A week ago, if you asked a Cardinals fan what the team needed to do to improve, the first thing they would say was promote Dylan Carlson. The myth of the man had grown to a point that he was the savior for the season. It kind of reminds me of another outfield prospect with immense talent that didn’t deliver when he was first promoted too: Oscar Taveras.
That’s where the comparisons end though. We know of the tragic demise of Taveras. Carlson is just going.
Unfortunately, it’s not going well to start. In 22 plate appearances over 6 games, Carlson is slashing a meager .143/.182/.190. He’s carrying an OPS+ of 1, meaning he’s 99% worse than the rest of the Major Leagues. It looks pretty bad right now, but is there hope?
The Statcast data should give us hope (I’m going into nerd mode; all stats will have definitions linked). His xwOBA is sitting at .387; for reference, he’d be 67th in the league if he had 25 plate appearances, which puts him around Mookie Betts (.389), Travis d’Arnaud (.387), D.J. LeMaHieu (.386), Willson Contreras (.385), and Michael Conforto (.384). The MLB average is .321. This pretty much shows that when he’s making contact, he’s hitting the ball well; it’s just that he’s hitting the balls right to the opposing players (and as I write this, Carlson has popped out again on a hard hit ball to the warning track). If you look at his xwOBAcon, it’s at .489; if he makes contact, it’s hard contact half of the time. The MLB average is .377. He’s be sitting at 54th place on this list, tied with C.J. Cron.
When you compare xwOBA to wOBA, there is a huge difference. His wOBA sits at .166, which would rank him 290th in the MLB with the league average sitting at .317; this basically shows the weight of how many bases he gets per at bat. When you have a significant difference between wOBA and xwOBA, a player is typically having some bad luck. His xwOBA minus wOBA is .321; if you take the top 75 guys in xwOBA, he’s got the 3rd biggest difference between the 2 (Will Smith, .394; Bo Bichette, .369; league average is .004). This basically means Carlson is having bad luck and things should normalize over time.
If you look at some other factors, they back this up. His Barrel % is 12.5%, meaning 12.5% of the balls off his bat have the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angel; compared to hitters with 25 at bats, that would place him at a tie for 50th with d’Arnaud and Yoenis Cespedes. Only Tyler O’Neill (13.6) ranks higher on the Cardinals. The league average is 6.1%.
His hard hit rate is 37.5%, meaning 37.5% of his batted balls are leaving the bat at 95 MPH or faster; he ranks 163rd, tied with Eugenio Suarez and Conforto. The league average is 34.7%. He’s only behind O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt on the team.
Pitchers are attempting to challenge him out of the gate too; only 49.4% of the pitches he’s seen have been fastballs (26.6% off speed, 24.1% breaking).
Defensively, he’s been fine. At this point, he’s gotten everything he should have. He’s got a 0.1 dWAR so far, so there is nothing to complain about as he’s moved across the outfield.
Carlson is far from a perfect player; he’s not walking yet, which hasn’t been a problem at the lower levels. As the season continues, you’ll see more of this contact dropping in for hits and him laying off of some pitches. Remember, on top of promotion jitters, he’s also played 5 games in 3 days, which is rare for any player. Let’s relax, let him get his feet under him, and remember that he’ll hit better than Harrison Bader.