Every year since 2012, we’ve spent some time after the season looking back at those that wore the Birds on the Bat. Whether it’s a bit player that got into just a couple of games or someone that played almost every day, we’ll look at their stats, their positives, their negatives, and grade them based on what we would have expected from them. The stat line is from their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers may include time with other teams, if applicable. Think of this as like the players packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter. Once again, our great header work comes to us from cardinalsgifs, who continues to be a master.
Player: Harrison Bader
Season stats: 138 G, 427 PA, 61 R, 100 H, 20 2B, 2 3B, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 15 SB, 3 CS, 31 BB, 125 K, .264/.334/.422, 106 OPS+, 3.8 bWAR
Hero/Goat: Hero 6, Goat 5
Overall grade: A-
Positives: Put himself into both the Rookie of the Year and the Gold Glove discussions, even though he didn’t grab either one of them….his speed was outstanding, most notably scoring once from second on a bouncing ground ball to the middle infield….was above average by OPS in his first full major league season….continued to do a number on left-handed pitching to the tune of .292/.370/.517….10 of his 12 home runs came away from Busch Stadium….evenly split his home runs between the first and second halves and his overall slash line showed little difference after the All-Star Break….in fact, he hit .301 with a .906 in August as the Cards went on their run….hit .319 with a .911 OPS in games the Cardinals won….went 3-5 to lead off games….hit .467 after the count ran to 3-0….had a 1.083 OPS when he was ahead in the count….hit .311 with a runner on first and less than two outs….hit .292 off of starting pitchers and .294 off of finesse hurlers….had a 1.694 OPS in three games in Kansas City.
Negatives: Struck out 125 times in 427 plate appearances, which works out to basically one every 3.5 at bats….struggled in September, hitting .221 with 31 strikeouts in 27 games….hit .222 with a .586 OPS when he was the leadoff hitter….had a .212 average when the pitcher had the advantage in the count….hit .211 with runners in scoring position and .220 with two outs and RISP….had a .571 OPS in late and close situations….hit .215 in high leverage situations….hit .215 in the seventh through ninth innings….had a .232 BA with a .303 OBP against relief pitchers….had a .264 OBP against the Pirates.
Overview: It’s not like Bader came completely out of nowhere. I mean, he’s been the top non-pitching prospect in the system for a while (depending on your opinion on Carson Kelly, I guess) and held his own last year in the major leagues. However, I’m not sure everyone thought that he could become this phenom on the bases and in the outfield. For a while there, it seemed every night there was a diving catch or a remarkable burst of speed coming from the rookie outfielder. Without that September slump, he probably still wouldn’t have been ROY but he could have been a strong third at least. (As I write this, the finalists have not been announced but I expect he’ll miss out.) Bader brought some energy and excitement to the ballpark, a type of energy that (save for maybe Tommy Pham last year) had been missing for a while.
Outlook: It’s not surprising that the fan base, especially a certain segment that still holds the Runnin’ Redbirds near and dear, took to Bader and his full throttle approach to the game. He’s fun and exciting and good, good enough to move Pham to Tampa Bay. Can he keep it up? That’s going to be the real question. Bader’s going to have to be able to figure out how to strengthen his game against right-handed pitchers and make the adjustments to the adjustments the league is going to most certainly make to him. If the Cardinals do wind up winning the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, it’s possible Bader might have to share some playing time with Dexter Fowler. Barring that happenstance, though, expect to see Bader patrolling center a lot in 2019.