clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Figuring out John Gant

John Gant is likely on his way back to the minors soon. He really shouldn’t be the odd man out.

Philadelphia Phillies v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Morning, everybody. I’m going to make this short and sweet today; it’s a holiday weekend, I’ve got plans, maybe you’ve got plans, and you just want something breezy and easy to occupy you for a bit this morning before you head off to your day’s adventures.

I want to talk about John Gant, and what I think the Cardinals should do with him. See, here’s the thing: I think John Gant is a pretty good major league pitcher. Now, he’s not a star; I’m not saying that. He’s not an ace. But I think he’s a pretty good major leaguer, maybe good enough I don’t need the pretty qualifier, and he doesn’t really seem to have a role with the big club right now. On the one hand, it’s easy to say that’s a good thing, a good problem to have, etc., and the fact the Cardinals can’t find room for a guy who’s a pretty good major league pitcher speaks very highly of not only their rotation depth, but the depth of the organisation overall. And that’s a perfectly fine point to make.

However, I think there’s also another side to the argument, which is that John Gant could have better uses than the seventh starter on this club, and better ways in which he could contribute by his talents to the product on the field.

I don’t know if you all remember back to the offseason, or even spring training, when there was a lot of consideration given, and debate offered, regarding the potential of Gant serving as a partner for Michael Wacha, essentially in a piggyback sort of arrangement. The idea at the time went like this: Wacha really can’t be trusted the third time through a lineup — and is somewhat shaky even the second time — but he’s usually great for three innings, solid for five, and then he drops off a cliff. By pairing him with Gant, the Cards could have essentially ensured that Wacha never had to face that sixth inning and beyond, when he suddenly dropped in efficacy, and Gant would be stretched out enough to throw most of the rest of the game, three innings, maybe even four, thus taking advantage of both pitchers’ strengths.

Well, having now completed almost two months of the season, it would appear Michael Wacha needing a piggyback partner to handle everything after the fifth inning isn’t really a huge issue. Wacha has thrown 20.2 innings the first time through the order, 21.1 the second time, and has amassed 14.1 innings against opposing hitters the third time seeing them. So we’re not talking exactly equivalent innings totals, but we have a reasonable parity to consider here. And Wacha’s wOBAs allowed each time through are as follows: .304, .284, .229. Now, obviously we’re dealing with some survivorship bias in that third time through the order; i.e. you’re only going to see Wacha face a bunch of hitters the third time on days when he is pitching well, and going deep into the game. Thus, we must be aware that those third time numbers are weighted toward his better days, and keep that in mind.

However, there’s also the fact Wacha in 2018 has been essentially just as good the second time through the order as the first. When he gets deep into the game, he’s not falling off a cliff. The fact is, Wacha doesn’t look this year like a guy who has to be on a short leash, or at least to the extent we’ve seen in the past, and we maybe believed would be the case this season.

On the other hand, in John Gant we have a pitcher who was thought to be an ideal solution to the piggyback back half, and if anything looks better than we maybe expected him to be. So what do we do with him?

Well, the fact is, that role we envisioned for Gant way back in the offseason would seem to still be the best, at least to me. Maybe not a piggyback-specific role, mind you, but if you’re looking for that 2-3 inning hammer in the system, I submit to you that John Gant might be the best solution.

For the season, Gant is running a rather uninspiring 4.76 ERA, but he’s also rocking a 2.26 FIP that is downright magnificent, and a 3.19 xFIP that’s still pretty excellent in this current offensive environment. The reason for his run-prevention struggles, in spite of outstanding peripherals? A left on base figure of just 44.3%, meaning that well over half the baserunners Gant has allowed this season have come around to score. Not likely to continue, obviously, though I suppose we have to at least consider the idea Gant may have some issue pitching out of the stretch, whether it’s a lack of command or tipping pitches or some other third thing. Really, though, we’re looking at a guy who has been awesome by most predictive stats this season, and has just had some really bad sequencing and strand rates killing his ERA.

Gant is currently striking out just shy of 27% of hitters he’s faced this season, while walking just 5.4%. Again, these are fantastic numbers, and indicate a guy getting empty swings while working inside the zone. That’s really just about all you can ask for from a pitcher.

If we dig a little deeper, though, we find that John Gant appears to perhaps have the issue we ascribed to Michael Wacha; namely, John Gant is utterly horrible the third time through the lineup. Now, we’re dealing with microscopic samples, so we shouldn’t draw big conclusions, but let’s break this down real quick anyhow.

The first time through the order, Gant’s wOBA against is .184. That’s incredible. The second time through, it’s .298. That’s not bad. The third, it’s .499. That’s, um...something.

The first time through the order, John Gant strikes out 37% of the hitters he faces. Again, holy shit. The second time, he still strikes out a third of the hitters. He’s a killer. The third time? Zero strikeouts. Yes, only eleven total hitters faced, but zero. Strikeouts. His ERA the third time through is 21.60. His batting average against is .375. John Gant facing hitters the third time is basically helpless.

The first time, though? He’s a beast. And he’s still stretched out as a starter. And he’s still got three legitimate pitches, including a phenomenal changeup that has only gotten better since the Cardinals acquired him.

In other words, in John Gant the Cardinals could have the kind of multi-inning weapon they need to help complement this outstanding starting staff, and help prop up a struggling bullpen. Sending Gant back down to the minors now, just to wait in the wings for another need in the rotation to pop up, would seem to me to be a real waste of value. I get that you don’t want to be caught without depth, but Austin Gomber is close to big-league ready, and just fine as a seventh starter. Gant needs to be with the big club, in the ‘pen, pitching in what I’m going to call the Chris Devenski role, since I’m tired of talking about Andrew Miller at this point.

I really do feel Gant is too valuable at this point to send back down, particularly when the Cardinals have needs at the big league level. Keep him up, have him throw two to three innings two, maybe three times a week, and watch the bullpen sort itself out.