I’ve already looked at a few young players in some of my past articles, highlighting what Zack Thompson and Brendan Donovan can do to get even better results next year, but the next player I want to look at is Andre Pallante. And the reason is simple - he’s weird. Or, at least, the way he got his production last year was weird.
And I don’t mean that in a bad way...or maybe I do because a 3rd percentile whiff rate and 1st percentile chase rate is downright terrible. But Pallante also had a solid year with a 3.17 ERA and 3.98 FIP, so maybe I don’t mean that in a bad way. I don’t really know but it is what it is.
Either way, I’m not shocked that Pallante had a solid year but I am surprised by the way it happened.
The title of this article is “What’s Next For Andre Pallante” and I can tell you right now that what’s next for him had better be more whiffs and/or more chases because I really don’t have a ton of confidence in him repeating his modest success without doing that.
But if I told you that Andre Pallante needs to get more whiffs and more chases and left it at that, I would be leaving you short; and I don’t want to do that. So, we’re going to dive into how he can make those improvements.
But first, much like I did in my article on Brendan Donovan, I want to look at the company that Pallante was in.
There were only 6 pitchers, including Pallante, who finished the year in the 5th percentile or worse in both chase rate and whiff rate. The other 5 names aren’t exactly a who’s who: Joan Adon, Josh Winchowski, Erick Fedde, Antonio Senzatela, and Dakota Hudson. If you said “who” multiple times while reading that list, you aren’t alone.
Curious what the best ERA was among that group (not counting Pallante)? It was Dakota Hudson’s 4.45. No other pitcher finished below 5. The best FIP came from Senzatela at 4.05 with Hudson close-ish behind at 4.34. The other 3 were grouped near 5.
So all that goes to say that this isn’t a group you want to be a part of. It’s possible to have modest success if you’re fine with a FIP in the low 4s but that takes some special skill, such as getting ground balls. And Pallante is GREAT at that. And I LOVE that.
What I’ve learned from this exercise is that, honestly, his floor (which is somewhat of a dumb term since any number of things can change) seems to be something like Dakota Hudson or Antonio Senzatela. And not the 2021 Senzatela that was worth 3.5 fWAR. In fact Senzatela is probably too high of a floor so let’s just forget that I even metioned that and leave it at Dakota Hudson.
I’m pretty sure if you listen closely, you can hear the audible groans from Cardinals fans everywhere as I compare Pallante to Hudson. But don’t worry! It doesn’t have to be that way. I said Hudson is Pallante’s floor which means there’s plenty of room for Pallante to escape that fate.
So, how can he do that? I’m glad you asked. Let’s dive in.
Four-Seamers and Sinkers and Finding the Right Balance
The first thing I want to discuss is Pallante’s fastball because I would really like to see him throw fewer fastballs as well as a different fastball. And that’s because his four-seam fastball, which he threw 54.4% of the time, might as well be a sinker than doesn’t run. In fact, according to Baseball Savant, it actually had more sink than his sinker. I won’t even try to explain how that works, but my point is that if he’s already going to throw a sinking fastball, why not throw a sinking fastball with run?
His sinker made up just 9.2% of his arsenal but I would love to see that change. As you can see in the table below, Pallante’s sinker beat his four-seamer in pretty much every metric.
|Avg Exit Velocity
|Avg Exit Velocity
This comes with two caveats. The first is that Pallante threw exactly 161 sinkers. That’s not a big enough sample size from which to draw any conclusions. The second is that 139 of those sinkers were thrown against right-handed hitters. So at this point, the pitch does seem to be platoon-oriented and should probably stay that way.
And that’s okay, because his fastball actually had a ton of success against left-handed hitters (.255 wOBA) and got hammered by right-handed hitters (.405). So, instead of throwing four-seamers to both lefties and righties, I would love to see him use it mostly against lefties while throwing his sinker as his primary fastball against righties.
That’s the best of both worlds as it doesn’t require too big of an arsenal adjustment but it should also make him as platoon-neutral as possible, at least when it comes to fastballs.
As I said abovem this isn’t the only thing I want to see Pallante change. While I would love to see him mix his sinker and his four-seamer more, I would also love to see him throw fewer fastballs overall. My reasoning is simple. Just take a look at the stuff+ grades of his two fastballs in the above table. For context, 100 is average.
It’s no wonder his whiff rate was terrible. Neither of those pitches are built for whiffs and, combined, they accounted for 63% of his arsenal. That’s simply not a great pitch mix. This is something I’ve mentioned before, but a lot of rookies are fastball-heavy, and that has been especially true with Yadier Molina behind the plate. With a year of major league experience under his belt, a new catcher in Willson Contreras, and a new pitching coach in Dusty Blake I’m curious to see if that changes.
Stuff+ says what it says (and it doesn’t say great things about his fastball) but at the very least, Pallante has above average velocity and above average extension with his fastball and he gets a ton of ground balls. They aren’t awful pitches but Pallante simply shouldn’t be a fastball-heavy arm.
The Breaking Balls
I’ve discussed the pitch I want Pallante to throw less — his fastball — so now let’s look at the pitch I want him to throw more. And, spoiler, it’s his only pitch with a stuff+ above 100. It’s also his only pitch with above average movement on both planes.
