Coming into the season, I’m not sure it’d be accurate to say I was higher on Andre Pallante than anyone, but I would say I was probably one of the few people who believed in him as a starting pitcher. I didn’t think he should displace anyone in the current rotation, but I did think the Cardinals needed to figure out a way to get Pallante to throw at least 100 innings this year. Basically to put him in a position to take a rotation spot in 2024.
My belief in Pallante was tested with his start to the 2023 season. He allowed seven earned runs - and two homers - in 8.1 innings pitched. That’s when the Cardinals made the decision to send him down, which I believe was also related to a tired arm. He didn’t make an appearance in AAA until five days later. The Cardinals knew they couldn’t use him for a few days, needed bullpen arms, and used it as opportunity to allow Pallante to rest and get himself right in AAA.
Well, uh, he did. He pitched absurdly well in AAA. He made 5 appearances and threw 9.2 innings. Out of the 38 batters he faced, he struck out 14 and walked just 2. His three earned runs make it look like he pitched worse than he did and considering he had a 2.79 ERA in a hitter’s environment, it’s not like his ERA was bad. He also induced a groundball 72.7% of the time. In all, his FIP was 1.25 and his xFIP was 2.03. If you’re sending down an MLBer, this is exactly what you’re hoping for.
Pallante got called back up and has a 2.63 ERA in 13.2 IP since then. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. You see Pallante has taken groundballs to a new extreme. Since he got called up, hitters have hit the ball on the ground - when they’ve made contact off him - 81.8% of the time. That is preposterous.
And to be clear, Pallante’s season GB% is also preposterous. He has a 74.6 GB% in his 22 innings in the majors. He gets so many groundballs, that he’s allowed three HRs in 22 IP, which is a fairly normal rate, except that in order for that to happen, 42.9% of flyballs allowed have left the yard. Around 12% is average. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a pitcher who has a higher HR/FB% than average, but he wouldn’t be even kind of close to the rate he currently has.
Back to the GB%, I want to emphasize if he could remotely keep this up, just how rare it is. I went back to 2010, put a minimum of just 50 innings, and saw who has the highest GB% since 2010. It’s Scott Alexander with a GB% of 69.7%. Pallante has obviously thrown more than 50 innings in that span and naturally his name is also on the list. He’s 8th.
And you might be thinking: well that’s not that many innings. Correct, but there’s a guy ahead of him who has just 64 innings pitched. Everyone ahead of him is a reliever, which is perhaps not a huge surprise. Only Brad Ziegler and Zack Britton have thrown more than 275 innings. Pallante is already halfway to most of the people in front of him.
Ironically, given my belief in his starting abilities, moving to the rotation would drop him down on the list. Framber Valdez is right below him but there’s not many starts in the top 30. Pallante right now has the fourth most starts of this group. Britton is second with 46 starts and I honestly forgot he was a starter, but oh yeah he was a huge prospect back in the day so that makes sense. Former Card Mark Rzepcynski is third with 12 starts. Pallante is next.
From a single season perspective, Pallante’s 74.6 GB% is not that rare, though if he had an 81.8% GB, that would be. With a minimum of 50 innings, a pitcher has had a 74.6 GB% or higher seven times. So still pretty rare actually. Considering four of those times were Zack Britton. Britton had an 80 GB% one year, and that’s the highest since 2010.
But here is the best part about his season so far. Pallante is not only getting more groundballs than he did last year, he’s also striking more hitters out. Last year, he had a 16 K% with a 7.4 swinging strike%. He’s improved both of those numbers to a 22.3 K% and 8.8 swinging strike%. He is walking slightly more (9.6% compared to 8.8%) but not so many more that the increased strikeouts aren’t a good change.
Interestingly, despite the fact that he threw faster in spring training, his fastball and sinker velocity appears to be pretty much the same as last year. Last year, he threw his fastball at an average of 95.2 mph and this year it’s 95.8 mph. Last year, he threw his sinker at an average of 94.8 mph and this year it’s 94.9 mph. (The sinker and fastball may be the same pitch, but you get the idea) Velocity does not explain the strikeouts. (although his fastball is getting more whiffs - everything is getting more whiffs)
It appears to be as simple as his breaking pitches are breaking more. His curveball had a vertical movement of 7.7 inches last year, this year it’s 10.1 inches. It has been used as a putaway pitch successfully 25% of the time, compared to 19.4% of the time last year. His curve has also led to more whiffs, with a 34.6 whiff% (compared to 30.9% last year). 14 plate appearances have ended with his curveball and 57.1% of them have been strikeouts. That number was 29.9% last year.
It is worth pointing out that somehow, when players make contact off the curveball, it seems to be a hit. They have a .386 wOBA against the curve, though just a .308 xwOBA. I know people want me to stop saying things are unlucky, but just do the math on this one. If eight of the 14 plate appearances are strikeouts, that means just six other plate appearances were not strikeouts. One of them was a walk, and four of them were hits. One ball in play was an out. I can call this unlucky right?
The slider is also getting more vertical movement, though he’s not seeing as much of an impact in the results. He is also seeing an improvement in whiff% and K% in plate appearances that end with a slider. But the putaway% is the exact same as last year, at 18.2%. Putaway% is when a pitcher has two strikes and the success the pitcher has with “putting the hitter away” with a strikeout.
Also interesting: the run values thus for each of his pitches. His fastball, which he throws the majority of the time has a -5 run value (negative is good for pitchers) through 249 pitches thrown. He was -6 all last year with 954 pitches thrown. The curveball was a big negative last year with a +7 run value, and that has mostly still been the case with a +2. But as mentioned above, I think this is unlucky. His slider was -6 last year as well, but this year it’s been neutral.
Now, all of this is too small of a sample, but Pallante is pretty much doing what he needs to do for me to think he can transition into the rotation. Here’s why I thought he could move to the rotation last year. He was a 23-year-old who skipped AAA (essentially) and his stats in AA are frankly okay more than great. He was starting in AAA, so moving to the bullpen helps, but still. He managed to skip a level and pitch effectively. The important thing for me was that he managed to throw 108 effective innings while skipping a level. I was hopeful the strikeouts would come.
So far, they have. Maybe less strikeouts than you’d prefer, especially if you want him to move to the rotation. But he’s making the next important step in his evolution as a pitcher. And forgot starting if you want: a pitcher who strikes out an above average amount of hitters and induces 60% or better groundballs is a really, really valuable reliever. So it’s a win-win whether you agree with me or not.
Pallante has been very under the radar this year because of his start and his not very good 4.50 ERA, but he does seem to be an improved pitcher. I just hope he can maintain what he’s done so far with a little bit more luck on his side.
Not gonna spend much time on this one, but after last night’s game, I am pretty sure Tommy Edman is the best CFer on the 40 man roster. Which would be an insane thing to think at the beginning of the year. Yes, but than Lars Nootbaar and better than Dylan Carlson. I think those guys are good corner outfielders, probably average-ish centerfielders. I think Edman is a plus centerfielder.
He just seems to take good jumps and also has really good speed. Speed counts for a lot. He made a nice catch with Giovanny Gallegos pitching. He somehow almost beat Jordan Walker to a ball in right field. And he nearly made a diving play that I’m not sure any other centerfielder could get to. Edman obviously didn’t get to it either, but he was closer than he had any right to be.