In the 2021 season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Nolan Arenado would be the St. Louis Cardinals Most Valuable Player. But in the team’s first 66 games, Tyler O’Neill made a strong case as the Cardinals MVP.
Although Tyler O’Neill spent 24 days on the injured list over two separate routes, he tops the Cardinals in a variety of offensive categories. He has beaten most of the home runs in the squad and is fourth in the NL. He occupies second place in the team in the RBI and cuts 0.291 / .330 / .630 over the year.
Tyler O’Neill and the NL MVP
O’Neill, as the league’s MVP award winner, is a little hasty with Jacob deGrom, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Ronald Acuna Jr. as this year’s favorites. Although O’Neill hasn’t entered the conversation, he continues to stand up as an All-Star this season. He has to stay healthy to make the cut. Currently, O’Neill doesn’t have enough record appearances to qualify for the hit title, but if he did he’d be among the leaders in the National League. His batting average would be good for eighth and his batting would be second. While his on-base percentage would barely reach the top 30 in the league, his OPS would still be good for fourth place. His 11.13 AB / HR would top any qualified hitter, although Tatis Jr. is 9.25 and hasn’t qualified either.
None of this means that he can’t win one in his career. So far, O’Neill has not appeared in more than 61 games in one season. He has played 47 games so far this year and wants to set a career highlight. If one day he can show up in 150 games in a season and produce in his current 2021 clip, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t break down some hardware. It’s a big job, of course, but the projections are remarkable.
In this hypothetical season, O’Neill would hit 48 home runs and amass 106 RBI. Only appearing in 150 games in a season seems difficult for O’Neill to achieve, but it’s encouraging that he was able to appear in 50 of the team’s 58 games in 2020. If he stays healthy for an entire season, he won’t have to maintain his current .335 ISO or 166 OPS + to be in the mix.
Other cardinals with good performance
If a player’s worth is measured by how the team fares without them, then Jack Flaherty is undoubtedly the most valuable cardinal. The team won nine of its eleven starts before hitting the injured list. You’re a team under 500 in games he didn’t start. However, the influence of a starting mug extends far beyond the games in which it appears. With him on the active list are the Cardinals 30-25.
Arenado heads the RBI team. He played for the Cardinals almost every day. He makes spectacular moves so routinely that it is easy to take his defense for granted. In short, he was everything the Cardinals expected when they acted for him. He’s still the surest choice to end the season with the highest WAR among players in the Cardinals position. Paul Goldschmidt is next, but had a rather subdued start to the season, although he’s been heating up lately.
The most unlikely person in the conversation is Tommy Edman. Edman gets sandwiched between O’Neill and Arenado as a team leader in WAR. His versatility covers up a number of shortcomings in roster construction and helps the Cardinals weather a wave of injuries. While officially the Cardinals’ second basemen, he has made 22 right field starts and four shortstop this season. His defense does very well. He does all of this while being a competent leadoff hitter.
While each of the three has a tough case, Tyler O’Neill is the team’s current MVP. The production, while missing a third of the team’s games, is just too impressive to miss. The reigning Gold Glove winner in the left field plays with intensity. His 24 Runs Above Replacement is a big reason the team is 26-21 in games he’s played.
Patience pays off
Perhaps the Cardinals front office was right to keep O’Neill and separate from others. It can still be fair to complain that Lane Thomas is being held even though other general managers have a say in who is involved in a particular deal. Many fans have lamented the various successes of Randy Arozarena, Oscar Mercado and Adolis Garcia. Mercados 2019 had the believers in their arms and insisted that O’Neill should have been the outfielder. Similar choruses sounded at Arozareno’s performance in 2020. While Mercado is struggling with Triple A, Arozarena, Garcia and O’Neill each accumulated a 2.4 WAR in 2021. O’Neill has done it in far fewer cases in bats. It will certainly be exciting to see how O’Neill does in an entire season, provided he has one.
Mentioned players: Nolan Arenado, Jacob deGrom, Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., Tyler O’Neill, Jack Flaherty, Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, Oscar Mercado, and Adolis Garcia
Main Photo: Embedding Getty Images