Pallante’s slider should be his go-to secondary pitch and I want to see it’s usage jump from 19.6% to at least 30%. I’ll get to the pitch itself in a minute but I think it would really get unlocked working in tandem with Pallante’s sinker. And that’s the reason I wanted to write about the fastball situation first. Sinker/slider is a classic combination for a simple reason. Sinkers are at their best (generally) at the bottom of the zone. That means they don’t pair well with big breaking curveball that start high. What they do pair well with is a hard, tight slider that can start near the bottom of the zone without finishing in the dirt. And at 87 mph, the tunneling possibilities of Pallante’s sinker and slider are mouth-watering.
The problem is that Pallante’s slider was drastically and painfully misused last year. And that’s also because he was pairing it primarily with a sinking four-seamer thrown up in the zone. Whether on purpose or by accident, Pallante left his slider up in the zone far too often.
This is a pitch that needs to be an ankle biter. And ankle biting sliders are set up with low sinkers, not with four-seam fastballs that are misplaced at the top of the zone.
Looking at Pallante’s pitch profiles drives me a little crazy because I see a pitcher that can be so much better than he was but that will take a lot of tweaking. I want him to be a sinker/slider pitcher and it’s easy to see why. His sinker is his best fastball and his slider is his best breaking ball. The fact that he hardly threw his sinker meant that his above average slider didn’t have it’s perfect tunneling partner. I suspect that’s a large part of the reason for the low chase rate. As Jordan Hicks has proven with his 2nd percentile chase rate, nasty stuff isn’t the sole, or even primary, reason for chases. It’s deception that matters; command too.
And if Pallante isn’t paring these pitches, he’s not tunneling which means he’s not creating deception which means hitters aren’t going to chase. I hope this changes, though. His sinker and slider have 8 mph of velocity separation and over 18 inches of separation on the horizontal plane and the fact that his slider has a good amount of sweep really helps enhance the tunneling possibilities. This is the weapon that he has yet to unleash and it would be a huge benefit to him if he re-worked his arsenal.
But, again, that doesn’t mean he should discard his curveball. It’s a pitch that spins at an exceptionally high rate (2836 rpms) and gets a ton of drop but is only thrown at 76.5 mph. As currently presented, the pitch gets a near perfectly average 99 stuff+ grade. That’s not excellent by any means but it’s certainly a usable pitch. And while it’s 30.9% whiff rate is solid, if unspectacular, the pitch generated a 62.8% groundball rate and that’s really where it’s strength lies.
And the benefit of the pitch is that it pairs well with his four-seamer. It would be more effective if his four-seamer didn’t have so much sinking action, but it’s still a fine combination. Neither pitch is outstanding but they both get groundballs at a high rate and Pallante likes to throw both to lefties.
And therein lies the strategy I want to see from Pallante. Sinker/slider to righties and fastball/curveball to lefties. That puts each pitch with it’s best tunneling partner and it’s ideal hitter handedness.
I hope I haven’t presented a bleak picture of Pallante because that’s not at all what I was trying to do. In fact, my negativity about the usage of his arsenal last year should be encouraging because if he can pitch as well as he did in 2022 without using his best pitching combinations, then there should be a lot more in store for him in 2023.
He’s never been much of a strikeout pitcher but I do think he has more in the tank. His stuff ticked up in 2021 as he sat 90-92 in college but then averaged 95 mph in 2021 and even touched 98. That gives his fastballs a huge boost as neither of them are really bat-missing pitches and would likely struggle at lower velocities.
It’s this uptick in velocity that can help his breaking stuff play better, though, and I really expect his slider to become his go-to bat missing pitch while the rest of his arsenal kills all the worms in the infield. If he pairs them well he could even stumble into more whiffs than his stuff probably deserves, and again, that’s a huge boost to a pitcher who already gets a ton of groundballs and did a great job at staying off the barrel (97th percentile barrel rate).
I truly believe that Pallante can be a starter, and, honestly, if I’m choosing between him and Thompson, I think Pallante has more starter’s upside. In fact, as a starter in 2022, Pallante posted a solid 4.02 FIP and 3.42 xFIP and had a higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate than he did in the bullpen. That’s partially where my optimism comes from too.
I also like that Pallante has 4 usable pitches and I love that he showed them all despite working as a reliever. Thompson, on the other hand, was heavily fastball/curveball and didn’t throw either of his other pitches more than 8% of the time.
I want to see Pallante continue to improve his arsenal and I think that comes from better usage rates and pitch mix. And it’s that pitch mix that should fix everything else. What’s the solution for the low whiff rate? Throw more sliders (and curveballs too, I guess) and fewer fastballs. What’s the solution for his low chase rate? Better tunneling from a more intelligent pitch mix profile. And by increasing his chase rate, Pallante should see a lower walk rate, too.
I’ve seen it suggested that Pallante has control issues, and, sure, they can pop up here and there but he actually threw a well-above average amount of his pitches in the zone. At 51.1%, that was over 2.5% more than the league average of 48.5%. The reason he has a slightly above average walk rate is because he doesn’t entice hitters to expand the zone. Better tunneling should fix that.
An above average walk rate with a well above average groundball rate and a 20ish% strikeout rate is completely possible with Pallante if he can optimize his pitch mix. And I haven’t even mentioned the possibility of his pitches getting better in isolation (which can always happen).
I really want to emphasize that this is not a guarantee. I’m not saying that Pallante will suddenly turn into an effective starter. But I’m saying that it’s possible considering that he’s already had success with a pitch mix that was nowhere near optimized.
Thanks for reading, VEB. I think Andre Pallante is one of the most interesting pitchers on the St. Louis Cardinals roster and I loved diving into him some more. Let me know your thoughts in the comments and enjoy your Tuesday.