Welcome to my series of Report Card postings for individual members of the 2022 Cardinals.
I’m doing this a little differently than what you may see elsewhere. I’ll break down the positive and weaker areas of each Redbird, just so readers can see the good and the bad instead of having the writer issue a snap judgment that doesn’t really offer a complete – and fair – look.
If I’m going to do this the right way, I have to consider more than, say, batting average and ERA. There’s a lot of excellent information out there, and I enjoy learning from it.
I’ll do these Report Cards one at a time to avoid posting a monster-sized piece that will take too long to read.
Next Up: Outfielder Tyler O’Neill.
Opening Thoughts: O’Neill is a paradox. Even though his slugging percentage dropped 168 points to .392 from his .560 rate in 2021, there were some very impressive aspects to his hitting that left me scratching my chin. And seeing the outstanding numbers that are part of an overall disappointing offensive profile makes O’Neill even more enigmatic. I’ll explain as we go along.
My challenge here is to decide between a “C” grade or a “D” grade.
The Case For The “D” Grade: Let’s take a look at the problematic or mediocre areas of O’Neill’s 2022 season.
— T.O. was on the IL for 63 days, his most ever in a season. He’s missed 150 days on the IL since being promoted to the Cardinals in the 2018 season. O’Neill’s final injury (hamstring) occurred in mid-September and left him unavailable for the postseason.
— O’Neill fell off in 2022, failing to produce a strong follow-up season to his 2021 breakout campaign. In ‘21 he had 34 homers, plus 26 doubles and batted .286 with a .352 onbase percentage, .560 slug and .912 OPS. O’Neill was 13th overall in the majors and fifth among MLB outfielders with 5.6 WAR (FanGraphs version) and finished 8th in the NL MVP voting.
— But in 2022 he batted .228 with a .308 OBP and .392 slug for a .700 OPS. After finishing 48 percent above league average offensively (via OPS+) in 2021, he ended 2022 at only one percent above league average in OPS+. With his playing time limited by multiple injuries O’Neill banged just 14 homers in 2022 and amassed only 1.3 WAR.
— Among 220 MLB hitters that had at least 380 plate appearances in 2022, O’Neill ranked No. 134 in slugging percentage. That was a huge drop from 2021 when O’Neill ranked 7th in the majors with his .560 slug.
— The percentage of O’Neill plate appearances that resulted in a home run was 6.3% in 2021 – but only 3.7% in 2022. His ISO (isolated power) fell to .165 in 2022 after soaring to .274 in 2021.
— Why did his power drop? The top reason: a decline in his fly-ball rate. After lofting a career-best 31.4 percent fly rate in 2021, he put up a career-low 25.2% fly rate in 2022. And that’s a big deal because O’Neill has a career .1000 slugging percentage on fly balls. The drop in fly-ball percentage was made worse by a ground-ball percentage that increased by more than six points in 2022 — going from 36.2% in 2021 to 42.4% this season.
— There were other signs in the 2022 decline: a four-drop in average exit velocity (to 89.3 mph), a nearly 10-point plummet in hard-hit rate (down to 43.5%), and a barrel rate that went from 17.9% in 2021 to 11.3% in ‘22. O’Neill also had some bad luck along the way, finishing with a .277 batting average on balls in play. That BIP average was .366 in 2021. In a related note his HR/FLY rate dropped six points in 2022, to 20.8 percent.
— The right-handed hitting O’Neill declined against RH pitching, batting .219 with a .379 slug and .673 OPS. In 2021 he slugged over .500 on every type of pitch thrown by righties except for the changeup. In 2022 he slugged under .400 on every category of pitch from a RHP except for the sinker.
— The injuries disrupted his continuity and progress. Example: O’Neill slugged only .352 before the All-Star break this season but got something going in the second half, slugging .437 after the break. But he couldn’t stay in the lineup because of injury setbacks.
— O’Neill won Gold Gloves in 2020 and 2021 for his stellar defensive work in left field. His defense was good but not great in 2022, probably because (here we go again) injury-related repercussions.
— After slugging .526 at Busch Stadium during his first four seasons, O’Neill plunged to a .362 slug at home in 2022.
The Case For The “C” Grade: For all of the problems, O’Neill was an exceptional hitter with runners on base, men in scoring position, and in high-leverage situations in 2022.
* Men On Base: a .451 slug and .776 OPS.
* Runners In Scoring position: .299 avg, .520 slug, .897 OPS.
* High-Leverage: .306 avg., .500 slug, .881 OPS.
— O’Neill had a high RBI total (58) for only 383 plate appearances. According to Baseball Reference, the average MLB player had only 42 RBI on 383 plate appearances. His performance with runners in scoring position was 41 percent better than his overall hitting performance.
— In the Bill James version of “clutch” hitting, O’Neill batted .302 with a .429 OBP and .512 slug. That was a significant improvement over his Bill James “clutch” numbers in 2021.
— O’Neill had a career-low strikeout rate (26.8%) and career-best walk rate (9.92%) in 2022.
— O’Neill was an asset on the basepaths in 2022, stealing only one fewer base this season (14) in limited action as he did in all of 2021 (15 steals.) And his stolen-base success rate (78%) matched his SB rate in 2021. But this is also true: some of his injuries, including two this season (both hamstring strains) happen when he’s running the bases.
Final Thoughts: In his first two seasons in the bigs with the Cardinals, had a 91 OPS+ which means he was nine percent below league average offensively. In the last two seasons, even with the (mostly) down year in 2022, his OPS+ put him 29 percent above league average offensively. But can the Cardinals count on him to play enough? When he isn’t in the lineup his absence has a disruptive effect and leaves the Cardinals short-handed. O’Neill and the Cardinals must take a very hard look at his training methods to identify the reasons why a talented, athletic player has so many soft-tissue injuries.
The Grade: D. We have to take the injury problems into account because a player’s value is definitely reduced when he misses too many games. O’Neill started only 88 games in 2022 – and the Cardinals had a record of 52-36 when he started. In a difficult season that already was complicated from the beginning by O’Neill’s arbitration-battle with management – it clearly disrupted his mindset – all of that lost time impaired his quest for consistency. His injuries were injurious to the Cardinals.
Thanks for reading …
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Stats used in my baseball columns 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.