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An ode to Nabil Crismatt

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MLB: Game One-Detroit Tigers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t the article I planned on writing this morning. I was perusing Statcast data looking for free agent pitchers to cover, which led me to the “active spin” leaderboard. For the uninitiated, active spin looks at how much a pitcher’s spin rate contributes to the movement on their pitches. You can read up on the metric here if you are so inclined, but that won’t be necessary for our purposes.

Among the 301 names listed, three of the top four in active curveball spin were Cardinals last season: Alex Reyes, Adam Wainwright, and...Jake Woodford. You probably thought that third name was going to be Nabil Crismatt, didn’t you? Come on now, it’s never that simple. Our beloved Nabil ranked 24th in active curveball spin.

Screw it, that’s enough for me. We’re living on the cursed timeline anyways. The only thing that matters is that we’ve found the gateway into the land of Nabil Antonio Crismatt Abuchaibe content.

Crismatt’s 8.0 K/BB ratio wasn’t just a team high this season. You have to go back to Edward Mujica (9.2) in 2013 to find any Cardinals pitcher with a better mark. His average allowed launch angle, 1.3 degrees, was the lowest on the club as he held opponents to a .261 xwOBA. (For anyone curious, Max Schrock led the pack with a .101 xwOBA because of course he did.)

We go deeper. Crimsatt’s fastball was good for second on the team (behind Schrock) by FanGraphs’ prorated “pitch values” metric. On a per 100 pitch basis, hitters’ average run expectancy against Crismatt decreased by 3.47 runs as a result of fastballs he threw. Not counting an esteemed list of position players (Daniel Descalso in 2014, Aaron Miles—yes, Aaron Miles’ fastball—in 2008, Schrock in 2020, Rob Johnson in 2013, and Greg Garcia in 2018), you have to go back to Jason Motte’s rookie campaign in 2008 to find any Cardinals pitcher, regardless of innings pitched, with a higher fastball value (3.63) than 3.47.

This is especially interesting because Crismatt’s average fastball doesn’t even reach 90 mph nor does he throw the heater with much spin, leading to a fastball whiff-per-swing rate of just 7.41% per Brooks Baseball. What he did do, however, was manage of perfectly square 50% groundball rate on balls put into play. Exactly half of all batted balls were grounders not just against his fastball, but against every type of pitch he throws. The Crismattian symmetry is perfect.

His went with his put-away pitch, his changeup, 60% of the time with two strikes against both lefties and righties—and garnered a much more impressive 41.46% whiff rate. Crismatt’s curveball, the place where we initially began, was, ironically enough, his only below-average pitch type using the aforementioned pitch values data.

Crismatt finished all six games he appeared in. He was the last man out of the bullpen until he wasn’t. His magnum opus may very well be the moment that never was, as the Cardinals omitted him from their playoff roster. St. Louis subsequently outrighted him off the 40-man roster, and he remains an unsigned free agent as of this writing.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the baseball players who teeter on the margins of obscurity. We all have random players whose names we’ll be reminded of at those most random of times. Sometimes you remember them because, during the weirdest season in recent history, circumstances force them to make their MLB debut in the last inning of a one-run game at Wrigley. And sometimes you forget to check the transaction log so you don’t even know they’re on the roster until they enter the game.

I know now. So long, Nabil Crismatt. If this is it, thanks for the memories.