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What to Expect from Andre Pallante, Starting Pitcher

The news on the block is that Pallante is moving into the rotation as the team looks for a reliable 5th starter. I take a look at what to expect from him in an expanded role.

St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs - Game Two Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Andre Pallante made his second start for the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday, and it appears that his role has now officially changed. Pallante is a starter.

He still needs to be stretched out a bit, but he did clear three innings on three occasions as a reliever and already made a 4 inning start. Perhaps we should have seen this coming considering his last two appearances lasted 3 and 3 13 innings, respectively.

In his first start he threw 64 pitches. In his second he threw 75. He’s mostly there in terms of being able to handle a starter’s workload and it shouldn’t take more than a few starts before he isn’t limited by pitch count.

This is a bit of an aggressive move for Pallante, but it’s not like the Cardinals have many other options. Wainwright, Mikolas, and Hudson are dependable but the last two spots have faltered. Packy Naughton, Matthew Liberatore, and Johan Oviedo haven’t been particularly impressive in a starting role, which has meant a lot of bullpen games.

Jack Flaherty has begun his rehab assignment so he should be back in a little bit, certainly before the end of the month, so gives the Cards a fourth starter. Steven Matz was supposed to be on a similar timeline as Flaherty, but he is behind schedule and has yet to throw off a mound. At this point, it’s impossible to tell when he’ll be back.

That leaves the fifth starter job open for the forseeable future and Pallante’s results and a lack of other options have made him the man for the job.

As a sidenote, the Cardinals could have gone with a piggybacking strategy, and they’ve done that unofficially a few times, but the team seems committed to the idea of the traditional five man rotation.

Moving Pallante to the rotation does have some consequences, namely, it weakens the bullpen. Now, in tight situations, Marmol can really only trust Helsley and Gallegos and maybe Cabrera.

That limits things a lot and will probably result in some frustrating late losses, so it’s time to mentally prepare yourselves for another high-leverage Drew VerHagen appearance, because unless something changes, McFarland, Wittgren, or VerHagen will somehow end up in a situation that they shouldn’t be in.

That’s a problem for another piece, though, so I’ll come back to Pallante. I, for one, am excited to see him in a starter’s role. It’s not necessarily because I think he’s going to excel, but rather because I simply enjoy watching him pitch. He’s got great stuff and he’s handled a tough assignment. It’s hard not to like him.

Obviously, I have some concerns with him moving into the rotation. Firstly, he can have spotty control, as evidence by his 11% walk rate. His control isn’t consistently bad, though. In fact, it’s really only been bad a couple of times. 9 of Pallante’s 14 walks have come in just three appearances, spanning 4 23 innings. In the other 24 23 innings, the rookie has walked an average of 1.82 hitters per nine innings.

He will have times where he inexplicably loses his control or can’t find the edge of the zone, but that’s not a consistent problem for him, at least not yet. Maybe that changes when he has a few more starts under his belt.

Take Friday night’s game for instance. In the first inning, Pallante walked a pair of hitters with two outs, and threw 24 pitches. He then countered with a seven pitch inning in the 2nd.

He finished 5 innings on 73 pitches, averaging about 12 pitches per inning over the final four frames. That’s a great sign for a team that needs starters who can go deep right now. When he controls his pitches, which happens more often than not, it’s not hard to see him giving the team at least six solid innings per start.

I should mention, though, that his little control slip ups will be more dangerous when he’s not facing the Reds or the Cubs.

Part of his occasional control issues is his inability to put his curveball in the zone. Pallante’s nasty curveball lands in the zone just over 28% of the time. In his defense, he most often uses this pitch in pitcher’s counts, so he’s trying to get hitters to chase the pitch. That happens just under 28% of the time, which is fine, but isn’t particularly great considering the quality of his curveball.

I mean, the pitch has a 90th percentile spin rate (2822 rpms) and gets nearly as much drop as Adam Wainwright’s curveball despite being thrown three mph harder. Waino’s breaker has a 34% chase rate, but is commanded much more effectively.

Pallante’s could be similar if the right-hander could command the pitch. It can be an effective offering when it’s dropped into the bottom fo the zone or just below, but consistently throwing the pitch in the dirt or well off the edge isn’t going to tempt anyone to swing.

He also likes to throw that curveball in the first pitch of an at-bat. He needs to be able to drop that pitch in there for a strike so he can work from ahead. His inability to consistently place his curveball in the zone (whether by choice or by wildness) is one of the reasons why he has a first pitch strike rate of 53.5%. That’s well below the league average of 60.7%.

