St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar is expected to break out in 2023, and it should be a good indication of Statcast's reliability.
Since the introduction of Statcast in 2015 to illustrate previously unmeasurable statistics such as exit velocity and barrel percentage, sabermetrics have become more accessible and thus received more attention among fans when it comes to evaluating players' futures. Never in the history of Statcast have I seen a St. Louis Cardinal more hyped up because of these numbers than outfielder Lars Nootbaar.
Most people who pay attention to the Cardinals have seen or at least heard of Nootbaar's peripherals: He's in the 90th percentile for average exit velocity, the 98th percentile in walk percentage, the 85th percentile in barrel percentage, and the impressive numbers continue. Nootbaar's underlying numbers point to a good possibility of strong production in 2023, and Cardinals fans are well aware of it.
The expectations for Nootbaar have transcended Cardinals fandom, though. Eno Sarris of The Athletic (subscription required) is one of many writers who are high on Nootbaar. He believes Nootbaar can his .280 with 25 bombs and at least 10 stolen bases, which would be a resounding success. But could people be putting too much stock into the metrics by being this excited about Nootbaar?
If Nootbaar's numbers prove prescient, he could be a top-10 outfielder in the sport. (MLB Network already put him as the fourth-best right fielder in the sport according to fan votes, for whatever that's worth.) His status as a darling of advanced metrics would be vindicated. But what if he doesn't perform to the level most fans expect?
Although Statcast's outlook on him is rosy, Nootbaar still has a relatively small sample size in the major leagues, and if he flies in the face of all the metrics that predict success and struggles throughout the season, how will fans respond not only to Nootbaar for failing to reach expectations but to Statcast for misleading them? I wouldn't be surprised if fans are warier of its numbers in the future and temper their expectations for the next player it deems promising.
These metrics have led Nootbaar to be a man of contradictions: He's a sleeper, but he's also a favorite to excel. I've never seen people put so much focus on predictive analytics in being excited about a player. Nootbaar's season will be fascinating to watch because, for many fans, it's not just about his ability; it's about Statcast's predictive ability as well.