Before this season, John Gant had not started a game since 2018. However, due to injuries to Kwang-Hyun Kim, Miles Mikolas, and Dakota Hudson, Gant was given another chance in the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation to open the 2021 season. He has performed admirably in a tight spot for the Cardinals pitching staff, but throughout his first six starts it has become clear that he belongs in the bullpen, not the rotation.
To begin with, Gant struggles to pitch deep into games. In his six starts, he has thrown just 29 1⁄3 innings. This means that he averages less than five innings per start. This is taxing on the bullpen, as it forces the ‘pen to pitch half the game whenever Gant is the starter. Kim is the only other member of the starting rotation who is averaging under five innings per start and he has made four starts since returning from injury. Flaherty, Wainwright, and Martinez are all averaging close to six innings per start, which is much better for a starting pitcher.
Gant has done a good job of preventing runs from crossing the plate as his ERA is just 2.15. However, there are plenty of red flags that surround this statistic. To begin with, Gant’s FIP is 4.38, which is much worse than his ERA, and his expected ERA and expected FIP are both much higher at 5.55 and 5.26, respectively. Part of the problem for Gant is that he walks nearly as many batters as he strikes out. This would be a problem for any pitcher, but it is especially bad for a pitcher in the rotation.
The 28-year-old has a walk rate of 17.9% and a strikeout rate of 18.7%. This has given him a career high 1.70 WHIP, as he is putting plenty of runners on base while posting a strikeout rate in just the 21st percentile. This is nto a good combination for a pitcher, and even though it has not yet hurt Gant, it almost certainly will in the future if these results hold.
One of the reasons that Gant has been able to avoid getting hurt by the high number of base runners that he allows is due to his 84.7% left on base rate. The league average left on base rate is usually around 70-72% and Gant’s career average is exactly 72%. This season, his left on base rate is nearly 13% higher, which is helping him strand the runners that he allows to reach base but is also likely to drop as his sample size increases.
Gant also ranks in the bottom half of the league in hard hit rate (43rd percentile), average exit velocity (16th percentile) and xwOBA allowed (18th percentile). As a result, it is clear that although he has not allowed many runners to cross the plate this season, he will not be this successful in the rotation if he spends the entire season in it. The hard hit balls and high number of base runners will come back to hurt him eventually if he is given enough time in the rotation.
Carlos Martinez has been better at pitching deep into games, and while there are still some concerns with Martinez, he appears to be the better rotation option. As a result, Gant should return to the bullpen whenever Miles Mikolas is ready to rejoin the team. Gant did well to keep the Cardinals in games after being pressed into service in the rotation. However, he is out of place in the rotation and belongs in the bullpen where he is much more effective.
The Cardinals need someone who can pitch deeper into games and prevent a high quantity of batters from reaching base. Even though Gant has not allowed many runners to score, that pitcher is not John Gant. Mikolas should bring some needed stability to the rotation when he returns from injury, and then the Cardinals will need to rely on Carlos Martinez pitching adequately for the rest of the season, and Adam Wainwright continuing to defy age.