THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Watching Nolan Gorman launch the fireworks over Memorial Day Weekend, it’s understandable to have the fantasy kick in.
The fantasy of a scary lineup that’s packed with power and abundant production. An offense that consistently scores a healthy amount of runs from game to game. An offense that would hammer away at Milwaukee’s advantage in the NL Central.
Just imagine the 2021 version of Tyler O’Neill making his way back from the IL and a horrendous start to the season. The O’Neill who clubbed 34 homers and slugged .560 in ‘21. Hey, O’Neill didn’t get off to a roaring start last season, either. But over the final 4 and ½ months he bashed 29 homers and produced a .945 OPS. Update: O’Neill’s right shoulder is still barking a bit, so his minor-league rehab assignment has been pushed back a few days. I don’t think any alarm bells are going off, but … to be determined.
Imagine a lineup that includes the Dylan Carlson who slugged .505 with 15 homers, 11 doubles and a .847 OPS after the 2021 All-Star break. Carlson was getting there before straining a hamstring and going on the IL. Before the injury Carlson was having a vigorous month of May with a .314 average, .351 onbase percentage and .486 slug.
Imagine a lineup that has the sizzling bat held by Nolan Arenado once he exits his current slump. Look at it this way: even though Nado is 0 for his last 17 and batting .153 with a .514 OPS in his last 20 games – he still has nine homers, 32 RBI a .500 slug and .835 OPS on the season.
Imagine Paul Goldschmidt … well, we don’t have to fantasize about that. Goldy has been doing it during his incendiary 35-game stretch that began five weeks ago. We’re talking about prime, Albert Pujols, career-peak hitting here. Goldschmidt is hitting .413 with a 1.218 OPS over his last 153 plate appearances, for cripes sake.
Imagine all of this setting up behind leadoff man Tommy Edman if he can maintain his.360 onbase percentage and above-average (.425) slugging.
Imagine the speed on the bases being propelled by the bats in a lineup that clicks and hits above its potential.
Imagine the lineup if Harrison Bader – batting eighth or ninth – can perform 10 to 15 percent above league average offensively. And we know he can do this because his 110 OPS+ over the last three seasons is 10 percent above league average.
Imagine this lineup if the Cardinals took the initiative of repairing a huge hole: the absence of a left-handed hitter to slot into the DH spot against right-handed pitching. It’s embarrassing … and easily correctable. More on that later.
Gorman not only fits in, but he’ll be a force as long as his smooth and powerful LH swing can avoid extended slumps and continue to mash RH pitching.
The Cardinals have taken 80.3 percent of their plate appearances against RH pitching this season. If O’Neill and Carlson get cranking imagine this lineup against RHP:
7-Alec Burleson (DH)
Including switch hitters Edman and Carlson, the Cardinals would have four LH bats to send against RH pitchers. Another LH bat, Brendan Donovan, would see a lot of action because he’s the man who can play first base, second base, third base, shortstop, right field, and left field. Oh, and also because he’s good. But with Donovan such a huge plus with his positional versatility, it wouldn’t make much sense to peg him at DH. Norman of course could serve as DH vs. RHP but the Cardinals are adamant about starting him second base.
It’s a lot to ask for, but now that Gorman is in the mix, the Cardinals are capable of doing a significant amount of damage. That is, as long as guys do their jobs. And we’re not asking any of these hitters to fly at a super-hero level. For this St. Louis offense to go from solid to great, the only requirement is having these hitters perform up to their normal standards. It’s imaginable because it’s entirely possible.
And yeah, I put Alec Burleson into the LH designated spot against RHP. I’ll explain why later in The Review.
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD
The Daily Accounting: The Cardinals are 7-3 in their last 10 games to move to 27-21 on the season. That’s the fifth–best record in the NL … Despite their dandy Monday afternoon win over the Padres, the Cardinals lost ground to the Brewers. That’s because the Crew won both ends of a doubleheader from the Cubs at Wrigley Field … entering Tuesday the second-place Cardinals trail top dog Milwaukee by 4 games in the NL Central … the fading Cubs (19-29) are 13-25 since April 19 … The Brewers are 15-5 this season in games against the Cubs, Pirates and Reds. The Cardinals are 7-2 against the Reds and Pirates and will have their first encounter of the Cubs in 2022 in a five-game series which opens Thursday.
Nolan Gorman Is Fierce Fun: His at-bats are events … and that didn’t take long, did it? After going 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts in his first four career games at Busch Stadium, the rookie tower of power broke the place in over his next three games. Or maybe we should say he may have broken Busch Stadium, or at least a few seats. In the three games that began Saturday afternoon, Gorman went 7 for 10 with two homers, a double and six RBI. He walked as many times (two) as he struck out. He displayed a quick ability to adjust.
