Exit Interview 2021: Harrison Bader

As is tradition around these parts after the season is over, we’re taking a look at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals this season.  That’ll range from someone that didn’t record an out to someone that played almost every inning.  Treat it like they are stopping by the manager’s office (umm, also imagine this was before the managerial change) on their way home for the winter for a performance review.  Stats listed are ones generated during their time with the Cards and the grade is based not only on their performance but on the expectations for them going into the season.  As he has the past few years, the legend that is cardinalsgifs has provided our excellent header image!

Player: Harrison Bader

Season stats: 103 G, 401 PA, 45 R, 21 2B, 1 3B, 16 HR, 50 RBI, 9 SB, 4 CS, 27 BB, 85 K, .267/.324/.460, 116 OPS+, 3.9 bWAR, 3.4 fWAR

Statcast: .292 xwOBA, 7.0 barrel %, 86.2 exit velocity, 31.7 hard hit %, 21.2 K %, 6.7 BB %

Best Statcast category: Outs Above Average (99th percentile)

Worst Statcast category: Average Exit Velocity (7th percentile)

Hero/Goat: Hero 6, Goat 6

Grade: B

Positives: Was a huge part of the 17 game winning streak, hitting .391/.418/.719 with nine doubles and four homers during that stretch….hit .328 away from Busch Stadium with 13 of his homers coming on the road as well….held his own against lefties, putting up a comparable OPS as he did with righties though in many fewer AB….posted an .800 OPS in the second half of the season….had a 1.021 OPS in July when he hit .357….was named Player of the Week in September….hit a leadoff homer in the only game he batted first….hit .350 on the first pitch of an at-bat….put up a 1.181 OPS when he was ahead in the count….when he had zero strikes in the count, slashed .394/.494/.667….was at his best with nobody out, fashioning a .901 OPS in those 136 plate appearances…..hit .295 with five homers with runners in scoring position….had a 1.106 OPS in tie games….hit better when the team was behind (.846 OPS) than when they were ahead (.653 OPS)….was best in medium-leverage situations with a .878 OPS….hit over .300 in four of the first five innings….had an .855 OPS against finesse pitchers….torched the Cubs to the tune of .400/.429/.717….also had success against the Reds (.433 BA, 1.318) in fewer games….had a 1.522 OPS in Great American Ball Park….improved his batting average and slugging percentage against all types of pitches…..hit .311 in day games….had his lowest strikeout percentage of his career….continued to catch anything in the general vicinity and won his first Gold Glove.

Negatives: His max exit velocity was 111.5 but overall his exit velocity was lacking, leading to very low expected averages…..his hard hit percentage was in the bottom 80% of the league….his walk rate was the second lowest of his career and that was while he batted in front of the pitcher most of the season….struggled at Busch with a .200 average and a .567 OPS….had a rough first half, only mustering a .234/.308/.439 line….hit .152 with a .192 slugging in August….went 2-21 in a misguided attempt at hitting him fifth…..had a .555 OPS when the pitcher had two strikes on him….hit just .205 with two outs and runners in scoring position….struggled later in games, posting a .651 OPS in the last three innings….hit .223 with three homers against power pitchers….had a .416 OPS against the Pirates, of all teams…..his barrel percentage was the lowest of his career….had a higher percentage of ground balls than he’s had since his rookie year, though his speed helped negate that as a problem….struggled significantly against four-seamers.

Overview: Bader was a roller coaster ride this season, hitting some remarkable highs with some significant valleys in between.  His personality, while never hidden, seemed to come out even more this season with his enthusiasm and, of course, those notable blond curls.  (My wife notes that every time she looks up at the game, Bader is on the screen.  That’s in part because the hair helps her know who he is.)  While the saying goes that his defense is so great it doesn’t matter what he hits, which has a lot of truth to it, the lineup is much better when Bader is not an automatic out and he made some significant strides this year.  He seemed to be able to not chase sliders and the like quite as much and he definitely put a charge into some pitches.  I do wonder how much of that exit velocity, etc. is based on earlier in the year rather than the Bader we saw in September.  Of course, we saw that Bader in July as well and he fell off the table in August.

Overall, though, it felt like perhaps Bader took a step toward being a leader on this team and brought the game to back all of that up.  It seems that nasal polyp surgery, first reported by a New Yorker who had a meeting to buy Bader’s Pokemon cards, definitely had an impact on him.  It’s also possible that Bader, who famously talked about not necessarily buying into the Jeff Albert system a year or so ago, has embraced some of those teachings.  Whatever the case, if the Bader we see in the future can be about 85% of the Bader we saw during the streak, he’s going to be an All-Star and the Cardinals are going to be very good.

Outlook: If Bader’s gains offensively are for real, it might get him some looks at the leadoff spot under new manager Oli Marmol.  (Mike Shildt’s resistance to moving Bader out of the eight hole was a little puzzling, though he did do his best work there.)  Bader will be in the running for the Gold Glove again in 2022 and could be a key reason why the Cardinals move from good to great, if they in fact make that jump.

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