I feel the need to write another piece on the The Amazing Brendan Donovan.

It’s hard to remember it now, but the all-purpose, high-production rookie actually went through a miniature slump recently … if we can even call it that.

In a four-game stretch against the Rays and Reds, Donovan went 1 for 14 with a walk. Uh-oh. Hey, the pitchers must be figuring him out and finding his weaknesses!

No.

In his five games since the mini-slump, including Wednesday’s game against the Pirates, Donovan went 13 for 21 (.619) with a .667 onbase percentage, .810 slugging percentage and 1.476 OPS. This latest ruckus included two walks, four doubles, seven runs scored and the delivery of five RBI. Oh, and he batted .429 with runners in scoring position.

The Pirates must have been glad to hop on their chartered flight and get away from Donovan; in the four-game series he had 11 hits in 17 at-bats with four doubles and five RBIs. He reached base 13 times.

For the season Donovan is hitting .341 with a .448 OBP and .465 slug for a .913 OPS. His adjusted OPS puts him 66 percent above the MLB average offensively.

Oh, and he carries five different gloves because he plays so many positions. Donovan has appeared in 13 games in right field, 12 at third base, 10 at second base, nine at first base, seven at shortstop and three in left field. In 323 and 2/3 innings spread around six positions in the field, Donovan is a +1 overall in defensive runs saved. And he’s no worse than minus 1 in DRS at any of the positions.

Can he catch?

With Donovan’s high volume of offense and his impressive positional versatility, the Cardinals are fortunate to have a young player that brings so much value to the ballpark.

How long can Donovan keep going like this? I keep thinking “He’ll cool down. It’s inevitable.” And well, that’s true. But it doesn’t mean that Donovan will collapse, slip into mediocrity and gradually fade away. This isn’t a Bo Hart sequel.

Why? Because Donovan takes selective, high-quality at-bats. His plate discipline is outstanding. He’s walked more times than he’s struck out. He takes walks at an inflated rate. His swings-and-misses are infrequent. He has superb strike-zone judgment and doesn’t chase pitches all that often. And he has excellent contact skills.

I know I go nuts on statistics, but I can only explain this to you by showing you the numbers that verify Donovan’s guy’s hitting approach and why it makes his success sustainable.

Here’s a look at where Donovan stands among the St. Louis regulars:

He has the lowest chase rate, 26.7 percent.

He’s the team’s most selective hitter, taking 40% of all pitches served to him.

He has the highest contact rate – 96.4%! – on pitches in the strike zone.

➤ His overall contact rate (86.7%) ranks first.

➤His swinging-strike rate (5.3%) is the lowest among the regulars.

➤ His called-strike rate (20.8%) is the second-lowest.

➤ He has the best walk rate at 13.6 percent.

➤ He extends at-bats as well as any Cardinal, seeing 4.42 pitches per plate appearances. That ranks No. 3 among MLB hitters that have at least 150 plate appearances this season.

➤ Donovan has taken 129 at-bats; 73 have lasted at least four pitches and 20 have persisted for 7+ pitches. He has a .923 OPS when seeing at least four pitches during an at-bat, and a 1.206 OPS when making the pitcher throw 7+ pitches.

➤ One reason why Donovan extends so many at–bats is his skill at fouling off pitches at a high rate when he swings the bat, with an eye-opening 46 percent that’s highest among the Cardinals.

All of this is why I believe Donovan’s success will last. I’m not saying he’ll finish the season with a .341 batting average and a .913 OPS. His batting average on balls in play (.398) is second-highest in the majors among players with 150 or more plate appearances.

That BIP average will come down, and his stats will deflate to some extent. But let’s not miss the point here, OK? Donovan’s intelligent, disciplined hitting approach is a formula for generating good results. There’s a long way to go this season, but just for fun I fished for this number.

During the expansion era (1961-present) here are the top three onbase percentages by MLB rookies that had at least 150 plate appearances in a season:

1. Frank Thomas, CWS, 1990: . 454 

2. Bernie Carbo, CIN, 1970:   .454 

3. Brendan Donovan, STL, 2022: . 448

Donovan’s OBP is a rate in progress and almost certainly will go down. But I just wanted to put his onbase skill in perspective from a historical standpoint.

Can we knock it off with this silly “scrapper” talk? Sure, Donovan plays hard and gets his uniform dirty. But ow about focusing on his talent and productivity and value instead? Since being promoted from Triple A Memphis and playing in his first game as a Cardinal on April 25, Donovan has done more than any STL hitter who isn’t named Paul Goldschmidt.

From April 25 through June 15, Donovan ranks second to Goldschmidt in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, wRC+, and doubles. He’s third in RBI, and fourth in runs scored. But the counting stats are misleading because Donovan ranks 7th on the team in plate appearances since April 25. His rate stats reveal a more accurate measure of his excellence.

Let’s talk about Donovan’s .465 slugging percentage for a minute. That’s a damn fine rate for a dude that has only one home run in 2022. His .465 slug is the highest among the 27 MLB players that have exactly one homer in 100 or more plate appearances. And Donovan’s lone homer went airborne on May 10; he had had a .375 slugging percentage at the end of that game against the Orioles. But in in his 33 games since then, Donovan has slugged .478 — WITHOUT HITTING A HOME RUN in 137 plate appearances. How crazy is that? Start spreading the news: doubles are beautiful.

Using the Baseball Reference version of WAR, Donovan is at a disadvantage because he didn’t arrive in the majors until late April. He doesn’t have nearly as many plate appearances as the hitters that have posted the highest WAR figures.

But Donovan’s 1.8 WAR equals or exceeds that of many players that have a lot more plate appearances than Donovan. Through Wednesday his 1.8 WAR matches that of Pete Alonso, Tim Anderson, and Carlos Correa.

Through Wednesday Donovan’s 1.8 WAR exceeds that of notable talents such as Javy Baez, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jose Altuve, Wander Franco, J.T. Realmuto, Giancarlo Stanton, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Olson, Jose Rendon, Randy Arozarena, Christian Yelich, Ozzie Albies, Joc Pederson, and Anthony Rizzo.

And keep in mind that Donovan was a little slow out of the gate, with a .154 batting average and .368 OPS in his first 10 big-league games. Since then he’s slashed .362/.471/.500 for a .971 OPS.

No one – I mean, absolutely no one – expected this resourceful rookie to show up on a list of the top players in the majors so far this season. Donovan was highly regarded within the system, but we’re seeing something special and unusual. But Donovan keeps doing this, and it isn’t a fluke in that flash-in-the-pan way. He’s real. And he’s so much fun to watch.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.