Remember when I argued for putting Pallante on the Wainwright plan? (I provided the link to the piece in case you forgot.) At the time I argued that it would be valuable to develop Pallante in the bullpen where he can learn how to get outs at the major league level in a lower pressure environment. As I said at the time, this idea (at least for me) is contingent on Pallante using his full arsenal and not dropping down to two pitches.
Well, the early returns are mixed in that department as he isn’t using his full arsenal, but he is at least still throwing both of his breaking balls.
The problem is that Pallante isn’t throwing his changeup. Literally at all. He hasn’t thrown a single one this year. How is he supposed to develop a pitch if he doesn’t throw it in games? I’m sure he works on the pitch outside of game settings, but that’s not the same thing. If he’s going to be a starter, then he’s going to need a changeup. It doesn’t need to be dominant, but it does need to be there, even if he only throws it 10% of the time or less.
I’m obviously not thrilled about the whole changeup thing, but it’s not wholly unexpected. There’s another problem, though. Pallante is targeting his slider to right-handed hitters almost exclusively so far. The 23-year-old has thrown 29 sliders this year and just 7 have been to lefties. This is certainly a tactical decision and Pallante and the St. Louis Cardinals probably feel that the slider plays better against same-sided hitters, but again, not throwing the pitch to lefties hampers it development.
The perks of the minors are that the results don’t matter as much. Winning is still the goal in the minors, but if Pallante was in Triple-A, he would be able to experiment with sliders to left-handed hitters and sprinkle some changeups in as well.
He can’t experiment and develop pitches that way since he’s in the majors. If he and the coaches think his changeup isn’t good enough to get outs, then it gets dropped. If they feel that lefties his his slider too hard, then he won’t use it when he’s at a platoon disadvantage. Results matter and every major league team is going to do what they think will get the most results.
For Pallante, that means a limited arsenal. His slider might never be a go-to pitch against lefties, but he’s still just 23 years old has thrown less than 150 professional innings. It’s too soon to make that determination.
There are a lot of people calling for Pallante to go back to Triple-A where he can fully develop himself as a starter, and I certainly see the wisdom in that. He would be able to stretch out his arm, add the changeup back to his arsenal, throw more sliders to lefties, and work on pitch sequencing in longer outings. These would all be good things for Pallante, especially considering his inexperience in the professional game.
Still, I’m not sure I’m among the group that wants Pallante sent down. At least, in a vacuum, I’m not against the decision. The problem is that we don’t live in a vacuum and the Cardinals have an established pattern.
(Before I go any further, let me just say that I think Pallante is a future starter at the big league level. If the Cardinals stop seeing him at that because of his success in the ‘pen, then they have made a mistake.)
I know the organization has a history of moving talented arms to the bullpen too early and then leaving them there, but I’m not sure that will be the case with Pallante. Is it crazy to think that the decision making process may have changed, especially with this organization? I don’t know. I could be crazy.
I’m still not convinced that he’ll become a Hicks or a Helsley, unable to escape a relief role for at least a couple of seasons. I’m not saying he won’t become stuck in the ‘pen, but simply that there may be reasons that the Cardinals view him differently than they have viewed other prospects.
Feel free to dig out this article in a couple of years if I’m wrong because I could definitely be wrong and believe me, I am wary of the organization’s history, but who really knows what will happen at this point. I do want to point out that Pallante has a couple things going for him. I’ll prove this to you by comparing him to Jordan Hicks, who followed a similar route to the big leagues.
Pallante is more advanced in his rookie year than Hicks was. Sure Hicks had better velocity and a nasty 1-2 combo with his sinker and slider, but Pallante has a more complete arsenal. The fact that he is throwing three pitches right now is a great sign, even though I wish he was throwing more changeups and more sliders to left-handed hitters.
Like Pallante, Hicks also dropped his changeup once he was rushed to the big league bullpen. He added it back a bit in his second year (2019) and his third year (2021), but the pitch still had below 5% usage both seasons.
