Harrison Bader, Maniac
He’s having a spectacular July. It’s been the best month of his baseball life. 20 games and 80 plate appearances since returning from the IL on July 1, Bader was batting .384 with a .438 onbase percentage and .685 slug through Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Cleveland. His 1.122 OPS is the best of his MLB career for any month in a single season. And that will be the case even if Bader doesn’t do much at the plate in Wednesday’s game.
Bader has seven doubles, five homers and 16 RBI in 73 at-bats this month. His July scorcher has put Bader in the team lead in OPS+ (153) for the season among Cardinals with a minimum of 160 plate appearances. That 153 OPS+ means he’s 53 percent above the league average offensively for 2021.
Consider this: entering Wednesday Bader’s 1.6 WAR for July was tied with Washington’s Juan Soto for No. 1 in the majors. (WAR is wins above replacement level player.) Bader was second in the majors to Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman in batting average, eighth in OBP, fourth in slugging, and fourth in OPS. Soto is the only major-league hitter to outdo Bader this month in OPS+.
We’ve appreciated Bader’s defense for a long time. But to truly appreciate Bader’s growth as a hitter, I think it’s important to see what he’s done since the start of last season.
After a good 2020, Bader is having a great 2021. The only thing to slow him, of course, are the injuries that have caused him to miss 59 percent of the Cards’ first 101 games. That shouldn’t be disregarded. But when Bader plays, he produces. And his above-average offensive showing in 2020 was just the beginning. He’s building on it.
If we put Bader’s last two years together — with two months to go this season — this is what we have in Bader’s 92 games, 288 plate appearances, and 252 at-bats:
- .270 batting average
- .354 onbase pct.
- .504 slugging pct.
- .858 OPS
- An OPS+ that’s 36% above average.
Among Cardinals that have at least 288 plate appearances since the start of last season, Bader ranks first in OPS, first in slugging, second in batting average, second in OPB and second in Isolated Power.
In park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) Bader tops the Cardinals at 29 percent above league average over the last two seasons. His two-year wRC+ of 129 is slightly better than Paul Goldschmidt’s 127. And Bader’s two-year wRC+ is better than Nolan Arenado’s 116 wRC+.
I’ve got more …
Among players that have played at least 75 percent of their games in center field over the last two seasons — minimum 288 plate appearances — Bader is fourth with his 136 OPS+. The three center fielders ahead of him are Mike Trout (173), Brandon Nimmo (140) and Cedric Mullins (137.) Bader also ranks among the top five center fielders in batting average, OBP and slugging.
Here’s another thing to like about Bader. We’ve talking about his dramatic improvement vs. right-handed pitching this season. But I didn’t realize this until I checked on Wednesday morning: Bader leads Cardinals regulars in batting average (.308), OBP (.381) and OPS (.919) vs. RH pitching this season. And he’s tied with Tyler O’Neill for the best slugging percentage (.538) vs RHP.
When Bader leads off an inning this season he has an OBP of .439, the best among lineup regulars. If manager Mike Shildt has a reason to move Dylan Carlson out of the leadoff spot, I wonder if Bader would get a look at No. 1.
The Mad Max Watch
This is being written at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Local media continues to warble about Scherzer as an option for the Cardinals. The future Hall of Fame starting pitcher will likely be traded by Washington — but as of now St. Louis is a highly unlikely destination. I’m not sure why such an obvious reality continues to elude our town’s outstanding lineup of sports scribes and talkers.
According to Jayson Stark of The Athletic, multiple teams are pursuing the three-time Cy Young winner. Stark lists the Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, Mets and Astros as teams in the hunt. Ken Rosenthal (Athletic) and Mark Feinsand (MLB.com) report that Scherzer prefers a West Coast destination. Other credible baseball writers have reported on Scherzer’s lack of enthusiasm for pitching in New York.
And let’s try to remember that, OK? Max has a full no-trade clause; if trade options are presented to him by Washington GM Mike Rizzo, he gets to choose the team.
And this is also a key part of the 2021 Mad Max chase: just because he grew up in St. Louis and pitched for Mizzou, it doesn’t mean he wants to be here now. Maybe after the season. Maybe in his next crack at free agency. Or maybe not.
Scherzer wanted to pitch for the Cardinals before he signed with Washington in 2015. As I’ve reported many times over the ensuing years, Scherzer was willing to sign with the Cardinals for a lower price … and he waited … and waited … and waited. Cardinals management took a pass. Scherzer signed with the Nationals and has won two Cy Youngs, with two other top-three finishes and a fifth-place finishes in the voting. He was a driving force in the Nationals 2019 World Series championship.
The Cardinals had a great opportunity to land Scherzer as he entered his career-peak years — and they absolutely, positively screwed up. Good grief, why would Scherzer want to pitch for St. Louis now? He’s 37 years old. He wants another ring. Other teams are in a much stronger position to win it all; their odds are immensely better than the Cardinals’ odds.
