You don’t need me to tell you that spring training numbers don’t matter. Not really, anyway. About half of the articles written every spring reference that fact, and few are written as artfully as Ben Godar did earlier this week. Sure, there are some items of note that stabilize sooner. It’s why I wrote about maximum exit velocity last week. You can probably skip out on anointing that 28 year old quad-A shortstop who pulls a .400 batting average out of his rear end in March as the next Francisco Lindor. All the same, as Ben said, spring training is a con artist. Naturally, there are some individual Cardinals putting up some interesting numbers this spring. Here’s what I’ve taken note of through Wednesday’s games.
John Gant, 14.1 IP
Gant’s usage was even specified in a similar article written by Eno Sarris at The Athletic a few weeks ago. To quote Sarris:
Like plate appearances for hitters, innings totals right now can help us on the outside understand better what the teams are planning behind closed doors.
That John Gant has the third most innings on the team this spring should probably tell you by now that he’s almost certainly going to be in the rotation to start the season. Part of that is obviously due to injuries for Kwang-Hyun Kim and Miles Mikolas. Kim likely won’t miss much time, but Mikolas’ future is a little murkier. Clearly, Gant has the inside track on filling in as long as a spot is available.
The other number of note for Gant is his four-seam fastball velocity, which is down from 94.0 last year to 90.7 this spring. Part of that is the transition from the bullpen to the rotation. That said, he was averaging around 93 as a starter in 2018. That’s something to track.
Genesis Cabrera, 94.6 mph
Speaking of potential rotation-fillers, Genesis Cabrera has been limited to 5.2 innings this spring. When he has pitched, his velocity has been down a tick and a half- he averaged 96.1 mph on his four-seamer in 2020. He’s down 1.5 mph this spring. That’s not automatically a problem- guys work on things in the spring all the time. This isn’t exactly a red flag so much as it’s a... light pink flag? I don’t know, whatever the appropriate tint of “mild worry but not horrified” for red would be, that’s what this is. Cabrera’s talent is tantalizing and this odd season- riddled with piggyback starters, innings limits, and bloated pitching rotations- seems ripe for a starter/reliever hybrid like Cabrera to make his mark. Hopefully he can return his queso to its former heights.
John Nogowski, 3:1 BB/K
Since 1970, only eight players have managed to accrue a 3-to-1 BB to K ratio in a season with enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title. Two of those were Peak Freaky Barry Bonds seasons, and another two were from the Human Rain Delay, Mike Hargrove. In other words, a 3:1 BB/K ratio is elite. Guys just don’t do that very often. And the ones that do clearly grind out good at-bats every time. Enter John Nogowski. That 3:1 BB/K is no fluke, either. He has the ninth most plate appearances on the team this spring. Granted, his minor league BB/K hasn’t been this good but he’s always been a hard out for opposing pitchers. I have no clue if he’ll make the roster. As my colleague J.P. Hill wrote yesterday, Harrison Bader’s injury opens up more of a chance for him. Either way, he’s done everything he can to earn it.
Tyler O’Neill, 39 plate appearances, .622 SLG, 1.032 OPS
Ok, that’s more than one number. It’s three. In fact, let’s make it four and add in his average exit velocity of 90.9. As I mentioned last week, we know that he’s trying to get back to more of the power-laden approach that got him to the majors in the first place. It sure looks like he’s getting there this spring, bringing the thump that made him a prospect in 2017-2018. His exit velocity is significant because it’s higher than his average EVs in 2019 (89.0) and 2020 (88.0). Sure, it’s only 39 plate appearances, but he’s done his part in the limited time with three doubles and a pair of homeruns.
As for those 39 plate appearances, he’s basically been an everyday player. Remember that Eno Sarris block quote in the Gant description? It’s the same thing. No matter how many other outfielders are on the roster, it seems clear that the Cardinals view the left field job as O’Neill’s to lose. He very well may lose it once real games start, but he has earned it this March.
Carlos Martinez, 10.9% Cutter Usage
You have to take these pitch designations with a giant heaping pile of salt, but Martinez was listed as only throwing his cutter 1% of the time last year. This spring, it’s at 10.9%... and he specifically cited pairing it with his changeup as an engine behind his last start, his most effective of the spring. He’s had mixed results this spring (mixed results = he looked bad a lot but also had a few decent outings), and he’s trying to recover from a dreadful 2021. If his fastball velo continues to drop, he’s going to need to find other ways to get hitters out. The cutter is a start, something to keep an eye on.