Welcome to my series of Report Card postings for individual members of the 2022 Cardinals.
First, an apology of sorts. I’ve been slow to get these out in a timely fashion. Two reasons (1) I have many other things to write about; and (2) the way I compile these files requires more time than just writing a quick and insufficient paragraph. I prefer to be thorough than flimsy.
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 player, just so readers can see the good and the bad instead of having the author issue a snap judgment that doesn’t really offer a complete – and fair – look.
There’s a lot of excellent information out there, and I enjoy learning from it and passing it on to you.
Next Up: Second baseman (and DH) Nolan Gorman.
Opening Thoughts: The exciting power-hitting prospect made his MLB debut at age 22 for the Cardinals on May 20 at Pittsburgh, got off to a strong start, performed easily above average offensively until around mid-August, then plummeted into a horrendous slump that smudged the shine from his rookie campaign. And despite his best efforts – and let’s acknowledge his inexperience at the position – Gorman’s second-base defense steadily eroded as the season went on.
My challenge here is to decide between a “C” grade or a “D” grade for young Gorman.
The Case For The “D” Grade: As Gorman went into his first test against major-league pitching, we knew that he would have to battle through some hard times with swings and misses and strikeouts. That part of his game wouldn’t come easy, and it was just a matter of how well Gorman could manage his slumps and get back on track.
— For the most part he held his own for much of the season. Through Aug. 17 Gorman had a .470 slugging percentage, .789 OPS and was 25 percent above league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+.) The positive numbers offset his 31 percent strikeout rate over his first 242 plate appearances of the season.
— But Gorman’s offense collapsed over his final 22 regular-season games, and it was brutal. In 71 plate appearances he batted .156 with just a .250 slugging percentage and .489 OPS. He hit one homer in 64 at-bats, and struck out 39.4 percent of the time. He was 55 percent below league average in park–and-league adjusted runs created over this time. Gorman’s lowest point came over his final 14 games when he batted .114 average with a .257 slug and glaring 44.7% strikeout rate.
— The Cardinals demoted Gorman to Triple A Memphis on Sept. 19, but he was restored to the 26-man MLB roster in time for the wild-card playoff round against Philadelphia.
— Big Problems At The Plate: From Aug. 18 until his demotion a month later, Gorman batted .091 against four-seam fastballs and struck out 11 times in 22 at-bats that ended with the four-seamer. For the entire season Gorman batted .160 with a .351 slugging percentage against the four-seamer with a 32.7 percent strikeout rate.
— Defense: Gorman was OK during his early weeks in the majors but gradually eroded. By the end of the regular season, based on Outs Above Average, he was the worst among 39 innings-qualified MLB second basemen with minus 12 OOA. And he ranked last with minus 9 runs prevented. For the season he had a 40.5% strikeout rate on sliders, a 40% strikeout rate on cutters, and a 39.4% strikeout rate in curves. But when Gorman could connect on sliders, he did considerable damage with a .350 average and .775 slug.
— Fielding Bible rated Gorman minus 5 in defensive runs saved, which was 26th at his position. According to his Fielding Bible profile, Gorman had no real strength in any area of his defensive game. In 548.2 innings at second base, Gorman was minus 3 in shifts, minus 5 with no shifts, minus 1 in balls hit straight at him, minus 5 on balls hit to his right, minus 3 on balls hit to his left, minus 5 in range, and minus 4 in throwing. But he isn’t a natural second baseman and hasn’t played much there.
The Case For The “C” Grade: We tend to forget how well Gorman was doing over his first three months in the majors. In 242 plate appearances from his MLB debut through Aug. 17, Gorman had a decent .318 onbase percentage, .470 slugging percentage, a .789 OPS, and (as mentioned) was 25 percent above league average offensively. He also homered 13 times in his first 216 big-league at-bats for an effective average of one homer per every 16.8 at-bats.
