Bounce Back or Bust: Can The Cardinals’ Harrison Bader Rediscover His Potential Heading Into 2020?

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Entering 2019 there were high hopes for the Cardinals’ Harrison Bader, with many pointing towards him as likely to have a breakout campaign. Instead things fell flat, ultimately having to spend time back at Triple-A (75 PA) and struggling across the board in the Majors:

.205 (71-347), 12 HR, 39 RBI, 54 R, 11 SB

Obviously the number that jumps out is his abysmal average, and there were quite a few numbers that factored into it:

  • Strikeouts – 28.8%
  • Oppo% – 20.6%
  • Fly Ball Rate – 44.2%
  • BABIP – .268

While the fly ball rate wasn’t egregiously high, for a player who isn’t going to hit for significant power it works against him. The same can be said for his Oppo%, making him subject to the shift and further limiting his BABIP potential (especially since his 38.2% Hard% doesn’t justify an elevated mark).

In terms of the strikeouts he actually showed a better approach overall this season, with a 10.0% SwStr% and 28.2% O-Swing%. That gives hope for an improvement, though he regressed as the season progressed (11.2% SwStr%, 32.3% O-Swing% in September). That corresponded with seeing fewer fastballs (49.54% from September 1 forward), and nearly an equal amount of breaking balls (42.17%).

The key for Bader is going to be not swinging for the fences, being willing to go the other way more and utilizing his speed. That would also allow him to make more consistent contact, at least in theory, though even his 2018 “success” (.264, 12 HR, 15 SB over 379 AB) was buoyed by a .358 BABIP.

While there is the potential for a 20/20 player, even with a shift in approach there’s no guarantee he taps into it. It’s looking more and more likely that he’s a better fit as a fourth outfielder as opposed to a locked in starter. Keep that in mind, but barring some changes this offseason (and it’s something we’ll be watching) he looks more like a bust than a potential bounce back.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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