Comparing the St. Louis Cardinals preseason projections vs. reality

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Outfielders and DH

The outfield was rounded into shape after Lars Nootbaar's strong World Baseball Classic performance, Tyler O'Neill's apparent health, and Dylan Carlson receiving a chance in centerfield. That was thrown for a bit of a loop when Jordan Walker, a once-favorite to win Rookie of the Year, was called up at the end of Spring Training to play in the majors. Between these four players and a DH trio of Juan Yepez/Gorman/Contreras, this unit was projected for 9.8 WAR. The incumbent O'Neill had left field locked up to himself with Carlson, Nootbaar, and Walker all splitting time in center and right field. Yepez was the proposed starting DH with a variety of players getting time there for rest days.

The outfield and DH spots were supposed to be consistent offensively with some upside defensively, primarily in left and center. Any of the trio of Carlson/Nootbaar/O'Neill could handle center with Carlson being better than league average at it.

The outfield unit has been troublesome this year, in large part due to health issues. Each of the three primary starters have been on the IL for extended periods of time, and Jordan Walker was demoted after a brief stint in the majors. He has since come back up and has struggled defensively in the corner spots. Due to these complications and changes, players like Alec Burleson, Oscar Mercado, Tommy Edman, and Brendan Donovan have all logged innings in the outfield. These players were either depth pieces or dedicated infielders.

When healthy, Dylan Carlson has been playing adequately in the outfield. While we would love to see more offense out of him (.245 BA and .700 OPS), his projections are only slightly higher than those numbers. His defense has been neutral across the outfield with positive numbers in both corner spots. However, Nootbaar should exceed his projection of 2.1 WAR (on pace for 2.6 WAR). His OPS and OPS+ are right on track with his projections. Lars has been hitting very well for average compared to his career numbers, thus pushing his WAR total higher.

Tyler O'Neill has not played up to his standard in left field. He has not logged enough innings to evaluate his defensive statistics reliably. Offensively is where there are gaps for O'Neill. His average is .020 points below his projection, his OPS is .150 points below his projections, and his OPS+ places him 30% worse than league average. These numbers will not do for a former MVP candidate and a player who was supposed to be a big bat in the middle of the lineup.

The outfield once believed to be relatively stable with high upside, has been a point of disappointment for the team. Injuries to all three starters have placed unfamiliar players in these positions. Juan Yepez, Alec Burleson, and Oscar Mercado do not have the defensive or offensive prowess that the original starters possessed.