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Johan Oviedo Needs More Development Time

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Johan Oviedo has made five appearances and four starts for the St. Louis Cardinals as a 23-year-old this season. In these appearances, he has shown some high quality offerings that give him the potential to be a solid starter for the Cardinals. To begin with, his fastball averages nearly 96 miles per hour. Additionally, his slider, curveball, and changeup all have above average horizontal movement. This has helped him generate a 31.3% whiff rate which is well above the league average of 24.5%. He is also in the 94th percentile in average exit velocity and the 93rd percentile in hard hit rate.

These are promising signs for the young pitcher. Despite this, he still has a 5.40 ERA and 6.02 FIP this season. This is because Oviedo needs more refinement. The right-hander simply does not throw enough strikes. His first pitch strike rate of 44.6 % (league average is 60.5%) mean that he is constantly working from behind. This contributes to his 16.3% walk rate which is much too high for a starting pitcher to be able to work deep into games and keep runners off the base paths. As a result, Oviedo is averaging just under four innings per start and his 1.60 WHIP means that he is constantly pitching with runners on base.

When the Cardinals have a long stretch of games, they occasionally move to a six-man rotation in order to give the other five members of the rotation some rest. When this happens, Oviedo is the sixth man. The problem with this is that it saves the starters, but it then requires the bullpen to take on more innings in a long stretch without an off day. This is still a problem. Jake Woodford tossed 2 23 innings in relief after Oviedo’s last appearance, but if he had gotten into trouble, more arms would have needed to be used.

As a result, the Cardinals should leave Oviedo in Triple-A to let him refine his pitching and find the strike zone. The next time a spot start is required, the Cardinals should give Jake Woodford a chance in the rotation. Working in relief of Oviedo, Woodford looked nearly unhittable. He finished his 2 23 innings with six strikeouts, and allow just one base runner on a single. Woodford also pounded the strike zone as 24 of his 33 pitches were strikes.

On the season, Woodford has a 3.65 ERA and 3.29 FIP. His 4.40 xFIP is less flattering, but a team could certainly do worse for a spot starter. Woodford has also had some control issues, but his 12.7% walk rate is much better than Oviedo’s. Woodford’s .321 wOBA and .306 xwOBA are also much better than Oviedo’s .350 wOBA and .360 xwOBA. As a result, it seems likely that Woodford would be more effective as a spot starter than Oviedo. He appears more likely to work deeper into games and more likely to prevent a high number of runners from reaching base due to a lack of control.

Woodford had his struggles last year and he has still thrown just 33 13 innings at the MLB level in his career. However, as a spot starter he simply has to pitch adequately, and pitch deep enough into the game that he would not be putting extra strain on the bullpen. Currently, he seems more capable of doing this than Oviedo.

This does not mean that Oviedo is a bad pitcher. In fact, Oviedo’s ceiling is probably higher than Woodford’s. Despite this, Oviedo needs to develop more, and the best place for him to do that is in Triple-A. He has thrown just 8 career innings at Triple-A, and he struggled in his only season at the Double-A level in 2019. He needs more time in the minor leagues to find his command and learn how to be more efficient. More time in the minor leagues would be the best thing for his own development, while also being the best thing for the Cardinals as they simply need a more efficient spot starter.