Harrison Bader, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Most Polarizing Player

For some people, the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader is a fan favorite. Not so much for others. What makes him such a polarizing player?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had many great midfielders throughout their history. Some fans are ready to include Harrison Bader in that mix. For others, Bader isn’t quite up to date. Like him or not, there’s no question that Bader has quickly become perhaps the most polarizing player on the team.

I’ll look at both sides of the coin. I will avoid taking a firm stand on it myself for two reasons. First, I try to be objective. Second, either way, I really don’t have a strong opinion. However, I’m interested in what makes Bader such an electrifying topic for so many fans.

First, let’s take a look at why Bader is viewed so positively.

Harrison Bader is great

I think one reason a lot of fans are like Bader is because he’s kind of a relic. His strengths are certainly defense and speed, and so many historically great St. Louis Cardinals teams have used these as their pillars of success. When we see Bader reaching for a dive or slipping into the second base after a theft, it’s a dose of nostalgia for those who admired the Cardinals teams of the 80s, the “whiteyball” era.

He appears to be a confident player too, and while his offensive play needs improving overall, he can come across some home runs with surprising occasional strength. He is currently 26 years old and there is still time for his offensive play that could make him a more complete player.

In the meantime, his defense alone is worth playing time and anything he can add to the court is an added bonus.

Here is the other argument.

Harrison Bader is … not great

The Cardinals have been strong defensively in the middle for some time, but is Bader so much better on the outfield than Lane Thomas, for example? In his limited Major League experience, Thomas has shown blitzes which suggest he could likely get better offensive numbers if he defended above average in midfield.

Is it worth it for a St. Louis Cardinals team that has been lacking hits for years to see if Thomas or anyone else has more to offer at this location? I think part of the skepticism is that Bader has been playing in the big leagues since 2017 and has mainly played regular seasons since 2018. During this time he has not yet made a big leap forward.

As far as I can tell, the naysayers would have no complaint if Bader acted as 4th outfielder or late inning substitute. But maybe his (missing) hit suggests that he should limit himself to a reduced role and that he is actually overrated by some fans.

What do the numbers say?

Bader’s career hit average is 0.234 and his career OPS + is 93. Much of his WAR (wins over replacements) comes from his defense, and with his exceptional speed, he has only 31 career bases stolen so far possibly correlated his struggles to consistently get down to earth.

His career .322 OBP reflects this, although that’s not a terrible base percentage. He will turn 27 in June so the time for him to take that next step may be here. There were some positive signs. In 2020 his OPS was + 111, a significant bump. For comparison: his OPS + was only 80 in 2019.

The bottom line

2021 could be an important season for Harrison Bader. If he takes one more step forward on offense, this may be the time. The St. Louis Cardinals haven’t gotten much production from the outfield over the past few seasons. Everyone knows Bader’s elite defense which could lead to a Gold Glove Award (or more) in the coming seasons.

Nonetheless, it is fair to say that it may be a little overrated by some. It looks like he’s almost given his starting place in the field this spring, but what if Lane impresses Thomas? Bader’s tenure shouldn’t put him in suspension to return as a starter in midfield. That seems to be the problem to me.

He’s seen as a time-tested asset with not much left to prove, but in reality he has yet to earn the role. For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s a huge gap between Bader and Thomas. In some ways I think they are similar players. I mention Thomas because he seems to be the most direct and immediate competition for Bader.

I absolutely think Bader should and will be the starting player for the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals. I also think this is the season for him to prove he’s a long-term part of the team. He quickly turned into one of the most polarizing players on the team and I’m not sure why. There seem to be two different perspectives on him.

Some are intrigued by its relentless defense, propensity for diving, and increasingly familiar hair tips. Others may see him as overly dramatic, and the hair is twisting and trying to get attention as an example of his bold style. You could look at his offensive numbers and ridicule and be ready to move on to another option. Again, I’m trying to look at both sides of the coin here. I’m really intrigued by what makes Harrison Bader such a polarizing figure with the Cardinals fan base.

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There are a couple of things all fans can agree on about Bader. First, he’s a St. Louis Cardinals player, and that’s why we all want him to be successful and help the team win. Second, his defense is incredible and he can affect the game in so many ways, even when fighting in the racket’s box. Like him or not, Harrison Bader will have a lot to prove in 2021 to cement his place as part of the core of the St. Louis Cardinals.

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