The Cards just announced the following transaction in anticipation of today’s game:
4/23/21: Placed 1B John Nogowski on the 10-day IL, retroactive to April 20th (left hand bone bruise). Activated OF Tyler O’Neill from the 10-day IL.
O’Neill got off to a slow and troubling start. We all know about the serious issues he has had with making contact so far in 2021. I talked about in this piece when he went on the injured list, and J.P. Hill elaborated further here. His return today has been expected, and most of us probably expected Scott Hurst to be optioned in the corresponding roster move. Hurst was added to the roster in the first place because the club wanted to give Lane Thomas a reset. Since he was added on April 15th, Hurst has never started in the field, instead receiving four pinch hit plate appearances and being inserted at the end of games for defense. Instead, John Nogowski has developed a bone bruise, and the Cards placed him on the injured list with the maximum retroactivity. Nogowski has never received a start, has appeared in blowout games at first base for 7 innings over 3 games total, and has 14 pinch hit plate appearances with 1 single, 1 walk, 1 strikeout and has been hit by the pitch once.
The question raised by O’Neill’s activation, of course, is what the lineup would look like? Would O’Neill be immediately reinserted into the starting lineup? In O’Neill’s absence, Mike Shildt has favored a lefty-heavy lineup against right-handed pitching with Matt Carpenter at second base, Justin Williams in left field and Tommy Edman in right field. As Williams was starting in right field even before O’Neill went on the shelf, O’Neill’s insertion in left field would surely put Williams back in right, move Edman to second base and force Carpenter to the bench.
Perhaps this is the setup that many would favor. If you haven’t yet checked out John LaRue’s excellent deep dive on Carpenter’s offensive season, you should do so here. Writers at Baseball Prospectus have analyzed the effects of the new baseball, and have reported that while exit velocities are up, flyball distances are down, and the changes have increased movement on pitches, resulting in even less contact. Although Carpenter has had some impressive Statcast numbers, as John and Justin Choi of Fangraphs have established, he has contact issues of his own, striking out 36.4% of the time (16 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances to only 3 unintentional walks), and his flyballs have not lead to offensive results. Even if the trade of O’Neill and Carpenter would be a wash offensively, one would think the defense would be much improved with O’Neill in left and Edman at second.
For tonight at least against Reds’ starter Sonny Gray, Shildt has elected to stick with the lefty-heavy lineup and O’Neill will be on the bench. It is unknown if this is just a temporary thing to allow O’Neill to ease back into things, or whether O’Neill is a bench guy for the forseeable future. Both players have issues that need solving.
Knizner, Sosa, O’Neill, Dean, Hurst