It’s not a great strategy to pitch from behind in nearly half of all plate appearances, especially for a starter. Pallante is going to have to iron out those issues and work from ahead more often if he doesn’t want to elevate his pitch count.

While working out of the rotation I would expect a more diverse arsenal, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Half of Pallante’s pitches against the Reds were four-seamers while 28% were sliders and 14% were curveballs.

That’s a bit of a change from his first start when 80% of his pitches were fastballs. Baseball Savant classified the split as 66% four-seamers and 14% sinkers, but I’m not convinced that those are different pitches.

Pallante said it himself. He said that he grips a four-seam fastball and just throws it and it does what it wants. Sometimes it sinks and sometimes it cuts. Based on that, it sounds like Baseball Savant is misclassifying his sinker and four-seam as separate pitches because they move differently even though they are thrown with the same grip.

I bring this up because it can be an advantage for Pallante, especially when he’s starting.

I have to watch this series on the Reds broadcast since I live in Ohio, and Cincinnati’s commentators hypothesized that Pallante’s “just throw it” approach may cause some of his control issues.

There may be some merit to that thought...until you look at the numbers. Pallante’s fastball finds the zone more often than any other pitch. Usually, fastball control isn’t the issue, though it can flare up from time to time as is the case for any young pitcher.

The Reds commentators looked at it as a disadvantage, but I see it as an advantage. It will keep hitters on their toes and keep them from getting used to the pitch. For most pitchers, a fastball is a fastball and when you see it a couple times you know what it does. That’s not the case for Pallante.

His fastball can act as different pitches and help him give hitters different looks as he works through the order multiple times.

Here’s an example of a sinking four-seamer

How here’s another four-seamer from that same AB.

Apparently that’s the same pitch. Don’t ask me how. Having a cutting fastball and a sinking fastball that come out whenever they want to is a weapon when he needs to face an order two or three times.

He controls it just fine. His command may be thrown off at times if he doesn’t know exactly how it’s going to break, but he can still put it in the zone. The worry is that he leaves something over the plate, but with so much movement, I don’t think his risk of that is too high.

The funniest thing about looking at his fastball on Baseball Savant is that, according to the site, his four-seamer sinks more than his sinker. That only lends support to the idea that it’s the same pitch but with multiple movement patterns.

Pallante is tricky, He gets above average depth on both his breaking balls and his fastball provides different looks. That’s enough to keep him from getting stale in the middle innings.

I would still like to see Oli Marmol be a little conservative with him in his next few starts and proactively take him out of the game instead of letting him pitch too deep. He’s proven that he can be an effective reliever, but starting is a different beast. I wouldn’t expect to see him last more than five or six innings tops as he builds up.

He’s in the phase where he needs to build trust in his new role. After that, he may join Waino, Mikolas, and Hudson in going 7+ innings, but I wouldn’t really expect that unless he becomes a mainstay in the rotation.

He was a starter through the minors, passed every test in the bullpen and is now getting tested in the rotation. I can’t tell you how successful he’s going to be, but I’m cautiously optimistic, especially after his first two starts.

He’s allowed just one earned run in 9 13 innings, but he also has as many walks as strikeouts (6). Pallante will need to keep his control in longer outings and any flare up of inaccuracy will have a higher risk of being damaging when he’s in the rotation.

The rookie fits in nicely with what the Cardinals wants out of their starters. He pitches to contact and he gets a ton of groundballs (61.1%). Oli Marmol has raved about him already and a few good starts could entrench Pallante in the rotation.

I’m excited to see him get an extended look because it could get him out of the bullpen doghouse. When Pallante was first named to the roster, many people were concerned that he would be done starting if he had success in a bullpen role, but that’s apparently not true.

Pallante was reliable out of the ‘pen and will now get a chance to build off his success in longer stints. The 23-year-old has a ton of promise and it would be a mistake to lock him in the ‘pen too early. In an ideal scenario, Pallante pitches so well that he simply can’t be taken out of the rotation.

We’re a long way away from that right now.

After his first two starts, it may be fair to say that he is the best option to fill-in for any injured starters, but I think he still goes back to the bullpen when Steven Matz gets healthy. If someone else get hurts before that, then results will dictate Pallante’s future.

Pallante has all the tools to be an effective starter - three good offerings, good control (usually, although he does have some lapses), a high groundball rate, and a history of starting. The Cardinals may have been forced into moving Pallante into the rotation from lack of options, but I love the decision to give him a chance as a starter.

The rookie has handled everything that’s been thrown at him, so it’s time to give him a bigger role and see how he responds.