John Gant’s well documented issues with walks this season led to him being removed from the St. Louis Cardinals rotation. Since entering the bullpen, Gant has looked like a different pitcher. He is attacking hitters more, throwing more strikes, and has walked just one batter. These are positive changes for the 28-year-old who has tossed four scoreless innings in four appearances since leaving the rotation.
Gant has found the control and efficiency that he was lacking as a starter. The right-hander has thrown 64 pitches in his first four bullpen outings. 38 of them have been strikes. That is good for a nearly 60% strike rate and 16 pitches per inning. Gant had some control issues flare up in his second outing as he walked a batter and worked deeper into the count on a few batters. In his other outings, though, he has filled up the strike zone. In his first outing, Gant threw 12 of 17 pitches for strikes. In his third, he threw 7 of 11 pitches for strikes, and in his fourth, he threw 3 of 5 pitches for strikes.
This is a good sign for Gant, and it does demonstrate a clear improvement. Improvement was expected from him when he went to the bullpen, though, as Gant has already proven in previous seasons to be a solid reliever. However, in previous seasons, he has not proven to have good control as his career walk rate of 12.5% leaves a lot to be desired.
It is a good sign that he has walked just one batter in his first four bullpen appearances this season. It is encouraging to see him fill up the strike zone, though, and it certainly seems that he is willing to be more aggressive with his pitches now that he only needs to throw an inning or two at a time. Even so, this is still a small sample size, and Gant could still return to his normal levels of wildness.
With the move to the bullpen, Gant also seems to have adjusted his arsenal. This is a very early look, and a sample size of 64 pitches is prone to change, but there is a noticeable difference in which pitches Gant is using. His sinker has basically stayed constant at 36%. He has increased his changeup usage to 25% (21.5% on the season) and his four-seam usage to 23% (12.1% on the season). Of the 64 pitches that Gant has thrown out of the bullpen, just four have been breaking balls, one slider and three curveballs.
If this trend continues, then it appears that Gant will be a fastball/changeup pitcher who relies on movement to get outs. All three of those pitches have above average horizontal movement, with Gant’s four-seamer actually 75% above average. His infamous Vulcan changeup also gets above average vertical movement.
This ability to focus more on three pitches while tossing in a few sliders, curveballs, and cutters may also be helping Gant limit his walks. Based on his usage rates in his career, it is clear that Gant favors his sinker, four-seamer, and changeup over his other pitches. Allowing him to pitch in shorter stints allows him to simplify his arsenal and focus more on the pitches that he trusts. This should also raise the effectiveness of his more secondary pitches since they will be thrown less, and thus, be more unexpected to the hitter.
As a result, it appears that a change in mentality due to his role change, as well as a change in arsenal has allowed Gant to live in the strike zone. This is still a small sample size of just four innings, but Gant has looked like a different pitcher in his first four appearances out of the ‘pen. This is good news for a Cardinals team that could use some reliability in the middle innings of the game. With pitchers like Andrew Miller, Brandon Waddell, Justin Miller, and Ryan Helsley all options to pitch middle innings, there is ample opportunity for Gant to become the reliever who pitches in front of the trio of Gallegos, Cabrera, and Reyes.