After becoming an international superstar over the offseason, Lars Nootbaar got off to a bit of a slow start for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2023. The conversation began to cool down on him significantly, even to the point where you have national media, such as Keith Law, calling him a "part-time player".
Up until July 1st, Nootbaar was slashing .254/.357/.365 with 4 HR, 22 RBI, and a 103 wRC+ in 49 games for the Cardinals. He spent some time on the injured list in both April and June and just never really got into a groove at the plate. He was still an above-average hitter with good defense, but not quite the player that was being advertised to fans.
Since July 1st, Nootbaar has been on a tear, slashing .319/.414/.572 with 8 HR, 16 RBI, and a 170 wRC+ during that span. Much like last year, once Nootbaar was able to get into a rhythm of playing every day, he took off and has been among some of the best players in baseball.
Am I calling Nootbaar a superstar-level player? No. But has he become extremely underrated by the national media? Absolutely.
Nootbaar's 132 wRC+ on the season is 8th among all MLB outfielders, higher than guys like Corbin Carroll, Randy Arozarena, and Fernando Tatis Jr., and his 3.2 fWAR ranks 12th among all outfielders. Do I think Nootbaar is a better player than Tatis. Jr or Carroll? Not right now, but has he shown he is far closer to their level of play than that of a "part-time player".
It's kind of odd how different players skyrocket to prominence while others take longer. Prospects can come up and make one or two flashy plays, and you'll hear them talked about like superstars, even when their OPS is floating below .600. Then you'll have guys Nootbaar, that turn in performances like he has, and the same old takes continue to follow him, even when they no longer make sense.
Some like to accuse advanced analytics of being cherry-picked stats. wRC+ measures the total offensive contribution that a player contributes to their club while factoring in things like ballpark effects or the trends around the league. 100 equals out to a league-average hitter, so Nootbaar's 132 wRC+ indicates that he is 32% better than the average player. That is really, really good. WAR aims to capture a player's overall contributions to a team as a hitter, baserunner, and fielder, and once again, Nootbaar is among the best in baseball.
If you look at wRC+ and WAR leaders around baseball, rarely will you find a name in that mix that does not belong. These stats do an excellent job of assessing player value. If you're a Baseball Savant kind of person, Nootbaar's underlying metrics continue to be outstanding as well.
While Nootbaar's recent hot streak may not continue the rest of the season, hitting like a legit MVP candidate over the last three weeks, I do expect Nootbaar to finish the season strong and regain that national spotlight that he had found before the season began.