Harrison Bader represents the best of postseason baseball. The adventure of it all. The wonder of it all. The craziness of it all. The former Cardinal center fielder is reinforcing the obvious reality that so many fans and media stubbornly refuse to accept: when the postseason gets underway, throw the regular-season stats in the dumpster and wait for the postseason surprises to rearrange the expectations. October is different. More dramatic. More unpredictable. Anything goes.
Every player and pitcher begins anew, and anything is possible. Dudes like Harrison Bader happen. As the Yankees get set for Tuesday afternoon’s showdown with the Guardians in ALDS Game 5, here are four things you need to know:
1. The NLDS series is tied 2-2. The team that has a winning day in the Bronx will advance to the ALCS for a matchup against the Astros … a team that has 109 wins in 2022, postseason included.
2. Through the first four games of this New York vs. Cleveland rumble, Bader leads the Yankees in home runs (3), runs batted in (4), slugging (.929) and OPS (1.214.) That’s right: Harry Bader. Not the new home-run king, Aaron Judge. Not the gargantuan Giancarlo Stanton. Not the import, Anthony Rizzo. Bader has three of the team’s seven home runs and 26.6 percent of their RBIs. And that’s large; for the series the Yankees are batting .177 with a .615 OPS and averaging 3.75 runs per game.
3. The Bader bambino shots have been a major factor in the air-lifting of the Yankees into Game 5. In Game 1, his third-inning solo HR erased Cleveland’s 1-0 lead and increased the Yankees’ win expectancy to 53 percent. And they went on to win, 4-1. Bader’s second home run of the series, a solo launch in Game 3, increased the Yankee lead to 5-3 in the top of the 7th and boosted NY’s win expectancy to 82 percent. But the Guardians charged back for three runs in the bottom of the 9th to stun the Yankees, 6-5. With his team facing elimination in Game 4, Bader clubbed a two-run homer in the top of the 2nd to put the Yankees on top 2-0 and raise their win expectancy to 78%. This time NY’s pitchers didn’t lose the lead, and the Yankees evened the series with a 4-2 victory.
“He loves to play the game,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Bader. “The power showing up here in the postseason for us has been big.”
4. Raise your hand if you expected – in advance – to see Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper sharing the postseason home-run lead with Bader and San Diego center fielder Trent Grisham. All three players have three homers. Harper? Sure. But Bader and Grisham? No way. Bader had only five home runs in 292 at-bats during the regular season. During the regular season Grisham batted .182 and popped only two homers in his final 40 regular-season games. In regular-season OPS+, Bader was 13 percent percent below league average offensively. Grisham was worse, at 17 percent below average. But look at them now.
4a. In a related note, here’s a partial list of players that had, or have, ZERO homers this postseason: Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Pujols, Ronald Acuna Jr., Vlad Guerrero Jr., Michael Harris, Julio Rodriguez, Will Smith, George Springer, Austin Riley, Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette.
Postseason baseball strikes again. And we’re just warming up.
5. Bader is making history. His three homers in his first four postseason games wearing the pinstripes hadn’t been done by a Yankee since five-time World Series champion Charlie Keller back in 1939. And Bader is in a three-member club of Yankee center fielders that have walloped three homers in a single postseason. The others are Mickey Mantle and Bernie Williams. Sheesh.
Bader played 10 postseason games for the Cardinals and had no homers in 28 plate appearances. Before going on the IL with plantar fasciitis in late June, Bader had swatted only one homer in his final 122 plate appearances as a Cardinal. After being traded to the Yankees for left-handed starter Jordan Montgomery, Bader batted only .217 with a weak .283 slugging percentage and no homers and a 30.6 percent strikeout rate in 14 regular-season games.
And now he’s Joe DiMaggio.
Postseason baseball, baby. No fortune teller envisioned this. No honest media person or fan envisioned this. It’s enjoyable to watch Bader make it back from a debilitating injury to thrive for his new team, playing at a venue, Yankee Stadium, that’s 11 miles from where he grew up.
But what I won’t do is sit here and so the wringing of my hands and bring up idiotic Randy Arozarena comparisons and acting like the Cardinals did some terribly stupid thing by trading Bader.
