Exit Interview 2021: Tyler O’Neill

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: Tyler O’Neill

Season stats: 138 G, 537 PA, 89 R, 26 2B, 2 3B, 34 HR, 80 RBI, 15 SB, 4 CS, 38 BB, 168 K, .286/.352/.560, 150 OPS+, 6.3 bWAR, 5.4 fWAR

Statcast: .391 xwOBA, 17.9 barrel %, 93.0 exit velocity, 52.2 hard hit %, 31.3 K %, 7.1 BB %

Best Statcast category: Sprint Speed (98th percentile)

Worst Statcast category: Whiff %, K % (4th percentile)

Hero/Goat: Hero 15, Goat 11

Grade: A

Positives: Had his best season ever, one that ended with him receiving MVP votes….had three multi-homer games, strangely enough all against C teams (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago Cubs)….hit .313 with seven homers during the winning streak….had a 1.026 OPS against left-handers….was in the top 7% (at least) of the league in barrel percentage, exit velocity, expected slugging, wOBA, xwOBA, xwOBACON (which, of course, was probably Canadian OBACON), and hard hit percentage….hit .303 with a .935 OPS under the Arch, though slightly more homers came on the road….hit .296 in the second half….had an OPS over 1.000 in May and September….28 of his home runs came in wins….hit .311 with five homers when leading off an inning….hit .313 with 12 homers in 148 plate appearances batting third….his OPS was over 1.000 hitting fifth and sixth as well….slashed .423/.438/.690 on the first pitch….had an OPS over 1.000 when he was ahead in the count and when the count was even….hit over .300 with less than two outs….hit 14 first inning home runs….was pretty much equally good against starters (.921 OPS) and relievers (.898 OPS)….hit .317 with five homers against the Cubs….hit six home runs against the Brewers….had a .946 OPS in night games….won his second Gold Glove.

Negatives: Still struck out a lot, as noted above finishing in the bottom 4% of the league in strikeout percentage….had 14 games where he struck out three times, though no sombreros….hit .270 away from Busch….struggled in July, slashing .239/.316/.352….had a .690 OPS hitting fourth….hit .235 with three homers when behind in the count….had a .797 OPS with runners in scoring position….hit .217 with two outs and RISP….had a .599 OPS in late and close situations….put up a .786 OPS in high leverage situations….hit .255 in day games.

Overview: This is what we’ve been waiting for.  Ever since Tyler O’Neill, for whom Kyle Reis channels Lor San Tekka (“To me, (he) is royalty”), was acquired for Marco Gonzales, fans have been waiting for his power profile to translate fully to the major leagues.  The expectation was that when he got consistent playing time not only would the power be there but an overall hitting profile that would do a lot for the Cardinals’ chances.  O’Neill played more in 2021 than any two of his first three seasons combined and all that expectation became reality.  Shifting him up to the third spot in the lineup between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado did wonders as well, though he was doing just fine even before that.  All that plus wonderful defense and amazing speed–seriously, maybe it’s because of his size but he visually seems the fastest player on the team.  There’s also this little tidbit: given his age, there’s a strong possibility he’s not reached his prime yet.

Outlook: O’Neill is arbitration eligible for the first time this season and would seem to be in line for a very good payday.  It would not be a surprise at all if the Cardinals tried to buy out those arbitration years with an extension after all the CBA dust has settled.  No matter how he gets signed for 2022, he’ll likely start the year hitting third, playing left field, and continuing to build on what was an incredible season.  When the Cardinals get to marketing this winter, expect TON to be front and center.

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