Alec Burleson is the Cardinals' most intriguing player for 2024

Alec Burleson's peripherals and Statcast numbers in 2023 should provide a lot to be excited about for the upcoming season.
St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds
St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages

If you glossed over Alec Burleson's statistics page after the 2023 season, nobody would blame you. He had a .244 batting average and a .690 OPS, which hardly jump off the page. But the more one peers into Burleson's underlying statistics and expected numbers, the more there is to like.

Baseball Prospectus came out with a statistic in 2018 called Deserved Runs Created Plus. I'm not going to pretend to understand all of it — you can read about it in the link above — but it's one of those stats that tries to more accurately display a hitter's production beyond that of the actual outcome of each plate appearance.

The most interesting facet of DRC+ regarding the Cardinals of 2023 was who led the team in that category. Paul Goldschmidt was second on the team at 118 (100 being average) and Nolan Arenado was third at 116. If you're reading this article, it shouldn't come as a surprise as to who placed first: That would be Burleson at an astounding 135.

To illustrate how well Burleson performed in DRC+ last season, let's take a look at those around him. Burleson finished 17th in all of baseball in DRC+, with the inimitable Bryce Harper one spot ahead of him at 137 and Yandy Diaz behind him at 134. Cleveland's Jose Ramirez, he of the 5.0 WARP last season, was tied for 20th at 133.

Burleson's DRC+ isn't the only stat that could portend good things ahead. He makes excellent contact, striking out only 13% of the time in 2023. When he hit it, he tended to hit it hard: Burleson's average exit velocity was 89.9 mph, placing him in the 60th percentile among hitters, according to Baseball Savant.

The Cardinals aren't the only team that has noticed Burleson's promise. The New York Yankees were reportedly interested in acquiring Burleson in November, according to an article on MLB Trade Rumors. Fans shouldn't overestimate Burleson's trade value, however; as exciting as his hit tool can be, he is not a strong defender and will likely need to serve primarily as a designated hitter.

The Cardinals' lineup is crowded, even after they jettisoned Tyler O'Neill to the Boston Red Sox, but if the team is able to squeeze Burleson into at least a strong-side platoon designated hitter role for much of the season, the rewards could be dramatic.