And his adjustments lifted him out of a short slump and put him in the center of Saturday’s 8-3 win over the Brewers and Monday’s 6-3 victory over the Padres. And that’s exactly what you want to see.
Gorman, still only 22, goes to the plate with a plan … and that plan is part of a broader process. This is no grip-and-rip palooka up there in the batter’s box. Gorman is a thinker and a worker with perfectionist tendencies. There will be strikeout binges for sure, but as long as he can limit them and get back on track, it’s not an issue. Kris Bryant struck out 31 percent of the time in his rookie season (2015) for the Cubs, and no one cared. Not with Bryant hitting 26 homers and driving in 99 runs.
Question: Just how did Gorman adjust after his first bad sequence of games in the bigs? The excellent reporter John Denton of MLB.com explained:
“To adapt and better align the timing of his swing with MLB velocities, the 22-year-old Gorman had the maturity and baseball IQ to adapt. He went to a wider stance where he merely goes up on his front toes and pivots through the ball — a change that has elicited some electrifying offensive thunder.”
Goldschmidt noticed: “He had those good games (at Pittsburgh), and then they started throwing offspeed and the high fastballs, too, and he’s done a good job,” Goldy said. “You’ve got to lay off those tough pitches to get yourself the mistakes [from pitchers], and he’s done a great job with that.”
Left-handed Power: The Cardinals have been mediocre against RH pitching for a while now, and Gorman should help the team change that. One problem has been the shortage of quality LH hitters to counter the opposing team’s RH pitchers.
This illustrates what I’m talking about: Gorman has two home runs off RH pitchers in his first 31 at-bats. The Cardinals have had only five other homers from LH batters this season in a combined 434 at-bats: three by Edman, one by Carlson, one by Donovan.
To put it another way: in his first 10 games in the majors Gorman cracked a homer every 15.5 at–bats. The team’s other LH batters have homered every 86.8 at-bats this season.
A Must-Discuss Problem: The Cardinals continue to wallow at the DH spot when utilizing LH batters. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. LH-swinging DHs are 8 for 50 (.160) with a .200 slugging percentage and .436 OPS this season. And they collectively have three RBIs in 55 plate appearances. Believe it or not – but it’s the truth – the Cards haven’t had an RBI from a LH designated hitter since April 23. Good grief. Most of these terrible numbers are owned by Corey Dickerson, who is 8 for 40 (.200) with a .250 slug and .506 OPS as a DH. But Carlson, Donovan and Lars Nootbaar are a combined 0 for 10 when used at DH. Perhaps Nootbaar warrants more of an opportunity, but his small-sample .115 batting average doesn’t engender confidence.
Manager Oli Marmol is apparently stuck with Dickerson, who is protected by a front office that’s paying him $5 million guaranteed for 2022.
Not that Marmol is opposed to using Albert Pujols against RH pitchers; the manager doesn’t need any encouragement. But without a viable LH bat that can be used extensively at DH, Marmol is turning to Pujols.
When Pujols is used as a DH against RH pitching, he’s 4 for 36 (.111) with a .194 slug and .514 OPS in 47 plate appearances. Overall this season Pujols is 6 for 49 (.122) against right-handers with a .245 slug and .528 OPS.
Marmol has used other RH batters at DH against RH pitchers. Juan Yepez (.766 OPS) has done well, but he’s been given only 29 plate appearances in this specific role. Marmol also uses this spot as a rest stop for Arenado and Goldschmidt, and they’ve combined for 14 RBIs in 31 plate appearances. But Goldy and Nado are assets defensively and the DH turn is no more than an occasional thing.
Which Brings Me To Alec Burleson: If the Cardinals want to plug in a LH-hitting DH against RH pitching, their guy is already in place at Memphis. And they know him well. Burleson, a corner outfielder, is pummeling Triple A pitchers.
In 41 games and 175 plate appearances for Memphis, Burleson is hitting .331 with a .377 onbase percentage and .601 slug. He has nine doubles, a triple, 11 homers and 38 RBI.
In 118 plate appearances vs. RHP this season Burleson has 10 homers and is hitting .363 with a .390 OBP and a .699 slug. That’s good for a 1.089 OPS.
Burleson isn’t isn’t a marginal guy. The Cardinals drafted him in the second round, 70th overall, in 2020. So they’re obviously keen on him. In 2021 Burleson moved quickly through the farm system, starting at Class A, moving up to Double A, and earning a promotion to Triple A.
So how long will Burleson have to wait in Memphis? He seems to be waving hello to the bosses in STL. I say that because this is what he’s done since May 14: batted .433 with a .452 OBP and .767 slug. Plus five homers, five doubles and 19 runs batted in … this, in only 60 at-bats.
The Cardinals have an obvious need at DH.
Burleson isn’t on the 40-man roster, and the Cardinals constantly act like it’s a crisis to put a good player on the 40-man. Take a look at their 40-man roster sometime; finding a place for Burleson is easy. But the payroll politics are a factor, and the roster will be crowded when O’Neill and Carlson return from the IL.
