Victor Scott II Needs a Reset

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I feel pretty confident in saying that I wasn’t alone in my excitement about the Cardinals starting the year with Victor Scott II on the roster. Good center field defense is incredibly fun. Stolen bases are incredibly fun. Scott stole 94 bases in the minors last year and looks like he might be a truly special defender thanks to his blazing footspeed (first in the majors, narrowly ahead of Trea Turner). Sure, he’d only gotten as far as Double-A, but injuries made his call-up at least defensible, and I wanted to see what he could do.

The results are now in: Scott isn’t ready for the majors just yet. The Cardinals have played 19 games, and Scott has appeared in all of them, three times as a defensive replacement, including yesterday. He’s racked up 62 plate appearances. He’s been quite bad in those plate appearances. That’s no knock on Scott, just to be clear. He’s a 23-year-old entering his third professional season. He’s only on the squad in the first place because a number of things went wrong higher up the depth chart. But the way the Cards have managed his playing time is so strange that I feel compelled to look into what’s gone wrong and why nothing has changed.

Scott’s speed has been exactly as advertised — he’s swiped two bags without getting caught — but the rest of his game hasn’t worked. He’s hitting a ghastly .089/.145/.143, good for a -15 wRC+ that’s comfortably last in baseball. He hasn’t made up for it with otherworldly defense; it’s too early for these metrics to stabilize, but every advanced system thinks he’s been below average. Statcast credits it to his below-average reaction time, which makes sense given how fast he is underway.

The problem with Scott’s offense thus far is easy to explain: contact quality. He’s never been a power hitter, obviously. His skills lie in other facets of the game. But he’s really come up lacking in the power department so far. Less than a quarter of his batted balls have been hit 95 mph or harder. He hasn’t barreled a ball yet. He has three doubles and no homers, though I have to tell you, one of those doubles packed in a lot of entertainment value:

Goodness gracious, he’s fast. With that speed, you’d think that he’d want to keep the ball on the ground. Bunting was a big part of his production in the minors last year. But he hasn’t bunted for a hit yet this season, and doesn’t even have a sacrifice bunt from a failed hit attempt. He’s running an infield hit rate of nearly 25%, but he’s hitting so few grounders that it hasn’t mattered. He’s hit more fly balls than grounders, in fact, and given his lack of pop, that’s a recipe for poor production. You can’t beat out a single if the ball never hits the ground, as it turns out.

None of this means that he won’t turn it around. Prospects frequently need a little time to get accustomed to the big leagues, and Scott tore through the minors at such a rapid clip that he hasn’t had much need to make adjustments and come back stronger yet. It’s hardly out of the question that he’ll figure out how to make it all work.

Luis Arraez, Steven Kwan, Nicky Lopez, Luis Rengifo, Kevin Kiermaier, and Jeff McNeil are a bunch of different versions of acceptable (or better) hitters with similar raw power. But they all do something more. They exhibit sterling bat control to hit a ton of liners, or they never strike out, or they slash grounders all over the place. Many of them play great defense, just like Scott surely will. The path to success is there.

We already know about the (lack of) grounders, so a good version of Scott’s offense definitely involves fewer strikeouts and more walks. He’s striking out 22.6% of the time, near league average, and walking only 3.2% of the time. He struck out less frequently and walked more frequently in the minors last year, and we project him to improve on both the rest of the year, but he’ll need to improve by a good amount and also hit more grounders just to get within shouting distance of average offensively.

To say that he’s failing now doesn’t mean that he won’t succeed in the future, but let’s be honest: he’s failing now. I used Stathead’s Span Finder to find the worst 18-game, 50-PA starts to careers in the Wild Card era (1995-present). I used 18 games because Scott didn’t come to the plate in the 19th game, which took place yesterday:

Worst 18-Game Debuts, Wild Card Era
Player Debut PA BA OBP SLG OPS wRC+
Josh Vitters 8/5/2012 61 .086 .115 .172 .287 -33
Owen Miller 5/23/2021 50 .106 .160 .128 .288 -19
Victor Scott II 3/28/2024 62 .089 .145 .143 .288 -15
Jayson Nix 4/1/2008 55 .102 .200 .122 .322 -26
Aaron Hicks 4/1/2013 73 .098 .233 .098 .331 1
Bryson Stott 4/8/2022 63 .136 .190 .153 .343 -3
Evan White 7/24/2020 72 .106 .167 .182 .348 -3
Phil Nevin 6/11/1995 69 .117 .221 .133 .354 0
Diory Hernandez 5/21/2009 53 .125 .192 .167 .359 -21
Brett Gardner 6/30/2008 72 .143 .214 .159 .373 0
Single season only, 1995-2024

I mean, you knew it was going to be bad. Still, this list actually reinforces my hope that Scott will end up being just fine. Hicks, Stott, and Gardner turned into league average hitters. Nevin was a bit better than that. Dustin Pedroia is 12th on this list, and he obviously figured things out. Kyle Tucker had a disappointing start to his career and he’s great now (though to be fair, his disappointing debut carried a 32 wRC+, not -15).

