportunity (and likely his last) chance to start every day, and everyone’s expectations were blown out of the water.

After starting the season batting 5th behind shortstop Paul DeJong in the cleanup spot, O’Neill finished the season as the team’s everyday three-hole hitter. Sandwiched by Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, O’Neill put up a fantastic 5.4 fWAR behind a career-high 145 wRC+ and 34 homers in just 138 games.

By all advanced metrics, O’Neill’s breakout wasn’t luck. He earned all of the success he had in 2021 through an insane 17.9% barrel rate. Sure, his 31% strikeout percentage could make it difficult to repeat his 2021, but even a slight float back to earth leaves O’Neill as an extremely valuable bat in the middle of the lineup.

Add O’Neill’s Gold Glove defense to his emerging offense and it is easy to see why O’Neill was the most valuable player on the Cardinals in 2021.

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