photo: Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader (Michael McLoone/USA TODAY Sports)
In an inconsistent year for the St. Louis Cardinals offense, the brightest spots were the outfield, led by Tyler O’Neill in left, Harrison Bader in center and Dylan Carlson in right.
The 2021 Cardinals outfield was first in the National League in fWAR at 11.2 and ranked second in MLB. Gold Glove Award winner O’Neill led the way at 5.4, followed by another Gold Glover in Bader at 3.4 and the rookie Carlson at 2.8. Among NL clubs, San Francisco (10.0) had the only other outfield with a combined fWAR over 8.5.
St. Louis’ total includes the -1.3 fWAR “contributed” by the failed trials from the trio of Scott Hurst (-0.1), Lane Thomas (-0.4) and Justin Williams (-0.8), none of whom are still on the roster today.
Befitting his in-season claimed role as the fourth outfielder, rookie Lars Nootbaar stepped up to contribute 0.6 fWAR. Additionally, had Bader not missed over two months due to injury, his WAR would have been even higher.
As hitters, all three starting outfielders were at least 10% above league average. O’Neill led the way with a 145 wRC+, followed by Carlson and 113 and Bader at 110. Among all Cardinals, O’Neill ranked first in wRC+, with Carlson fourth and Bader fifth. (In between were perennial stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.)
Bader (15) and O’Neill (11) are strong defenders who combined for 26 defensive runs saved, ranking no. 1 and 2 among all Cardinals. Carlson was down the page with 3 DRS, tied for 11th among his teammates in 2021.
To put the group improvement in perspective, in 2020, St. Louis’ outfield ranked 17th in MLB in fWAR with 2.2, while the 2019 outfielders ranked 18th in the game with 6.8 fWAR.
Even better for the long-term success of the team, Bader is the oldest of the group at 27 years of age, with this young, cheap, and controllable trio poised to continue to contribute at a high level for the next several years.
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