Daniel Ponce de Leon has spent parts of the previous three seasons (including 2020) in the MLB, but he has never been able to cement a role for himself. Now, he is 28 years old with one minor league option year left, so he is coming to the point where the Cardinals need to decide what to do with him long term. He is not a perfect pitcher by any means, but he seems too good to simply give away without trying to keep him on the team. However, his struggles with efficiency and command mean that when he starts games, he typically walks too many batters and does not go deep enough into the game. This is why Ponce de Leon should be moved to the bullpen full time. This would provide him a role where he can thrive with his limited, primarily two pitch arsenal, while not having to worry as much about an elevated pitch count.
Ponce de Leon throws his four seam fastball over 60% of the time, while he also mixes in a curveball (21.3% of his pitches) and a cutter (15.0% of his pitches). He also throws a changeup, but he is clearly not too comfortable with it made up just 7.3% of all his pitches last year and just 3.3% of his pitches this year. For someone who likes to throw his fastball as often as Ponce de Leon does, a bullpen role would be suitable as it would allow him to get away with being fastball dominant pitcher while he mixes in the occasional breaking pitch. Additionally, Ponce de Leon’s fastball was successful last year, even if he has struggled with the pitch this year, and a solid 2360 spin rate to go with some increased velocity could allow the pitch to be a solid offering.
Additionally, Ponce de Leon posted a 4.81 BB/9 and that has risen to 9.95 this season as he has struggled with control in the early parts of the season this year. A move to the bullpen would allow him to pitch just one or two innings which could minimize the damage caused by his lack of control.
The right-hander has shown the talent to be a solid starter, but he simply has not been consistent enough to earn a role. A move to the bullpen could make him a highly effective reliever as he fits the profile of a bullpen force. Also, with the amount of competition for spots in the Cardinals rotation, it would be better for the team to use a younger, more promising pitcher such as Johan Oviedo or Austin Gomber to fill a rotation spot when one is vacated.
This move would also strengthen the Cardinals bullpen immensely as it would give the team some dangerous options with Giovanny Gallegos, Carlos Martinez or Kwang-Hyun Kim, Ryan Helsley, Alex Reyes, and Ponce de Leon. If given the chance, Ponce de Leon could develop into a bullpen weapon who could solidify the Cardinals already formidable bullpen. This would be better than giving Ponce de Leon occasional spot starts and no clearly defined role. He has struggled this season, but next year, he will be 29 years old with one option year left. It is time to give him a clear role or move on from him and it appears that the bullpen might suit him best, especially with the Cardinals depth of quality young starters.