St. Louis Cardinals: Does Nolan Arenado Have a Pull Problem?

Wild Card Series - Philadelphia Phillies v St. Louis Cardinals - Game Two
Wild Card Series - Philadelphia Phillies v St. Louis Cardinals - Game Two / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

St. Louis Cardinals elite third baseman Nolan Arenado is the cream of the crop on the hot corner, but does he have a hole in his swing that pitchers may exploit in 2023 and beyond by pulling the ball too much?

St. Louis Cardinals All-Star Nolan Arenado has a lot to be proud about in his 2022 season. He finished 3rd in MVP voting behind Paul Goldschmidt and Manny Machado. He won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove for his position as well. 

He also finished his 7th straight season with 30+ home runs hitting exactly 30 and over 100 runs driven in with 103. His OBP improved from .312 in 2021 to .358 in 2022 and his slugging jumped from .493 to .533. However, I think there may be some concern in reviewing his swing analysis. 

Hitting in St. Louis is much more difficult than in Colorado when comparing apples to apples. Certainly, analytics have the ability to do some adjustments for players and by all means, these past two seasons Arenado has proven he was not a great hitter from just playing in the Mile High City for all that time. For example, according to Fangraphs over the past five seasons, Colorado boosted production by an estimated 14%.

How Arenado has had to adjust to achieve the desired results is concerning as he ages. In the three years prior to coming to the St. Louis Cardinals his pull rate was 35.4 in 2018, 39.2 in 2019, and 39.8 in 2020. Since coming to the Redbirds it has spiked to 45.8 in 2021 and 45.2 a season ago. 

In my opinion, I think this is due to having to use his strength of hitting the ball to Left Field with more power to lift the ball over the fence and hit the gaps for extra-base hits. I believe his first season in St. Louis his .255 was a result of his pull and effort to hit the ball harder to achieve his desired results. 

I will give him credit as well though. I also think he did a great job of making adjustments to that swing in 2022 to make better contact. He still had to pull the ball, but his ability to make better contact allowed his barrel rate to jump from 6.7% to 8.2%. The highest he has had since 2017 when he had an 8.5% barrel rate. So with that, I will say this is not the end-all-be-all in terms of a player failing.

Spinning this back to aging where I think the major problem will be that Albert Pujols is a great case. Please do not take this as Nolan Arenado is the same hitter as Albert Pujols. He is not. However, in Pujols’s age 35 season, his pull rate was 43.3%. His steadily increased to 45.7% in 2019 and his off into the twilight season last year he finished at 52.3%. To achieve the desired result, he had to continue to pull the ball more. Which can lead to lower contact rates, lower batting average, and ultimately more holes in your swing. 

Even Mike Trout is a great example of the pull with age concept. From 2015 to 2018 his pull rate was below 40%. However, his last 2 seasons were 46.1% in 2021 and 40% in 2022. 

Ultimately, I do not know fully if pulling the ball correlates to bad numbers. But it does make sense as to why older players do it to achieve the desired result of hitting the ball harder as they age. That’s how they compensate right? I think for Arenado to already be at such a high number being so young in his early 30s has me concerned about his future aging process. Where does he go if he already almost does it 50% of the time now?

Next. 5 reasons to be excited about the Cardinals in 2023. dark