The reaction here in The Lou is about the only predictable thing related to Bader’s star turn for the Yankees. The same people that hated on Bader during his St. Louis days and gave a thumbs-up to the trade for Montgomery are the same folks who now are faking outrage over the trade and throwing shade at president of baseball ops John Mozeliak and hitting coach Jeff Albert. That’s dumb, and I’ll explain why here in a couple of minutes.
As it turned out, this trade in the short term was a positive transaction for the Cardinals and the Yankees. There’s no reason to rip either side. There’s no reason to withhold praise from either side. Brian Cashman (Yankees) and Mozeliak did well for their teams, so put your metaphorical grenades away and calm down.
Likening the Bader trade to the deal that sent Arozarena to Tampa Bay is absolutely ludicrous. The Cardinals dealt Arozarena without giving him a chance; then-manager Mike Shildt didn’t like him and wouldn’t use him. Not much, anyway.
Arozarena had only 23 plate appearances as a Cardinal before they moved him. And they traded him for a pitching prospect, Matthew Liberatore, who might be good. (He isn’t. Not yet, anyway.)
Bader had 1,715 plate appearances as a Cardinal. He was traded for a pitcher, Montgomery, who already was established as a solid starting pitcher in the major leagues. In 97 starts and 503 innings as a Yankee, Montgomery pitched to a 3.94 ERA, and that included a 3.66 ERA in 48 games at Yankee Stadium.
Montgomery had a 3.11 ERA in 11 starts for the Cardinals, and the team went 8-3 in his 11 outings. With a shaky rotation bolstered by the additions of Montgomery and Jose Quintana, the Cardinals went on a 27-8 run after the Aug. 2 trade deadline and proceeded to win the NL Central. Overall the Redbirds were 17–6 in games started by “Q” and Montgomery.
Montgomery worked 2.2 innings of scoreless relief in the season-ending Game 2 loss to the Phillies. Had the Cardinals advanced, Montgomery would have started a game (or games.) Montgomery did struggle in his final few regular-starts, but so did Adam Wainwright, who was even worse in September. And manager Oli Marmol planned to start Wainwright in a potential (but unrealized) Game 3 of the Philadelphia series.
The Yankees are thrilled with Bader for obvious reasons, and they’re looking forward to a full season of center-field defense from him in 2023. Just as the Cardinals are happy to have Montgomery in place as part of their rotation next season.
When the Cardinals traded Bader, I discussed a key indicator in Bader’s offensive profile and how it showed why Harry could do well as a Yankee.
The theory was simple:
As a Cardinal, Bader was a poor hitter at Busch Stadium.
And he was a very good hitter away from Busch Stadium.
Here are the career home/road splits for Bader as a Cardinal, and they’re pretty dramatic …
AT BUSCH STADIUM, 2017-2022
– 855 plate appearances
– .210 average
– .295 onbase pct.
– .339 slugging pct.
– .635 OPS
– 21% below league average offensively based on wRC+.
– 16 home runs
– A homer every 47 at-bats
AWAY FROM BUSCH STADIUM, 2017-2022
– 860 plate appearances
– .280 batting average
– .343 onbase pct.
– .477 slugging pct.
– .820 OPS
– 18% above league league average offensively
– 36 home runs
– A homer every 21.6 at-bats.
The Yankees undoubtedly knew all of this. Brian Cashman and his crew coveted Bader for his defense but knew that he was actually a heck of a hitter away from Busch Stadium. Bader, who bats from the right side, was especially bad when hitting against RH pitchers; he had a .205 average and .606 against them at Busch and hit a homer every 58 at–bats.
Busch suppressed Bader’s offense to an extreme level and was a real problem for him. That would have continued had he stayed with the Cardinals.
I’m not saying I expected Bader to bomb away in his first postseason with the Yankees. But as we saw during his St. Louis years, Bader’s power travels. Having been set free from Busch Stadium, Bader should be a more consistent and dangerous hitter going forward.
What about the Cardinals? They weren’t screw-ups for trading Bader. They’re screw-ups because of their eternal search for impact outfielders. After so many wasted years of evaluating and misjudging outfield talent, the front office still hasn’t found what it’s looking for.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated 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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which 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, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.