So the comically fussy Cardinals may not be inclined to solve their glaring DH problem and give themselves a stronger lineup and a better chance to win the NL Central.
Putting Goldschmidt In Perspective: Since April 22, when Goldy began his current streak (35 straight games) of reaching base and making pitchers ill, 197 MLB hitters have made 100 or more plate appearances.
How is the rest of the pack – 196 hitters – doing compared to Goldy since April 22?
– He’s batting .413 … 196 hitters have a lower average.
– He has 57 hits … 196 hitters have fewer.
– He has 16 doubles … 193 hitters have less.
– His onbase percentage is .464 … 194 hitters have a lower OBP.
– He’s slugged .754 …. 195 hitters can’t match it or top it.
– He has a 1.218 OPS … 195 hitters can’t match it or top it.
– He has 41 RBIs … 196 hitters are below him in the RBI count.
– He has 11 homers … 192 have fewer bombs.
After that, I don’t know what to say other than we’ve had the privilege of watching one of the most impressive hot streaks in franchise history.
Bullpen Bulldogs: The shortage of innings supplied by Cards starting pitchers is the primary source of ERA inflation for the St. Louis bullpen; through Monday the relievers ranked 13th overall in ERA (3.66) and were 17th in May (4.17). But when these fellers have a fair fight, they’ve been pretty great. I’ve mentioned this before but I like the metric Win Probability Added because it separates the junk from the quality. And going into Tuesday’s game against the Padres the Cardinals’ bullpen WPA of 1.94 is fifth best in the majors. On Monday five different relievers – Packy Naughton, Andre Pallante, Giovanny Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera, and Ryan Helsley – combined to allow three runs and two walks with 13 strikeouts in an all–bullpen game. Bravo.
Tip O’ The Cap To Andre Pallante: The RH rookie has a 1.07 ERA in 25.1 innings linking 17 appearances this season. He’s faced 109 batters and has allowed only one homer … and check out the dude’s 63.6 percent ground-ball rate.
Here’s a stat that should interest you. Among MLB rookie pitchers that have worked a minimum 25 innings this season, Pallante ranks first in ERA and is third in WAR (the Baseball Reference version.) San Diego’s MacKenzie Gore and Minnesota’s Joe Ryan are tied for the lead with 1.4 bWAR, followed by Pallante.
Pallante made 22 starts in the minors last season including 21 at Double A Springfield. Pallante’s ERA in those 21 starts was 5.06, so it may seem like too big of a jump to think about putting him in the tattered STL rotation. But nothing bothers this guy. His poise will play in any role.
Sneaky Harry Bader: I see you, HB. In your last 10 games, a .357 average .460 slug, .811 OPS four stolen bases, five runs, a double, a homer and five RBIs. Giddyup.
Cooldown: In his last 10 games Juan Yepez is batting .182 with a .263 OBP and .303 slug for a .514 OPS.
Paul DeJong: After a brief hot spell, DeJong is 0 for 17 with seven strikeouts in his last four games for Memphis. Since being sent down to work on his hitting, DeJong is batting .177 in 86 plate appearances for Memphis. He’s slugging only .274 at Triple A with a .506 OPS and his strikeout rate is 26 percent.
AS OTHERS SEE US
Quality reading material from Mark Simon of Sports Info Solutions. The stats he used in this piece were through last Tuesday. That’s a week ago, so some of the statistics may have changed a bit but the main points remain intact:
“Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman can cover 90 feet in 3.87 seconds, a time that ranks right around the top 50 players in MLB. But when it comes to actual baserunning skill, Edman is – to this point – unmatched.
“SIS tracks baserunning not just in stolen bases and attempts, but also in how often a runner goes first to third or second to home on a single, or first to home on a double, as well as how often he garners bases on things such as wild pitches or passed balls. There are penalties for getting thrown out on the bases and for grounding into double plays often. The baseline is MLB average.
“By our measures, Edman entered Wednesday leading MLB with a Net Gain of +23 bases. The split on those is +8 bases from stolen bases (Edman has 10 steals in 11 attempts) and an MLB-best +15 bases from baserunning (including 9 instances of gaining a base on a wild pitch, passed ball, defensive indifference, balk, or fly ball). Edman’s teammate, Harrison Bader, ranks second overall with 16 bases gained.
“ This isn’t a new thing for Edman. Last season, he finished 4th with a Net Gain of +40 bases, 10 behind the MLB leader, Starling Marte.
“If you guessed that the Cardinals lead MLB teams in Net Gain since they have the No. 1 and No. 2 baserunner, you would actually be wrong. They’re bettered by one team, the Rangers, whose Net Gain is +41 bases. The Cardinals are at +35, just ahead of the Giants, who are at +34.”
Thanks for reading…
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and 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 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.