The point isn’t that Scott is doomed. It’s that his start has been extremely poor, and the Cardinals are doing nothing to help him or arrest his downward momentum. Scott’s first 18 games came in 19 days. Here’s a list of the hitters who racked up their first 18 games in the fewest real-life days while also posting an OPS of .450 or lower:

Fastest Poor Debuts, Wild Card Era
Player Debut Days to 18G OPS
Evan White 7/24/2020 18 .348
Jarred Kelenic 5/13/2021 18 .446
Victor Scott II 3/28/2024 19 .288
Orlando Arcia 8/2/2016 19 .430
Everson Pereira 8/22/2023 19 .439
Trent Durrington 8/6/1999 19 .448
Jake Marisnick 7/23/2013 19 .450
Masyn Winn 8/18/2023 22 .404
Jose Barrero 8/27/2020 22 .439
Phil Nevin 6/11/1995 23 .354
Single season only, 1995-2024

First, sorry to bring up these memories, Mariners fans. But those two notable flameouts are the best comparison for what’s been going on with Scott. Almost everyone else on this list was a late-season call-up. Again, there are some silver linings – Winn already looks much improved only half a year later, for example. But teams just don’t give players this much playing time at this poor of a rate early in the season, unless they’re the Mariners. The Cardinals are giving Scott the “we’re out of it, so let the kid go” treatment, but they’re very much not out of it. In fact, they’re 9-10 despite batting someone with a -15 wRC+ every day!

Some of this comes down to earlier roster decisions creating a void. The Cardinals traded Tyler O’Neill (61 PA, 231 wRC+) and Richie Palacios (44 PA, 137 wRC+) to clear an outfield logjam over the winter. Injuries didn’t help: Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, and Tommy Edman started the season on the IL, and Edman and Carlson still haven’t returned. Some of this comes down to necessity, no doubt.

But Nootbaar’s return could have taken a lot of pressure off of Scott’s everyday reps. The team clearly trusts Alec Burleson – they have him pinch-hitting for Jordan Walker against righties. You might argue that he’s not really an outfielder – but he played 386 innings in the major league outfield last year, and Nootbaar played 570 innings in center. Even without Edman and Carlson in the fold, you could build the outfield in a way that gives Scott days off, or even sends him back down to Triple-A to get on the right track again.

Instead, the Cardinals seem to be managing on autopilot. Two examples: over the weekend, the Diamondbacks blanked the Cards 5-0. Scott had the day off, with Michael Siani covering center in his stead. I wouldn’t have caught this, but Meg Rowley was at the game and pointed it out to me: In the seventh inning, with the Cards already trailing 5-0, Walker pinch hit for Siani. He struck out to end the inning, and the Cards promptly subbed Walker out and put Scott in for defense.

For… defense? They were trailing 5-0! If they wanted to win the game, that spot in the lineup was guaranteed to come up again. Five runs and six outs is more than nine batters, after all. Now, they went down in order the rest of the way, so it didn’t matter, but that’s not a good position to put your young struggling hitter in. Just give him the full day off! They did the same thing again in yesterday’s game against the A’s; Walker pinch hit for Siani in the bottom of the sixth with St. Louis trailing 5-3. After Walker grounded out, Scott entered as a defensive replacement. Again, his spot was deterministically going to come up again, because there were nine outs remaining. This time, the Cards pinch hit for him at least.

Likewise, Tuesday’s A’s/Cards game featured Scott off the bench. He entered as a defensive replacement for Walker (with Siani sliding from center to right) in the bottom of the seventh inning. Walker’s spot was due up fourth, which means, you guessed it, Scott got a guaranteed time at bat in a one-run game (he struck out).

I think that the Cardinals are feeling pressured to get something out of Scott given his poor offensive start, and so they’re putting him in the field in an attempt to squeeze some defensive juice out. But these spots don’t make sense, and these have been his only three days off at the major league level.

It’s one thing to have Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt play every day; it’s quite another for a rookie off to a historically bad start on a competitive team. The Cardinals offense is off to a slow start, with a team-wide 84 wRC+ that ranks 23rd in baseball. But the non-Scott members of the team have a 94 wRC+. That’s a big gap for one player, and one batting ninth no less.

I’m fairly confident that this won’t continue. The returning outfielders will push Scott out of the starting lineup, and at that point the obvious path forward will be everyday playing time in Triple-A. But it shouldn’t have continued this long. It probably should have stopped the minute Nootbaar returned to the active roster, and Siani probably should have been giving Scott the occasional breather even before that.

It’s a bummer to write an article like this. It’s a lot more fun to see players succeed rather than fail. I wouldn’t even be looking at it if it weren’t for the way the team has failed to react to his bumpy start. Sometimes things don’t work out the first time, and part of good management is recognizing when your plan isn’t working and adjusting on the fly. I don’t think Scott is anywhere near as bad as the batting line he’s put up so far, but I do think that watching the Cardinals makes it clear that he’s in over his head at the moment. I’m curious when the team will come to that assessment as well.

Offensive statistics in this article are current through games of Tuesday, April 16.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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1 month ago

Too late now for Oli to say to Victor, “Well, you may run like Hayes, but you hit like s***. With your speed, you should be hitting the ball on the ground and be legging them out. Every time I see you hit one in the air, you owe me twenty push-ups.” Still one heck of a recording artist under the name, “Argo”

Also…the stuff about the Siani-Walker-Scott moves cmon Oli…

Last edited 1 month ago by snakestl
1 month ago
Reply to  snakestl

Who’s the recording artist named “Argo”? Mars Argo? Argo Symphony?