Cardinals: Bader Swings At Strikes, Does Damage

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Hey there, been awhile. Between a lack of baseball, discouraging baseball news, a two week stretch without Cardinals baseball, and my own personal case of writer’s block — it’s been quite a while since I contributed to this blog. So here’s a little something to break the ice.

Harrison Bader is on a hot streak.

In 2019 one of the most obvious and easily identified issues in the offensive profile of Harrison Bader was his frustrating habit of taking too many strikes. Far too often he would watch a fastball down the middle, setting himself up to be exploited on breaking pitches away. He was making a conscious effort to take more pitches. Unfortunately, he was taking the wrong ones.

So let’s jump ahead to 2020 and specifically the last 3 games.

Starting with Saturday night’s tussle with the Reds, Bader has gone 5-for-10 with 3 doubles, 2 home runs, a walk, a HBP, and a stolen base. As if to compensate for a costly defensive miscue on Friday, his bat has been a force.

Obviously, it’s a very small sample.

But some causation can be found in a small sample, even if a sustainable trend cannot be determined on just 12 plate appearances.

So with the 2019 issue in mind, I went to Brooks Baseball to check the pitch data. I looked specifically at HARD pitches — fastballs, sinkers, and cutters — as well as his greatest weakness, the slider. Fastballs are simply the best pitch to do consistent damage on, so letting hittable ones pass by is problematic. Additionally, when you are most susceptible to sliders off the plate, you need to be prepared to launch those that get hung in the zone. That is why I looked at the data for those particular pitches.

For the periods of 2019, 2020 Opening Day thru Aug. 21st, and Aug 22-24th, I looked at the number of hard pitches and sliders (separately) that he saw in the zone and the amount that he swung at. I also isolated the Middle and Upper portions of the zone, as this region showed specific, dramatic change. This does not include pitches chased out of the zone. Here is the data:

Pitch/Swing Data 2019 Thru 8/21/20 8/22-8/24
Hard – Strikes TOTAL 686 50 22
Hard – Swings TOTAL 407 34 14
Hard – Swing % TOTAL 59% 68% 64%
Hard – Strikes MID/UP 421 26 11
Hard – Swings MID/UP 251 19 9
Hard – Swing % MID/UP 59.6% 76% 82%
Slider – Strikes 153 13 8
Slider – Swings 86 7 6
Slider – Swing % 56% 54% 75%

So what this shows is that last season, Bader watched hard pitches for strikes over 40% of the time. So far this year, he has swung as those pitches about 6% more often. Now, the reason I isolated the middle & upper zone for hard pitches is because it is in this letter-high to belt-high area where the change occurred. He has continued to take these pitches low, swinging at just 58.8% of hard pitches low in the zone overall this season. However, in the area where he was often giving away strikes, he had upped his swing% by 16% to begin with in 2020, but has let it rip on 82% (9-of-11) of those pitches during his 3-day heater. He has just 1 whiff on a fastball in the strike zone during the stretch. He put 4 fastballs in play, with 3 going for hits.

As for the slider, his 2020 was a carryover from 2019, seeing him swing at just 54% of sliders thrown in the strike zone. However, over the last 3 days, he has seen 8 sliders in the zone and swung at 6. He has 0 whiffs on sliders in the zone. He has put 2 in play, one a double and the other a homerun.

Overall he still struck out 4 times — and his 28.8% career K% is unlikely to change — but the key is to do damage between the strikeouts. Considering he has gone 5-for-6 with 5 extra-base hits in his non-strikeout at-bats over the last 3 games, the damage is being done. At least part of that involves him swinging at strikes that he was giving away to the pitcher last season.

Will it continue? No idea.

I still believe Bader’s best role is as a 4th outfielder with carefully picked matchups and defensive cameos. However, for the moment, he is showing what he can do when he aggressively attacks pitches in the zone.

I had, personally, given up on thinking he would adjust. So this is a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.

It may just be a mirage — and the torrid pace is not sustainable — but if the more aggressive approach sticks around, he can be a very valuable member of the roster, again.

Thanks for reading.

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