Breakout Breakdown: Harrison Bader

When tonight’s NL Rookie of the Year award is announced, Harrison Bader’s name will be mentioned in passing, if at all. The finalists are Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto, and Walker Buehler so guys like Bader, Brian Anderson, and Jack Flaherty will likely only get a hat tip for their seasons before the winner is crowned.

In late-August, Jeff Sullivan did a great job highlighting Bader’s case for ROY based primarily on his excellent defense. That piece is definitely worth a look as Bader finished with 3.5 WAR, just behind the 3.7 that both Acuña and Soto logged, but I’ll be looking at his season from the fantasy angle and looking ahead to 2019.

I liked what I saw from Bader in a few AFL games back in 2016 and have been keeping a close eye on him since then. He fit the Cardinals mold as a guy who doesn’t necessarily soar up prospect boards, but ends up over-performing against his minor league expectations. After a strong Triple-A showing in 2017, he had an uninspired September call up to cap the season (.636 OPS in 69 nice PA).

He broke camp with the Cards this year and spent the first three months as a 4th OF type, starting primarily against lefty starters. But injuries and eventually the trade of Tommy Pham opened up time for Bader. A huge August (.906 OPS, 4 HR, 3 SB in 106 PA) put him firmly on the fantasy radar and no doubt prompted Jeff’s piece about his ROY candidacy. That month was just a microcosm of his season as he beasted on lefties and tried to stay afloat against righties.

He put together a wicked .455/.500/.727 line with 3 BB and 3 Ks in 28 PA against southpaws but went just .254/.321/.479 against righties with 26 Ks and just 4 BB in 78 PA versus righties in what ended up as his best month against them. The .225 ISO plays, but a 33% K rate really undercut the modest success. In fact, he fanned 31% of the time against righties on the season in 289 PA.

Bader handled righty heat (fastballs/sinkers/cutters) in line with other righties, posting an .802 OPS, compared to an .807 righty-righty league average, but he struck out 24% of the time compared to just 17% for the average righty. Secondary stuff really sank Bader. He managed just a .563 OPS and 41% K rate against off speed stuff. The average righty was at .654 OPS with a 29% K rate. This all continues a trend from his minor league days as he regularly carried major platoon splits coming up:

  • 2015: .741 OPS v RHP, 720-point split
  • 2016: .671 OPS v RHP, 493-point split
  • 2017: .669 OPS v RHP, 564-point split

Among 130 righty hitters with at least 130 PA against left-handers, Bader was 31st with an .886 OPS and as you can see from above, he raked against them throughout his pro career. This continue lefty success and his elite defense will build in around 400 PA, but if he’s going to take a step forward, he must improve against righties and he could even stand to trim his strikeout rate against lefties, too (25% this year).

Part of his defensive success is the tremendous speed, which is obviously a major plus for fantasy as well. His 29.9 feet per second sprint speed is the 4th-highest in the league (min. 50 opportunities) when accounting for ties. The blazing speed helped him maintain a .358 BABIP and nab 15 bases on just 18 tries. I think we can expect him to keep a better than average BABIP and outrun some of his strikeout issues, but his .264 AVG is about the best case scenario without improvements.

He’s not one fix away, but this is still a profile I’m open to buying because there are some premium skills to build on. No, the defense doesn’t directly help in fantasy, but it keeps him in the majors and so he’ll continue to get on-the-job training as he tries to figure out righties and get even better against lefties.

Cost is going to be a big factor here. He’s a worthy starter in 5 OF leagues, but his 159 ADP in the #2EarlyMocks is more than I want to pay for a short side platoon bat who finished 58th among OF on ESPN’s Player Rater. I like Bader, but I’m not looking to jump in before around pick 185 or so.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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