Sorting Out the Cardinal Outfield

Many people were upset this week after the Cardinals did not promote outfield prospect Dylan Carlson; the Cardinals cited that they needed to see about the outfielders on the roster. While the 3 starters haven’t done much yet, I do agree with the Cardinals. The issue is they aren’t getting to see much; in 5 games, the Cardinals have started Dexter Fowler and Tyler O’Neill in all 5, Harrison Bader in 4, and Lane Thomas in 1. That means we haven’t seen Austin Dean yet, and we still have Justin Williams already on the 40-man. Carlson, being off the 40-man, will be the odd man out until someone completely falters.

How do we get to see what we have? You rotate some players around. The core starters get 1 in 4 games off. So say that Friday, you start O’Neill, Bader, Fowler from left to right; the next day you go Thomas, Bader, Fowler. Then O’Neill, Thomas, Fowler. Then O’Neill, Bader, Dean. You have the ability to do a few different things in mixing it up. O’Neill, Thomas, and Bader can play all 3 outfield positions. In a pinch, you can put Fowler in center. Dean is pretty much limited to left, but he might be passable in right for the occasional game.

This allows the team to see what they have at each position and weed out the weak links. Say Dean doesn’t hit; you can replace him with Williams to see what he can do. If the team is in contention, I think the season will end with an outfield of O’Neill, Thomas, and Carlson, with Fowler and Bader on the bench; if we aren’t, Carlson will stay down with Fowler starting. I like Williams, but he’s yet to establish himself at the Major League level.

If the team isn’t in contention, the biggest question will be why not promote Carlson? He’ll need to be added to the 40-man after the season so he won’t be eligible to be taken in the Rule V Draft. The answer goes back to the outfield performance. If the team struggles but the current guys are hitting, then adding a Carlson won’t add much of an upgrade. If the team struggles and the outfield is hitting a collection .200, then fans should be asking why he wasn’t promoted.

At this point, they need to do something with the current players (but note, this is an extremely small sample size and these numbers can change very quickly). While the 4 that have played have been worth 0.5 WAR as a whole and none are negative, only O’Neill has a great OPS+ (overall batting line taking into effect the league offense and ballparks they’ve played in…100 is the average player); O’Neill has an OPS+ of 148 (48% better than the average player). Fowler is at 106, Bader is as 20, and Thomas is at -20. This pretty much means anything O’Neill adds is taken away from the team by their center fielder. The more traditional stats support this; O’Neill (.200/.294/.600) and Fowler (.250/.294/.438) have decent slash stats, while Bader (.091/.231/.182) and Thomas (.000/.250/.000) are struggling in their small samples. O’Neill (2) and Fowler (1) also make up half of the teams (6) home runs.

As we restart the season, 2 things are important about the outfield. First, you are looking at games without Paul DeJong, Yadier Molina, and Rangel Ravelo. DeJong is a key offensive component for the team, so they’ll need as much as possible out of the outfield. Second, 1 game this season is worth 2.7 in a normal year. That means in a normal season, you can give a guy 20-25 games to get going; this season, you will have about 10 to do the same. If you give 20 games to Bader with sub-.500 OPS, that’s over 50 games in a regular season.

Since the team hasn’t played in a week, I’m willing to give a reset on getting going. Try the 3 starts, then sit approach for 10 days; that’ll give you a decent idea of who is going. After 10 days, switch out the weakest player and try again with Dean and/or Williams. If there are still questions after that, call on Carlson.

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