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Cardinals in the Lab: Offseason Tracker

The Cardinals have 5 players working at Tread or Driveline this winter.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Zach Dalin-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Christmas Eve and I don’t really have the time to write a long article so instead you get a roundup of all the St. Louis Cardinals players working at pitching and hitting labs this offseason along with my thoughts on the changes they’re making.

I’ve tracked down 5 players who have gone to either Driveline or Tread Athletics and I’ve included video describing what they are working on as well as my own commentary as to why they are working on these things and how that may help them next season.

I find this stuff to be fascinating and I hope you will too. Enjoy.

Andre Pallante

There’s a whole lot to be said about Andre Pallante’s work this offseason. The pitcher had one of the best fastballs in baseball in 2023 as the pitch put up a run value of 19. That was actually top 10 among all individual pitches in the game last year.

The problem with Pallante is that he didn’t have good secondaries as both his slider and his curveball allowed wOBAs near or above .400.

That may be changing in 2024 as the righty has gone to Tread and is developing a new Jordan Montgomery-esque death ball.

Now, if you don’t know what a death ball is then you can probably pick it up from the video but I’ll explain anyways.

A death ball is a type of curveball that comes out of the hand and just drops straight down. The point of it is to have basically 0 horizontal movement and to not have the hump or rainbow shape that is common in traditional 12-6 curveballs.

The idea is to improve the way the pitch tunnels with a fastball. Both pitches start at the same spot and the lack of the hump or rainbow shape means that the hitter can’t distinguish the curveball from the fastball out of the hand. Then the excess drop takes over and the pitch dives underneath the bat.

This is great news for Pallante because his curveball this past season was a big loopy downward oriented pitch that did have that rainbow shape to it.

While this pitch may look impressive, Pallante’s curveball simply hasn’t played well in the majors. He is capable of generating a ton of movement with it and he can really spin it so he’s always had the potential to throw a devastating breaker. Hopefully the new “death ball” is what gets him over the hump and allows him to have a go-to secondary pitch to pair with his outlier fastball.

Pallante also worked on his fastball a bit at Tread:

Pallante’s current fastball has a cut/sink shape with heavy sink that really keeps the ball on the ground. As you can see in the video, though, he was able to create a cut/ride shape with over 17 inches of riding life.

Now if you’re thinking that Pallante shouldn’t be messing with his fastball since it was one of the best pitches in baseball then I agree with you. That was my thought too.

Alex Kachler, who you can see in the above video working with Pallante, took to Twitter to explain the reasoning behind playing with Pallante’s fastball shape.

It’s a long thread so I’ll post it here and you can click into Twitter and read it in full if you desire. For those of you who don’t want to do that or don’t have a Twitter, I’ll explain it briefly here.

Pallante’s fastball doesn’t have a consistent movement pattern. Sometimes it cuts and sometimes it sinks and sometimes it does both. That comes from the way that Pallante grips and releases the ball.

So Alex’s idea was to see if they could take Pallante’s fastball and find consistent cutting action. That led to a cut ride shape initially but the end result was a cut/sink shape with consistent cutting action on the ball.

The problem is that the new grip was too close to Pallante’s slider grip which made it hard for him to find that shape without losing velocity. So this “new” fastball shape isn’t something you should expect to see in-game. It was simply a test to see if Pallante could get to that consistent cutting action and the solution was that he could but he would lose velocity and it would be a long climb to regain that velo.

So, expect to see the death ball next year but he’ll keep rocking with that same weird outlier fastball that hitters can’t square up.

Zack Thompson

Zack Thompson has also been putting in work at Tread this offseason and he too is trying to hone a quality secondary pitch.

For Thompson, though, it’s the changeup.

I’m a big fan of this idea for a couple reasons. The first is because splitters and split-changes are nasty and tend to get good results as a whole (obviously there’s some individuality that we shouldn’t gloss over). The second is because Thompson’s changeup, quite frankly, was terrible in 2023. In fact, it wasn’t great in 2022 either. He simply doesn’t throw an effective changeup.

The reason for that is because his changeup is almost in the “firm copycat” category. Basically that means the pitch does vary enough from his fastball to be effective. It’s only 4 mph slower and only drops an extra 8 inches. That’s not enough for a pitch that relies on deception.

The idea of the split-change grip is that it might be able to kill a little extra velocity and give the pitch more depth. As you can see from the video, Thompson was still coming to grips with the pitch and was actually getting riding life from the pitch so I’ll be curious to see what the final product looks like in Spring Training.

