Hello, there. Here’s the latest season in review for individual Cardinals players in 2022. I’ve enjoyed doing these, and I hope you’ve liked reading them.

NEXT UP: Outfielder Dylan Carlson.

THE OVERVIEW: After putting up hardy numbers following the 2021 All-Star break for a strong close to his first full MLB season, Carlson entered 2022 with elevated expectations. But the exciting promise of his 2021 second half – which included a .505 slugging percentage and .847 OPS – didn’t carry over to 2022.

Going into this, here were my questions as I tried to be fair in my analysis of Carlson: should I cut him some slack because of a sprained left thumb that messed with his effectiveness as a hitter? Is it proper to consider his age – which was 23 last season – as a factor? It’s not abnormal for a young player to establish consistency. And how do I grade a player that (A) had a league–average OPS+, (B) played above-average defense in center field, (C) and was one of the best Cardinals at running the bases? In other words, Carlson had a disappointing season at the plate … very much so if we factor in the expectations. But then again, his overall offense (100 OPS+) was an exact match of the MLB-wide OPS+.

So, if Carlson had an average season offensively, but was above average in defense and baserunning, then how do I rate his entire season? How much do I account for his thumb injury? Is it fair to judge him based on the heightened expectations or the actual performance? Evaluating Carlson’s 2022 is rather tricky, simply because his body of work defied a quick-and-easy assessment.

THE OFFENSE: Carlson batted .236 with a disappointing .316 onbase percentage and a .380 slugging percentage in a season when average MLB slug was .395. Compared to his showing in 2021, Carlson’s batting average dropped 30 points, his OBP fell 27 points, his slugging tumbled by 57 points, and his OPS+ went down 15 points. After hitting 18 homers and driving in 65 runs in 2021, Carlson declined to 8 homers and 42 RBI in 2022. But he did fine with his totals in doubles (30) and triples (4.) And Carlson’s lower strikeout rate (19.3%) was a five-point improvement from 2021.

WHAT ABOUT THE THUMB? This seemingly mattered. Carlson had a cold April, but heated up to hit well in May and June. Over the two months he hit for more power (.422), put together a solid OPS (.758) and was 17 percent above league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+.) But Carlson crashed offensively over the final three months, hitting .181 with a terrible OBP (.283) and an awful slugging percentage (.313.) And after being 17 points above average offensively in May-June, Carlson was 26 percent below league average offensively during the final three months After slugging .250 and striking out 27 percent of the time over a painful two-week stretch, Carlson was finally placed on the IL on Sept. 7.

Resting the afflicted thumb only led to modest improvement; the damage had been done. One of the most baffling aspects of this was how the team let Carlson’s decline drag on; based on the reporting done at the time, he had played with the sprained thumb for a month (or more) before the Cardinals sent him to have an MRI to look at the injury. This made no sense. And he apparently had a wrist-related issue as well. Carlson was bothered by the thumb discomfort for much of the season and the condition became progressively worse — and the team inexplicably failed to intervene on time.

STATCAST TELLS A STORY: This is another reason why I think the thumb was obviously detrimental to Carlson’s offense. Compared to 2021, Carlson had an across-the-board downturn in 2022, with lower readings on average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, barrel rate, and sweet-spot percentage.

At the end of the season Carlson ranked in the bottom seven percent of the majors in average exit velocity (86.1 mph), was in the bottom 20 percent in hard-hit rate (27.2%), and drifted into the bottom 15 percent in barrel rate (4.4%). He was also in the bottom 26 percent for expected batting average and expected slugging percentage.

Carlson’s overall contact rate and contact percentage on strikes improved in 2022. Getting to the pitch wasn’t a problem for him. But the authority and quality of the contact was a huge problem. Something wasn’t right.

TROUBLE WITH RIGHT-HANDED PITCHERS: This isn’t new, and it’s a quandary. During his big-league career the switch-hitting Carlson has hammered lefty pitchers for a .317 average, .377 OBP and .492 slug for a .869 OPS. Per wRC+, he’s 42 percent above league average offensively when batting right-handed against LH pitchers.

Problem is, Carlson has 933 career plate appearances vs. righties – and only 293 vs. lefties. And here are Carlson’s career numbers when batting from the left side against RH pitchers: .225 average, .307 OBP, .380 slug, and.686 OPS. And per wRC+, he’s nine percent below league average vs. RH pitching.

Carlson really skidded against righties in 2022, batting .207 with a .284 OBP, .339 slug and .633 OPS. Per wRC+, he finished 17 percent below league average vs. right-handers.

Among the nine Cardinals that had at least 250 plate appearances in 2022, Carlson was at the bottom of the list in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, and wRC+.

Over the last two seasons the Cardinals as a team have taken 78.5 percent of their plate appearances against RH pitching, and that trend will almost certainly continue.

To state the obvious: if Carlson can’t be a more effective hitter against RH pitching going forward, his offensive value will be limited … and therefore his overall value will be limited. The platoon-split disadvantage has cut into his Wins Above Replacement, which averaged 2.5 WAR over the last two seasons.

FAILURE AT LEADOFF: Count me among those who believed Carlson would be successful as a No. 1 hitter. That’s because of the way he grinds out lengthy at-bats and for the most part has good plate discipline. But for some reason Carlson just hasn’t taken to the responsibility of batting leadoff. In 298 career plate appearances batting first in the lineup, he has a .217 average and a poor .285 onbase percentage. And his walk rate, 6.7%, won’t cut it for a leadoff man.

Carlson did have some success at leadoff in 2021, mostly because of a .447 slugging percentage there. (But that was largely offset by a mediocre OBP at leadoff.)

When batting at the No. 1 spot in 2022 Carlson hit .190 with a .252 OBP and was 42 percent below league average offensively per wRC+.

QUALITY DEFENSE: Carlson was (and is) an overrated right fielder. Over the last two seasons he’s a minus 5 in Outs Above Average among right fielders; that’s tied for 11th worst in the majors. But Carlson played above-average defense in center field last season, finishing with +4 Outs Above Average. In Defensive Runs Saved his +6 ranked seventh among MLB center fielders, which was even more impressive considering that he played only 530 innings there. Carlson has found a home in center. He doesn’t grade well on getting jumps, but Statcast grades him highly for his routes to the ball, and his throwing arm ranks in the top 13 percent. Carlson’s ability to play center figured into STL’s decision to trade CF Harrison Bader to the Yankees for starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery.

BASERUNNING: Carlson had a plus 20 in net baserunning gain last season, which ranked second among Cardinals to Tommy Edman’s plus 51. Carlson doesn’t attempt many steals, but he had a 71% success rate in 2022. He’s very good at advancing on teammates’ batted balls (non-force outs) getting thrown out only one time last season when attempting to push it to grab an extra base.

CONCLUSION: The bottom line? Technically, Carlson may have been average offensively in 2022 with his 100 OPS+, but the Cardinals needed more from him. His batting profile depreciated in 2022, and that was a surprise. But I can’t ignore the injury factor and how it impacted his hitting. And I can’t ignore how he helped this team with his center-field defense and in his exceptional baserunning.

I was inclined to give Carlson a below-average grade (C minus) but eased up after taking a deeper-dive look at the injury factor and all aspects of his play.

THE GRADE: Carlson gets a “C” for 2022 … but the Cardinals and their fans should expect more offensive production from him in 2023. It will be Carlson’s third full MLB season, and he’ll be getting closer to 2,000 career plate appearances in the majors. Time to heal up and deliver.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by live streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

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


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.