THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Rookie Jordan Walker’s last game before being optioned to Triple A Memphis was April 23 in Seattle. He was sent down, in part, because the Cardinals wanted to extend regular playing time to Tyler O’Neill, Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson and Alec Burleson with the hope of getting them going.
The early returns are disappointing. In 93 plate appearances since April 24, the St. Louis outfielders collectively have batted .198 with a .275 onbase percentage and .272 slug for a .546 OPS. They’ve combined for one homer in 81 at-bats with three doubles and five RBI. If the shakeup was supposed to lead to instant-impact offense from the outfielders … well, we’re still waiting.
Dylan Carlson has batted .333 with a .350 onbase percentage and .739 OPS over this time, but that’s about it.
Here are some of the lowlights since April 24:
* O’Neill has hit .167 with no extra-base hits and no RBI and has a strikeout rate of 40 percent. Dreadful.
* Burleson has gone 2 for 19 for a .105 batting average. He has the only home run (a solo shot) hit by this group.
* Lars Nootbaar has hit .185, but with five walks his onbase percentage is .333. But Nootbaar has only one extra-base hit, is slugging a weak .222, and has struck out 28 percent of the time.
Carlson has played good defense in center, and is the only above-average hitter among the outfielders since April 24, coming at three percent above league average per adjusted runs created. That said, even though the switch–hitting Carlson is doing better against right-handed pitching, he isn’t hitting for power.
In my view, none of these guys have truly seized the opportunity presented to them. Reducing the outfield contingent to four players has triggered little offense. Carlson has at least made progress, but the other three outfielders are 10 for 64 (.156) since April 24.
OK, what about Walker? How’s he doing at Memphis? I wish I had good news for you. After five games there, the 20-year-old is batting .158 with a home run. He’s struck out eight times in 22 plate appearances for a strikeout rate of 36.3 percent. Walker probably was a little deflated when returned to the minors. He’ll get going.
It’s early, but demoting Walker hasn’t produced more offense from the remaining four outfielders at the big-league level. If anything, it’s resulted in less offense. We’ll take another look at the state of the outfield after the Cardinals complete their six-game homestand.
Here are my Outfielder Rankings since April 24:
1. Dylan Carlson: Fielding Bible grades him as average defensively in center field, but I think we agree he’s been better than that. Easily the team’s finest defender in center. I think Lars Nootbaar will rise to the top of the rankings soon, but I wanted to acknowledge Carlson’s recent play. But he can get better, and I just don’t know if he can take this short positive trend and stretch it out.
2. Lars Nootbaar: the walks are great, and we love his .412 onbase percentage for the season. But where’s the power? He’s slugging only .363 this year and isn’t barreling as many pitches as he did in 2022. Keep in mind that Nootbaar competed for Japan in the WBC, then injured his thumb in the first game of the regular season and had to go to the Injured List. Nootbaar had a lot going on, so I understand why he’s off to an inconsistent start.
3. Alec Burleson: He’s still hitting the ball with authority; based on the quality of contact he has an expected slugging percentage of .450. As is, his actual slugging percentage (.430) is good. But he’s been chasing too many pitches, and that doesn’t help him. Burleson is batting only .228, and his onbase percentage is below .300.
4. Tyler O’Neill. He’s the most disappointing St. Louis position player. For the season he has two homers in 87 at-bats and his current slugging percentage (.356) would be the lowest in a big-league season. His onbase percentage is a substandard .298, and his strikeout rate has ballooned to 34%. O’Neill’s 82 OPS+ means he’s 18 percent below league average offensively. His left-field defense is slightly above average. His center-field defense is below average. O’Neill’s sprint speed has declined, and he’s a minus 3 this season in net baserunning gain. Enigma.
5. Jordan Walker: Hopefully he’ll regroup sooner than later but the Cardinals can’t rush him back to the majors. That wouldn’t be smart.
6. Juan Yepez: He’s slugging .492 at Memphis. In a fill-in gig earlier this season, Yepez had only 12 at-bats for the Cardinals but banged a homer and slugged .583. He’s limited defensively, but when will he get another chance with the big club?
For the season the St. Louis outfielders rank 19th among MLB outfield groups in slugging percentage (.372), are 18th in park-adjusted runs created, and have hit only eight homers in 333 at[bats. That’s an average of one homer for every 41.6 at-bats. Bad.
Programming note: I have some business to tend to, but I’ll be back in this space with another column later today.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his 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 streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.