Here are examples of what I’m referring to — the percentage of probability for winning the World Series as of Wednesday morning via FanGraphs.
Dodgers 16.9%, Astros 16%, White Sox 12.4%, Mets 9%, Padres 8.1%, Brewers 7.3%, Giants 3%.
The Cardinals were scrambling at a game above .500 as they began Wednesday’s game at Cleveland. And though they’ve played better ball as of late, the Cards remain on the periphery of the postseason race. FanGraphs gives them a 4.4 percent chance just to make the playoffs, and a 0.1% shot to win the World Series.
For whatever it’s worth, The Athletic notes that Scherzer is friends with Padres manager Jayce Tingler, a fellow Mizzou alum. He played ball at Mizzou with his good friend Ben Fritz, the Padres bullpen coach.
But this is a complex situation. Here’s the helpful breakdown from MLB Trade Rumors:
“Of the bunch, only the Giants could acquire Scherzer without incurring any luxury-tax penalization. Scherzer’s deferral-heavy contract comes with an annual luxury hit of just under $30 million, and the prorated remainder of that hit as of this writing would be $10.49 million. (It’d drop to $10.03 million after the deadline.) The Dodgers, already in the top tax bracket for year-one offenders, would pay a 62.5 percent tax on that $10.03 million overage. The Padres are barely over the threshold at the moment and exploring some ambitious ways to drop back below the barrier; at the moment, they’d pay a 20 percent overage penalty.”
Does Scherzer want a contract extension before agreeing to a trade? There’s been considerable speculation on the subject.
The complicated nature of a Scherzer trade is among the reasons why the Nationals could hold onto Scherzer. Based on the luxury-tax considerations, the Giants seem to have the most realistic chance to acquire Scherzer. But if all three NL West teams are willing to suspend caution and go for it, Rizzo can jack up the price for Scherzer by pitting the Dodgers, Padres and Giants against each other in trade talks.
If the Cardinals want to enter the fray they’d have to outbid the Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Astros, etc. And that’s just for the privilege — at least for now — of renting Scherzer. And John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt Jr. would have to convince him to join St. Louis.
Explosion Of Offense In The NL
Earlier today I wrote about the Cardinals’ improvement on offense over the last several weeks. And for sure, there are several encouraging signs that I was pleased to acknowledge.
But this is in the background and also should be noted. The Cardinals are generating more offense in July — but that’s also true for the National League as an entity.
I’ll give you the stats for April-May-June combined on the left, then list the July numbers to the right. The stats are through Tuesday’s games:
- Batting average: .235 … .255
- Onbase percentage: .314 … .333
- Slugging percentage: .393 … .428
- Onbase+slugging, OPS: .707 … .761
Goodness. That’s quite a difference. Part of it, or much of it, is because of the hot weather. The ball travels better as the season warms up. Another factor: pitcher injuries, and worn-down pitching staffs. And obviously, the MLB crackdown on pitchers’ sticky fingers enters into this. Those spin rates ain’t spinning as rapidly in July.
How About Some Bird Bytes?
All stats through Tuesday:
Matt Carpenter in July: 32 plate appearances, .276 average, .344 OBP and .414 slug. That’s good for a bench/role player. But I know that even scant praise of Carpenter can cause convulsions, so here’s one for the M-Carp haters: his strikeout rate is a ridiculous 46.8%.
Paul DeJong: In 84 plate appearances since June 26, Pauly is batting .329 with a .417 OBP, .603 slug and a brawny 1.019 OPS. In his last 26 games DeJong has two doubles, six homers and 14 RBI. DeJong has three defensive runs saved at shortstop. He’s teamed with Edmundo Sosa and Tommy Edman to give the Cards eight defensive runs saved at shortstop this season; that ranks third at the position in MLB.
Nolan Arenado: Among the 23 MLB third basemen that had at least 200 plate appearances this season through Tuesday, Arenado ranks second in homers (20), third in RBI (61) and is eighth in OPS (.814.) His three defensive runs saved at third base are tied for the 11th most at the position. Arenado is seventh among MLB third basemen with 2.7 WAR, a metric that encompasses offense, defense and baserunning. (I hope Arenado will be OK after getting popped on the elbow by a pitch Wednesday.)
Adam Wainwright: This season Wainwright, age 39, has made 20 starts (including 12 quality starts) with 119 strikeouts and an average Game Score of 57.2 In franchise history, among starting pitchers that were in their age-39 season, Wainwright has the most strikeouts and is second to Murry Dickson (1956 season) in starts, innings, quality starts and average Game Score. Wainwright needs eight more start to surpass Dickson for the most starts in team history by a 39-year-old starter. And Waino would need seven quality starts to surpass Dickson in the category. And Wainwright needs 71 innings to move ahead of Dickson for most IP in a season by a 39-year-old starter.
Thanks for reading …
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.