The Cardinals' patience with Alec Burleson is finally paying off

Alec Burleson is finally catching fire at the plate, backing up the belief the Cardinals have had in him the past calendar year.
St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

For much of the 2023 season, there were some Cardinals fans who lamented the opportunities that Alec Burleson was getting at the plate.

For a guy who was supposed to be a good hitter, he didn't seem to be very productive.

But the Cardinals remained steadfast in their belief in Burleson. I never got the impression that they wanted fans to believe he was a superstar in waiting, but the potential was surely there for Burleson to do damage at the plate, and the expected stats showed that as well.

In 2023, Burleson finished with a .244/.300/.390 slash line with just 8 HR and 36 RBI in 107 games played. It was a rough year all around the Cardinals, and Burleson was unable to make his mark with the opportunities he was getting.

While Burleson's Baseball Savant page in 2023 alone shows a guy who hit the ball better than the numbers showed, there's one stat in particular that really backed that up. Burleson's wOBA, which is a version of on-base percentage that puts more value on extra hits, was .300 in 2023, which is really not great on paper. Well, his xwOBA, which tries to capture a player's expected outcomes taking into account exit velocity, launch angle, and even sprint speed on certain batted ball types, was actually .337. Why is that significant? Well, Burleson had the third largest negative difference in all of baseball from with xwOBA to his actual wOBA. The two players who were more negatively impacted? Aaron Judge and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That's not a statement that Burleson is going to emerge into the class of the best hitters in baseball in the near future, but rather, there are legitimate reasons why the Cardinals have stuck with him and given him opportunities when they are available. The Cardinals have received a lot of criticism for "giving up too soon" on guys like Randy Arozarena, Adolis Garcia, Lane Thomas, Richie Palacios, and so on and so forth. Why make that same mistake with Burleson?

Burleson got off to a slow start to 2024, but in his last 15 games has really caught fire, posting a .351/.415/.514 slash line and has been one of the few bright spots in a struggling offense. Am I ready to say that Burleson is going to carry that momentum into an excellent offensive season? No, but Burleson has seen substantial improvements thus far not only in his counting stats (slashing .271/.320/.386 on the season), but also with his expected stats as well.

At least while Burleson is hot at the plate, the Cardinals need to play him every day. And if he continues his run as the season goes on, they'll need to figure out how they make the roster construction work in order to maximize Burleson. As of right now, that's not really a problem they need to worry about, as outside of Willson Contreras, Masyn Winn, and as of late, Paul Goldschmidt, no one else is hitting at the moment.