Riley O’Brien

Remember him? The Cardinals picked up O’Brien from the Mariners this offseason in exchange for cash and I loved the pickup at the time because O’Brien is just plain nasty.

I mean the guy has an 81 mph curveball with over 16 inches of sweep. And, let me tell you, that pitch can miss bats. It had a crazy 57.7% whiff rate in Triple-A and is really his go-to pitch.

What made the difference for O’Brien, and helped him have a breakout 2023 season, was a new slider that he developed in the last offseason that bridged the gap between his sinker and his curveball.

Guess where he developed in? Driveline.

O’Brien is back there this offseason and it seems that a velo jump might on the way for him.

Last year, O’Brien’s sinker average 94.8 mph. As you can see in the above video, O’Brien can touch 99 mph now. I should note that it’s one thing touch 99 mph in a hoodie at an indoor facility and it’s another thing to do it in an actual game. What I will say is that this doesn’t look like a max effort delivery designed to pull every last ounce of velocity out of his arm.

We’ll see if this is repeatable and if he does truly take a velocity jump in 2023 but that would be huge for his profile and would help his arsenal take another jump in 2024. That would be fantastic for someone who struck out 37.7% of the batters he faced in 2023.

One other thing I want to point out in the above video is the movement on that sinker. O’Brien got 18.5 inches of arm side run with the pitch. He averaged just 15.3 inches of run in 2023. He also averaged 7.2 inches of IVB in 2023 and the pitch above is sitting 12.7 inches. So he’s adding velocity, run, and riding life to his sinker in that pitch shown above.

Again, we’ll have to see if it carries over into the season but that’s encouraging progress from an interesting arm who could play a role in the Cardinals bullpen in 2024.

Paul Goldschmidt

What does Paul Goldschmidt do when he puts up a measly 3.7 fWAR that makes him look he does indeed age like a normal human? He goes to Driveline to add bat speed.

I find stuff like this fascinating so I would highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch the videos that I embedded above.

In one of the videos, Andrew Aydt, the Driveline trainer, talks about how isn’t able to cover the outside part of the late with good ball flight and Goldschmidt agrees with him. That made me look into Goldschmidt’s heat map and what do you know? Goldschmidt rolled over on outside pitches in 2023.

So what did that lead to? Diminished production on the outer third of the plate.

That’s a huge difference. Goldy not only hits inside pitches better but he also swings at them more. He’s weak against outside pitches and he knows it. This has actually been a persistent weakness for Goldschmidt, even in his MVP 2022 season, and is one of the slugger’s few weaknesses overall.

Hopefully this Driveline training can help alleviate that issue in 2024.

I don’t want to gloss over the bat speed training either. As you would expect, bat speed correlates well with exit velocity so any extra bat speed that Goldschmidt develops could go a long way towards helping him be even more productive at the plate next season.

Take this with a large grain of salt because hitting is individualized and ignoring everything besides bat speed is a terrible way of doing analysis but Nolan Arenado also went to Driveline and improved his bat speed prior to his outstanding 2022 season in which he rivaled Goldschmidt for the MVP award.

Goldschmidt might not see as much improvement, if any, as Arenado did, but It’s still great to see the star making every effort to improve heading into the 2024 season.

Richie Palacios

Richie Palacios has joined Paul Goldschmidt at Driveline this offseason. Here’s a snippet from one of his swing design sessions:

What I want to call out is the part toward the end when Palacios and his trainer talked about Palacios’ barrel working down through the ball and trying to prevent that. That would be a great start to making Palacios a more productive hitter as he had a 53% ground ball rate in the majors this past season.

I would imagine that a new swing design would also have the goal of him hitting the ball harder and that would be another welcome improvement as his 88.3 mph average exit velocity in 2023 was fine but could stand to be improved.

Hitting the ball harder and hitting the ball in the air more often is a great combination and I’m excited to see if Palacios is able to truly improve in those areas and become a more productive hitter in 2024.

Conclusion

Put as much stock into these clips as you want. I at least take them as encouraging signs that all of these players are working to shore up their weaknesses and improve their games heading into next season. Hopefully these improvements carry over onto the field.

I’ll try to keep this article updated if any more Cardinals get in the lab this offseason.

That’s all I’ve got today. Thanks for reading and have a Merry Christmas!