Exit Interview 2020: Harrison Bader

After every season (dating back to 2012), we’ve spent time looking at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals that season.  They might have gotten a couple of innings, they might have played every day, but if they played, they get a post.  Usually, I like to term this like the players are packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter.  This year, of course, was anything but typical.  So we’ll look at every player, we’ll take in some of their stats, but we won’t be giving out grades this season or delving too much into the positive/negative.  There are just too many variables in the Year of COVID for that to be reasonable.  As he has for the past few years, cardinalsgifs has lent his enormous talents to our header image and we thank him for it!

Player: Harrison Bader

Season stats: 50 games, 125 PA, 21 R, 24 H, 7 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 3 SB, 1 CS, 13 BB, 40 K, .226/.336/.443, 111 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR

Postseason stats: 1 R, 2 RBI, 7 K, .111/.182/.111

Statcast: .314 xwOBA, 11.9% barrel %, 86.0 exit velocity, 35.8% hard hit %

Best Statcast category: Sprint Speed (98th percentile)

Worst Statcast category: xBA (6th percentile)

Hero/Goat: Hero 2, Goat 3


Overview: In the offseason, the Cardinals made a conscious choice.  They chose to give Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill more time in the outfield rather than re-signing Marcell Ozuna and freed up that time in part by shipping Randy Arozarena to the Rays.  We don’t have to reiterate what those two have done for their respective teams, teams that played deep into the postseason in part because of their contributions.  That’s in the past and while it might not have turned out well, there were logical reasons for making those moves at the time.

It just would have helped if Bader (we’ll get to O’Neill later in the series, of course) could have done a little more to justify that confidence.  Instead, he was part of what turned out to be statistically the weakest outfield in the game, an outfield that often saw all three members batting at the bottom of the lineup.  Bader had 99 of his 125 plate appearances in the ninth spot, in part because of his speed, but more because of his bat.

On the upside, he still has the touch against lefties, posting a .360/.429/.800 line against them in 28 PA.  His extra base hits were almost evenly split between right-handers and left-handers, which is remarkable given the many more opportunities he had against the righties.  (He also had a .969 OPS with two outs in an inning, which I’m not sure I can posit a hypothesis about.)  Also, in his last ten games (six starts), he hit .316 with a triple and a home run, both of which came on the final day.  Was he starting to come around?  It didn’t last in the playoffs if he was.  Without being able to point to a mechanical change, it could be just a hot streak, could be he saw a few more lefties in that stretch.  Then there is this weird fluke (I guess):

It should be noted, of course, that his defense didn’t really take a step back.  He was in the top 10 % of outfielders in outs above average and outfielder jump, which led to a number of nifty defensive plays.  When he gets going with the glove, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Outlook: Whatever the case with the bat, it seems pretty clear that Bader is going to be on the Cardinals roster next season.  There’s limited trade value for a (very good) defensive outfielder who struggles offensively.  It would seem more likely that he’s playing himself into a platoon situation, where he may start in center against lefties and come in for defense in other games while someone like Dylan Carlson plays center against righthanders.  He’ll be arbitration eligible at the end of next season and if the overall game doesn’t improve, he’d be at risk to be a non-tender candidate then.  However, if he could return to his 2018 output he could be in line for an extension that buys out his arbitration years.  Which means there’s a lot at stake in 2021 for Mr. Bader.

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