Welcome back to Patience or Panic! Another week in the books and we’re slowly starting to learn more about each team and its players, and trends are starting to establish themselves.
In last week’s Patience or Panic we focused on two star-level players who found new homes over the winter, so this week we’re changing things up a little bit, but don’t worry there’s still one of those players in this week’s piece.
Even though we’re farther into the season, each team has still only played about 20ish games, so even if there is a “panic” verdict, it’s likely not the end of the world.
So let’s get to it!
Tyler O’Neill, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
O’Neill broke out for the Cardinals in a big way last year, hitting 30 home runs to go along with a .286/.352/.560 slash line and some MVP votes. Entering this season it seemed like the Cardinals finally had someone to pair with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in the middle of the lineup and form one of the most dangerous cores in baseball.
Things haven’t worked out that way so far, as O’Neill is slashing .194/.270/.274 with just one homer entering play Friday. The Cardinals have been able to handle those struggles just fine so far (thanks mostly to Arenado setting the world on fire) but if they want to accomplish anything of significance come the postseason, O’Neill would have to be a big part of that.
One thing that always stuck out about O’Neill was the swing and miss in his game, with a strikeout rate of at least 27% in each year in the bigs. That’s changed this year. O’Neill currently has a walk rate of 11.6%, which would be a career high, and a strikeout rate of 24.6%, a career low.
Right away that stands out, and if he had started this year the way he ended the last one, we’d be talking about the Cardinals having two legitimate MVP candidates. That’s obviously not the case so despite those improved walk and strikeout rate, let’s dive deeper.
What sparks interest with those improved rates mentioned above is to then look at how aggressive O’Neill is being at the plate because those numbers would imply a more conservative approach, and when we look that appears to be true. O’Neill is way less aggressive this season, swinging 5% less outside of the zone, and 10% less inside the zone, so while the strikeouts are going down and the walks are going up, he’s probably passing on some hittable balls that he would have swung at in previous seasons.
Something that is a bit concerning is where O’Neill is hitting the ball when he does choose to swing. His ground ball rate has gone up almost 10% from last year to this year, and for a guy as strong as him, you obviously want the ball in the air as much as possible.
While the improved walk and strikeout rate are encouraging, O’Neill needs to start getting the ball in the air again and maybe be a touch more aggressive in order to find last year’s success again. But at the moment, it looks like there’s some real risk that last year was the outlier as opposed to the norm.
Verdict: Panic (to a reasonable extent)
Zack Wheeler, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Zack Wheeler’s first full season in Philadelphia couldn’t have gone much better if you scripted it. A league-leading 213 innings and 247 strikeouts propelled Wheeler to a second place finish in the Cy Young voting in 2021, and Phillies fans believed they finally had the ace they’ve been looking for for years.
2022 hasn’t started quite the same. Through four starts, Wheeler has a 5.79 ERA and has gotten through the sixth inning just once. He’s also struck out more than five batters in a start once. Even more concerning is that so far this season Wheeler’s fastball velocity is down from 97 MPH to 95 MPH, a full 2 ticks slower (math!).
That all being said, there is still reason to hold off on hitting that panic button.
Wheeler just logged his best start of the year Thursday against the Rockies, getting through six innings, allowing just one hit and striking out seven batters. He did walk four, which is the highest of the season so far, but across the board everything else is more consistent with what we expect of the Phillies ace.
His velocity was still down in the 95 mph range so that didn’t change, but Wheeler’s pitch usage changed drastically against Colorado. In his previous start against the Brewers where he got touched up for 4 runs in 5 innings, Wheeler threw his fastball 38% of the time. In his start against the Rockies on Thursday that number dropped all the way to 23%. That’s a significant drop, but one that obviously worked as Wheeler logged his best start of the year.
Instead of the fastball, Wheeler leaned on his sinker instead, throwing it 36% of the time, up from 19% in the previous start. Wheeler leaning on the sinker is interesting, as it averaged a spin rate of 2322 against the Rockies, which is an exceptional number on that type of pitch.
The only thing is that now Wheeler has to keep it up. Can he continue to spin his sinker at that rate? Can he continue to use his secondary pitches effectively? It’ll be something to monitor in Wheeler’s next start against the Rangers on Tuesday.
Trevor Story, 2B, Boston Red Sox
We couldn’t do a Patience or Panic without including at least one of the big names that changed teams over the winter. Story was one of the last free agents to sign, finally inking six year deal with the Red Sox just before the season.
The big question surrounding Story was could he hit away from Coors Field? He slashed .303/.369/.603 in his Coors Field career, but just .241/.310/.438 away from it. So far things have seemed to indicate “no” as Story sports an underwhelming .224/.308/.293 with no homers. Now granted this is a tiny sample, we are only a couple weeks into the season after all, but it’s certainly not what the Red Sox were hoping for, especially considering they currently have a losing record and their offense has yet to ascend to the level we usually expect.
Continuing to dive on Story though, he currently is logging the second-highest strikeout rate of his career at 29% and the second-lowest walk rate at 7.7%. You could live with that if the production was there, but as we’ve already talked about that hasn’t been the case.
More concerning numbers on the Red Sox second baseman, his previous career-low hard hit rate was 38%, still a pretty good number. This season, it’s cratered to just 20%. Things aren’t about to get easier either, as the Red Sox next two series are against the Orioles and the Angels, two teams who have had surprisingly effective pitching staffs. Until he starts hitting the ball harder (or at all) things are bleak.
Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)
Sigh. I drafted Story at 74 knowing his numbers away from Coors sucked. I blame it on the guy ahead of me taking Tatis.
I disagree with Jake here, it’s still early he is way too talented for this to just be him
POV: you have all three of these players
Trevor Story’s struggles have hardly anything to do with him hitting outside of the Coors Field now he’s a member of the Red Sox. As we can see his numbers and advanced stats this season are worse than when he used to hit outside of the Coors Field in the past.
Trevor Story is just plain bad since the beginning of the season. Probably because he needs to adapt to his new team and environment. He didn’t have a lot of time to do it because of the lockout.
By mid May, it will be time to panic. By early June, he will be a safe drop if still that bad.