Prediction #2 - Lars Nootbaar will be the Cardinals’ best player in 2024
Saying Lars Nootbaar will lead the team in fWAR or be the club's best outfielder wouldn't be a bold take. In 117 games in 2024, Nootbaar posted a 3.2 fWAR, second on the Cardinals behind Goldschmidt's 3.7 in 37 fewer games.
Nootbaar began breaking out in the second half of 2022, and if it wasn't for a few weird injuries that kept him out for various stretches last year, I think he would have established himself even further in fans' eyes as an emerging star.
2023 saw Nootbaar post a .261/.367/.418 slash line with a 118 wRC+ and he maintained an elite chase percentage, whiff percentage, and walk percentage while grading out in the 81st percentile in xwOBA. Nootbaar moving to the corner outfield full-time will allow him to be a well-above-average defender while being among the best on-base guys in the league. The key to him reaching new heights this year will be staying on the field consistently, as if he does, that power that has been shown in flashes should break out.
In 2022, Nootbaar hit the ball extremely hard, finishing in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity, 85th percentile in barrel percentage, and 80th percentile in hard-hit percentage. All three of those took major dips in 2023 even with the success on the field, and I tend to believe it was the extended time missed that made it difficult for Nootbaar to maintain that rate.
The way the Cardinals structure their everyday lineup could help Nootbaar's statistical case as well. Nootbaar is a candidate to be the leadoff hitter of a top 5 to 10 offense in baseball next year, but he's also a likely player to hit third for St. Louis on many days, sandwiched between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. For what it's worth, Nootbaar posted a 131 wRC+ in 116 plate appearances with runners in scoring position last year, so he's shown the ability to be very productive when you put him in big spots.
Nootbaar may find himself in a variety of RBI situations while also getting on base and scoring a ton of runs. We've seen how good a player can be slotted between Goldschmidt and Arenado (see Tyler O'Neill in 2021), and while I am not going to predict Nootbaar being that good, I do see him vying for an All-Star appearance and being a guy who gets MVP votes next year.