— Even with his late-season crash factored in, Gorman finished the regular season with a .420 slugging percentage and a 106 OPS+ … which means he was six percent above league average offensively. That was 12th among MLB rookies that had at least 300 plate appearances in 2022. Gorman’s OPS+ was higher than that of fellow rookies Bobby Witt Jr. and Jeremy Pena.
— From May 20 through Aug. 17, Gorman ranked third among Cardinals in home runs and RBI and was fourth in slugging, OPS and park-and-league adjusted runs created. Over the roughly three-month period of the season, only three St. Louis hitters were better than Gorman: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Albert Pujols.
— Gorman’s contact problems were real. Too many whiffs. But he had impressive metrics and deserved a better outcome on batted balls. I know many of you don’t want to hear about that stuff, so I hope I’m not irritating you. But based on the quality of his contact, Gorman had an expected slugging percentage of .476. (His actual slug was .420.) Gorman had impressive rates in barrel percentage (14.4), sweet-spot contact (46.7%) and hard–hit percentage (43.3).
— Based on quality of contact, Gorman had a .455 expected slugging percentage on four-seam fastballs, a 622 Xslug on changeups, a .585 Xslug on sliders, a .502 Xslug on sinkers, and a .487 Xslug on cutters. All of that said, Gorman became vulnerable to high-and-tight fastballs in 2022. And pitchers got him repeatedly on low heat that was down and in but below the strike zone. He has to to close those holes in 2023.
— Busch Stadium wasn’t kind to Gorman. According to Statcast, his season total of 14 home runs (all parks) would have been higher in other venues based on wall heights, distances and environmental effects. Some examples: Gorman’s 14 homers would translate to 20 or more homers in seven ballparks, and 18 homers or more at 17 stadiums. In 2022, Gorman had a .453 slugging percentage on the road but only a .390 slug at Busch. He’ll have to make adjustments. Nolan Arenado was able to adjust and put up better power numbers in his second season with Busch as his home yard. Arenado’s home slugging percentage increased by 74 points from his first season with the Cardinals to his second year.
— Gorman finished the season with a 4.5 percent home run percentage, ranking fourth on the team behind Pujols (6.8), Goldschmidt (5.4) and Arenado (4.8). That means Gorman hit a homer in 4.5% of his plate appearances. And that put him in the top 50 of MLB hitters that had at least as many plate appearances as he did (313.)
— The rookie delivered a pinch-hit RBI single in the 9th inning against the Phillies in Game 1 of the wild-card series. The Cardinals scored only two runs in losing 6-2 before getting shut out and eliminated in Game 2. So Gorman can say that he did his job when presented with an opportunity.
Final Thoughts: Gorman isn’t in the majors for his defense. He’s here to hit for power and give the Cardinals a LH-hitting slugger who can generate high home-run counts for many years. As a rookie, Gorman performed above league average offensively in May and July, was league average for all of August, and was terrible in September. So he was below average offensively in only two of his first five months in the bigs. That’s pretty good. And he’ll get better.
The Grade: C. I’m comfortable with this. I think most rookies should receive the benefit of the doubt – especially a dude that came to the big leagues with too much hype, and unrealistic expectations. Though it got out of control late in the season, his strikeout plague was no surprise. Gorman experienced this at every level of the minors and always adjusted to cut down on strikeouts. I believe he’ll do the same in the majors. One question: will he play less second base and spend more time as a DH in 2023? Much depends on what the Cardinals plan to do at shortstop, because Tommy Edman can return to second base (virtually full time) if necessary.
Gorman could be a trade piece, potentially. But the Cardinals should proceed carefully on that. In recent seasons they haven’t had many LH hitters that possess Gorman’s power. And over the last three seasons the Cardinals have the third-fewest number of home runs in the majors from LH batters — and have averaged only one homer per 40.4 at-bats from the left side. That’s awful. And that need for more substantial LH power makes Gorman more valuable.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his 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.
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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.