Burleson gaining confidence, providing better results for Cards

June 10th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- Patience in the face of failure, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol has said before, sometimes requires great courage to stay the course. In terms of steadily blossoming outfielder/designated hitter , the Cardinals are finally starting to reap the benefits of the patience displayed when the expected production didn’t always match up to what was being shown.

A season after being the Cardinals’ unluckiest hitter in terms of the massive gap between his expected batting average and production numbers based on his quality of contact, Burleson has evolved into one of the team’s most dynamic and versatile hitters.

When Burleson blasted a Statcast-projected 399-foot drive just over the wall in right-center field at Busch Stadium on Sunday, it not only proved to be his career-best ninth MLB home run, but it also propelled the Cardinals to a 5-1 victory over the Rockies.

Just last season, when the Cards endured their worst season in 33 years, Burleson had an expected batting average of .277, which would have been in baseball’s 85th percentile. However, because he so often stung line drives right at defenders, his actual batting average was only .244. This season, he’s boosted his average to .273, but it’s still not as high as expected (.284, 88th percentile) based on his quality of contact.

What Burleson appreciates most is the Cardinals sticking by him when the numbers didn’t always reflect just how dynamic his potential as a hitter could be with a few breaks.

“That gives me more confidence, knowing that [Marmol] and the coaching staff and the front office have confidence in me,” said Burleson, who homered for a fourth time in June. “This game is tough, right? You can lose confidence when you’re doing those things, like lining out to people. But knowing that those guys have your back gets you through it and it makes the bad times a lot easier.”

Burleson’s homer, combined with five scoreless innings from spot starter Andre Pallante and a two-run single from rookie shortstop Masyn Winn, allowed the Cardinals to split the home series with the Rockies. St. Louis suffered one of its most frustrating losses of the season on Saturday, but it rallied to play a complete game on Sunday for its fourth win in the past 10 games.

The Cardinals needed a big boost from Burleson with starting outfielder Lars Nootbaar going on the injured list on May 30 with a left oblique strain. He has given the Redbirds a boost with his power, hitting home runs in three straight games from June 2-4, and adding to the total with Sunday’s smash.

Marmol, long a proponent of having Burleson in the starting lineup because of his low strikeout rate (just 13 percent in 2023 and 14 percent in ’24) and his ability to get the barrel to the ball, is finally seeing the lefty become the hitter he believes he can be.

“He definitely falls into that patient bucket because when you look at his expected numbers, they look really good as far as his batted ball profile because he’s always hitting the ball on the line,” Marmol said. “Certain guys develop differently away from here [with other MLB teams after trades] because you can’t be as patient based on just playing for the Cardinals.

“So, with Burleson specifically, it was screaming at us, ‘This guy can really hit; just stick with him,’ because of how he was going about it and the type of at-bats he was taking. Now, we’re seeing every bit of that, and it’s been a real positive for our club this year.”

A move that helped Burleson take his hitting to the next level was being more selective and swinging predominantly at pitches he can do damage against. That change allowed him to rise to second on the club in slugging (.448) and third in OPS (.753).

For Burleson, he thinks the hitting success was just a matter of time. Though he often hit into tough luck in 2023, he always thought he could become one of the Cardinals’ most productive sluggers. And even when the team had a logjam of outfielders in Spring Training, Burleson banked on himself having success because of his track record.

“I had that confidence that at some point I could hit at this level, and I feel like I am proving it now,” said Burleson, who hit eight homers in 107 games last season. “If you look at the body of work I’ve put together since college, I just know that I can hit here. You have to really know who you are as a hitter to hit up here. But once you figure that out, you can just roll with it.”