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Can John Gant Be a Starter Again?

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Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The last year that John Gant started a game in the majors was 2018, when he started 19 of the 26 games that he appeared in. He also started seven of 20 games in the previous year with the Braves, while also spending his entire minor league in the rotation. Thus, with his previous experience as a starter, it is still possible that Gant could claim a spot in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation this season.

However, their will be plenty of competition for him as Carlos Martinez, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and potentially even Genesis Cabrera are competing for the final spot in the Cardinals rotation. However, while Carlos Martinez might be the favorite to win the job, John Gant is probably the next best option.

To begin with, Gant has a strong array of secondary offerings. His primary pitch is a sinker with above average horizontal movement. He also throws a four seam fastball, but his sinker was used nearly three times more in 2020.

Gant’s go-to secondary pitch in his vulcan-grip changeup which allowed just a .161 wOBA. The pitch also posted a 51.6% whiff rate. The success that Gant had with this pitch makes it a strong secondary offering that he can throw more if he enters the rotation.

Additionally, Gant has a solid curveball, which gives him a viable breaking pitch to go with his changeup, sinker, and four seamer. His curveball has an extra 2.6 inches of drop from the average curveball, and Gant also posted solid results with the pitch. He also throws a cutter/slider, which had strong results last season, but it is likely that Gant would use his curveball more if he entered the rotation, due to its greater speed variation.

So far, this is a good look for Gant. He has a history of starting, as well as at least three viable pitches that he is comfortable throwing. However, while this certainly makes him a candidate to start, he will need to walk less batters if he wants to claim the job.

Gant has posted a walk rate between 11.5% and 13.2% in every season since joining the Cardinals. His strikeout rate has also risen every year, which has helped balance out his walk rate, but he still needs to limit his walks if he is going to be an effective starter.

As Cardinals fans have seen with Daniel Ponce de Leon, it is difficult for a starter to perform well and pitch deep into games if he is having control issues. This is why Ponce de Leon has been unable to claim a spot in the rotation, or even solidify his place in the bullpen, in recent years. However, Gant has been a better reliever than Ponce de Leon in each of the last two seasons, which may give him a higher ceiling in the rotation. However, he will end up like Ponce de Leon if he does not throw enough strikes as a starter.

At the very least, Gant should be a solid reliever for the Cardinals next season. However, if he coudl improve his control, then he could have strong strikeout and whiff rates without hurting himself too much. When this is combined with his solid arsenal, it would make Gant a good starting pitcher.

However, it is still unclear if he will be able to pitch effectively as a starter. This is something that he will have to prove in Spring Training, and it may come down to him controlling his pitches well enough to pitch deep into games. However, it is worth giving Gant a shot to win the job, and even if he does not, it is still possible that he will start games in 2021. Carlos Martinez is still an injury-risk, while Adam Wainwright is 39 years old, and Miles Mikolas missed the entire 2020 season with an injury.

Therefore, if the Cardinals need someone to enter the rotation during the season, they may give Gant a chance. If this happens, then he may be able to prove that he can be more than a strong relief option. However, it will start with him fixing his control issues and showing that he can still miss bats when he is making longer appearances.