If the season were to end today, and you were asked who should win the National League Rookie of the Year award, I think most writers, coaches and fans alike would say it would come down to Ronald Acuña or Juan Soto.
But what if I told you that Harrison Bader has been just as valuable - if not more valuable - just in different ways?
Make no mistake, Acuña and Soto are two young studs who are going to probably be superstars for a long time. Obviously, Harrison Bader isn't in their league when it comes to hitting, although he has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. If I were just looking at hitting stats, Jesse Winker would stand a better chance of winning the NL ROY over Bader.
Yet we know that there is more to baseball than being really good at hitting. And a run saved in the field or earned on the basepaths is just as valuable as runs produced with the bat. Some might say it's not as sexy, but if you're looking for sexy...
Bae-der jokes aside, this is precisely where WAR comes in. I don't need to give you a lesson in the art of WAR at this point, we know by now that it takes into consideration not only what a player contributes with the bat, but also their fielding and baserunning.
Just take a look at the Fangraphs' WAR Leaderboard for NL rookies:
That Bader's fielding has been ridiculously good is a well-known fact. It seems that about every other game he makes some replay worthy catch. The eye-test is something that Bader passes with ease, but it's also well borne out in the number as well. (I ask you - no I insist that you read this article by Mike Petriello on Bader's fielding).
In just about every statistical category, Bader has done more in terms of saving runs in fewer innings than your average starting outfielder.
UZR has him at +11.
DRS has him at +21.
...and he's played just 650 innings. To give some context, Billy Hamilton has the second highest UZR in the NL with 8.2 and he's played 1023 innings.
If you really wanna get fancy (and I again, please read Petriello's article. JUST DO IT) we can look at his StatCast numbers. Bader again leads everyone with 18 outs above average, edging out Billy Hamilton by an extra out with having played 400 fewer innings.
What's astounding to me is that he's getting 10% catches than expected, way above everyone else in the league. He's made crazy catches like this one:
And throws like this:
As President of the now defunct Jim Edmonds for the Hall of Fame Brigade, I say this with some hesitation, but Bader in the early going looks like the next anointed one in a long line of great Cardinal defensive center fielders. He absolutely should win the Gold Glove this season.
So what about his baserunning?
Well, we know that Bader is lightning quick. This was on full display over the weekend when he wheeled around from 2nd to home just under 6 seconds to score a run against Colorado.
So far this season he's swiped 12 bases, which isn't bad, but the way he is able to take an extra base is uncanny.
According to FanGraphs BsR stat, (which factors not just stolen bases and caught stealings, but taking extra bases, TOOTBLANS, etc. into runs above average), Bader is 3rd in the NL with +6.2, putting him behind Hamilton (8.2) and Trea Turner (7.2) . Again, Bader has only played about 2/3rds as much compared to these players and only 1/3rd of the steals, so these numbers are kinda bananas.
Bader isn't likely to be the future superstar that Acuña and Soto will be. He isn't the threat that they are with the bat. But he doesn't need to be. What he lacked in hitting he's more than made up for with his smarts and speed in the outfield and on the basepaths, and has arguably provided more value to his team than the other two much-discussed young phenoms.
Will the general voters notice? Probably not. But how can you not be hot for Tots?