Pallante’s third pitch is currently his slider and he throws it 14.4% of the time. He’s already ahead of Hicks in terms of pitch mix, even if Hicks was ahead of Pallante in pure stuff.
Pallante also has skills that the Cardinals value. Currently he has a 61.3% groundball rate and a 5% walk rate, which is exactly what the Cardinals are looking for from their pitchers. I’ll admit that the walk rate is a bit weird since he had a 10% walk rate last year in Double-A, but the groundball rate is not an anomaly. He was over 59% last year.
Let’s compare to Hicks’s first season in the bigs. The flamethrower had a 60.7% groundball rate, which is practically identical to Pallante. That’s not surprise considering Hicks’s electric sinker. His walk rate was 13.3%, though, so he is well behind Pallante in that regard.
It’s easy to say a pitcher can’t be a starter when he has a walk rate that high as a reliever. A great groundball rate doesn’t outweigh a two pitch arsenal and spotty control. Pallante is better in each regard. Better control. More pitches. More grounders. He also had experience at a higher level than Hicks.
He certainly has what it takes to be a starter, and he is actually showing it at the major league level. He will certainly hit some rough patches, but this has been a strong start to his MLB career.
If there’s an area where he’s lacking, it’s whiffs. His 17.5% walk rate and 9th percentile whiff rate leave a lot to be desired (not to mention his 7% chase rate). He has a good fastball and high spin curveball, so I expect this will change eventually.
This is actually when I’m glad he’s pitching in the majors. He’ll get the chance to figure out how to make hitters expand the zone and swing and miss. If he can get better at that by the end of the year, then he will be much more prepared to enter the rotation.
There’s a big difference between getting outs at the major league level and getting outs at Triple-A. Pallante is figuring out how to retire big league hitters and this gives him experience that other rotation competitors won’t have.
Right now, he is almost entirely relying on an ability to spot his pitches where he wants them. He is throwing more than half of his pitches on the edge of the plate (51.2%) while the MLB average is 42.6%. This pinpoint command as well as lots of pitch movement is helping him generate weak contact.
He has still only thrown 10 innings, though, so I am not expecting this to be how he gets outs the whole year. Plenty can change with a much larger sample ahead.
He did not control the ball this well in Double-A last year, so it would be absurd if he could keep painting the corners all year after jumping two levels. Another concerning sign is his nearly 91% rate of stranding baserunners. That is well above the league average and is likely to normalize at some point.
The question is how will he respond when he starts struggling? That may define how long he is with the big league club.
Critics of the decision to keep Pallante in the majors point to how he is missing some development in the minors. This is most certainly true, but let’s not forget that he’s developing in the majors too. He’s not learning how to throw a slider to lefties or how to throw an effective changeup, but he is learning how to get outs at the major league level. This is valuable.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s more valuable, but let’s not act like Pallante isn’t getting anything out of being in the majors. He’s gaining a lot of valuable experience.
He’s staying on the trimmed roster and I expect that he’ll be in St. Louis for the long haul, so I guess it doesn’t really matter how I feel about it or how you feel about it. He could go down when VerHagen gets healthy and eventually (maybe) Flaherty and Reyes. There’s also the issue of the 13/13 split being enforced at the end of the month which gives the Cardinals another chance/excuse to send Pallante to AAA.
Regardless, I don’t think he’s taking another trip to the minors. He’s been trusted with higher leverage spots recently and Marmol stated that he doesn’t want to send a message that strong performances don’t secure a spot on the roster. He doesn’t (publicly) care about options. It’s really impossible to know at this point, but my hunch is that Pallante is staying up permanently unless he going through an extended rough patch.
So sure, maybe he should be developing as a starter in Memphis’s rotation (I’m still torn on the issue, but probably leaning towards AAA due to the organization’s history), but he’s here to stay and we should at least enjoy him while he’s here, because he’s pretty good.
I’ll be watching to see if he can get more chases and more whiffs and if he expands his arsenal past what he has already shown. In an ideal scenario, Pallante kills it this year and then moves into the rotation in either 2023 or 2024. At this point, we just have to wait and see if that’s what happens.