Baseball is a fun and interesting sport. If you’re taking the time to read this article, I think you agree. For me, what’s even more fun and interesting is finding the outliers, the guys on the edges, and seeing what makes them so different from everyone else.
It’s even more fun when the outlier exists on our own St. Louis Cardinals.
I’ve written about Andre Pallante many times on this site and he yet again finds himself the subject of my examination today. So how is Andre Pallante an outlier? Let’s dig in.
Andre Pallante is an Outlier...
I’ll start with a statistic. Andre Pallante has surrendered a home run on more than a quarter of the fly balls that he’s allowed this season (26.7%). If that seems like a high rate, it’s because it is. The league average is just 12.7%.
And so you might expect that Pallante has given up a lot of homers but that’s actually not the case as he’s allowed just 0.66 home runs per nine innings. That’s well below the league average of 1.22. In fact, that’s the 35th best home run suppression rate among the 280 pitchers that have thrown 50 or more innings this season.
Andre Pallante is really good at suppressing home runs. Period. Think about it this way - he’s somehow still in the 88th percentile at home run suppression despite having the highest HR/FB ball rate of any pitcher with 50 or more innings pitched this season.
That’s actually insane.
But here comes the funny part. We already know that over a quarter of the fly balls against Pallante clear the fence, but do you know how many home runs that equals?
Four. That’s it.
Some quick math will tell you, then, that Pallante has given up just 15 fly balls all year. In 54 innings. So let’s zoom out and look at that in reference to the rest of the league. Pallante has an absurd 8.6% fly ball rate this year. That’s the lowest among all pitchers in the league (min 50 IP) and the next closest player is Clay Holmes at 17.6%. That’s more than twice as high.
And let’s zoom out even further and compare Pallante to every season of every pitcher in the 21st century (min 50 IP).
Andre Pallante has the second lowest single season fly ball rate of any pitcher this century. The only pitcher with a lower rate was 2012 Brad Ziegler at 7.7%.
That includes a whopping 6,948 individual seasons.
I mean no disrespect to Brad Ziegler but he was kind of a hack because he released the ball from about 3 feet above the ground that year. So in terms of pitchers with a normal release height, Pallante stands alone.
He is an outlier.
...Yet He Has Struggled This Year
But being an outlier doesn’t always guarantee success.
In Pallante’s case, I think we all know the results haven’t been good. If I told you that Andre Pallante had a 5.13 ERA, 16.3% strikeout rate, and 10.0% walk rate, you would probably ask why I like him so much. But the picture isn’t as bleak as it first appears.
Pallante has a fine-ish FIP at 4.27 but his xFIP is right around where it was last season at 3.77. Add in his expected ERA (3.96) and it looks like he’s simply had some poor luck. But I’ll throw in SIERA (3.25) too to help make my point even further.
So what in the world do we do with this? Is Pallante bad? Is he unlucky? Is it a combination of everything? Well if you’ve read my articles before, you should already know that I believe the answer typically lies somewhere in the middle and that’s true in this case for Andre Pallante.
When I watch him pitch, it seems like there’s always a ground ball or two (or three, or four, ...) that finds a gap in the infield or just sneaks through. His .329 BABIP supports the eye test here. So maybe he has had some poor luck.
The bloated HR/FB rate would also suggest some poor luck but it’s such a small sample size that it doesn’t really matter all that much. Subtracting the 2 home runs that it would take to move that rate closer to average wouldn’t do all that much for Pallante’s numbers.
So, sure, there’s probably been some poor batted ball luck for Pallante which explains the gaps in the expected numbers and the actual numbers. But that doesn’t mean he’s without flaws.
He may be one of the best groundball-getters in the majors and is having one of the best groundball-getting season of the century, but he really doesn’t excel anywhere else. He hands out more walks than the average pitcher while not missing many bats. That’s a rough combination. The ground balls still make him a decent pitcher but that’s about all he is right now and he’s completely reliant on an absurd ground ball rate to even be a 0.1 fWAR pitcher.
So, again, being an outlier doesn’t always guarantee success. What it does, mean, though is that Pallante does one thing much better than every other pitcher in the league and that gives him a high ceiling.
So, at a high level, I see two paths for Pallante’s improvement - more strikeouts or fewer walks. I’ll start by discussing the walks because his control issues are interesting.
Paths to Success
Pallante actually throws an above average amount of pitches in the zone which isn’t what you would expect from someone with a double digit walk rate. The problem is that he rarely gets hitters to expand the zone.
The right-hander’s chase rate currently sits in just the 6th percentile and, at 23.6% is nearly 5% below the league average. But let’s delve a little deeper because there’s more to the story. Pallante actually throws his fastball in the zone at a 55% rate. Add in a 20.9% chase rate and Pallante either gets a swing or a called strike on more than 75% of his fastballs. That’s a good rate.
The problem is with his breaking balls, and, specifically, with his curveball which Pallante has only put in the zone 34.3% of the time. This isn’t a pitch that generates a lot of chases either (22.8% chase rate). It’s not too uncommon to see a majority of a pitcher’s breaking balls to be thrown out of the zone, but that works when the pitcher can get hitters chasing. Pallante is the worst of both worlds. He can’t put his curveball in the zone and he can’t get hitters to chase the pitch either.
And I think those two issues are connected. Pallante is, quite frankly, all over the place with his curveball. One glance at his heat map will tell you that.
Too often this pitch isn’t even competitive and when a pitcher doesn’t make competitive pitches, the hitter isn’t going to chase. Pallante’s poor command of his curveball, which is actually a good pitch, is a huge limiting factor for him.
This poor command isn’t just limited to Pallante’s curveball, though. It has spread to his slider too.
He actually throws his slider in the zone at a decent rate (46.8%) and the pitch has the highest chase rate of any offering in Pallante’s arsenal (33.3%). The issue here isn’t strike throwing, it’s command.
Yikes. It’s no wonder this pitch has allowed a .351 wOBA and a .376 xwOBA. Let me give you another view, though, because this one is even more interesting.
So the two most common pitch locations are middle-middle and down-and-away to a right-handed hitter. The down and away spot is exactly where the pitch should be thrown but the pitch simply hasn’t been able to overcome a 15.2% meatball rate.
This next chart should show you why:
When Pallante throws a meatball slider, he gives up a .790 wOBA. When it throws it down and away, he gives up a .197 wOBA. That’s a gigantic gap. If he could command his slider more consistently, the pitch would give him much better results.
That’s why I’ll argue that this is a good pitch. The problem is that Pallante simply doesn’t command it well which means that it plays below the quality of its stuff.
The takeaway here is that Pallante is bad at commanding his breaking balls but that his poor command looks different for his curveball than it does for his slider. While he struggles to throw the former in the zone, he struggles to throw the latter outside the heart of the zone.
This obviously creates problems for Pallante and it’s partially why he throws so many fastballs. A 65% fastball rate isn’t just high, it’s abnormally high. That’s mostly okay for Pallante because the pitch itself is an outlier pitch that gets ground balls at a crazy 85% clip, hence the insanely low fly ball rate this season (and, conversely, the insanely high ground ball rate). I’ve already written a bit about Pallante’s fastball so I’ll gloss over it for now but if you’re interested, you can read more about it here.
Besides the quality of the pitch, though, Pallante throws his four-seamer so much because he has to. The righty simply can’t command his other pitches well enough for them to be trustworthy.
The interesting thing here is that over the course of the season, Pallante has shifted to throwing more sliders which makes sense because he can at least put them in the zone.
Andre Pallante Breaking Ball Usage
|Month||CB Usage%||SL Usage%|
|Month||CB Usage%||SL Usage%|
You can see that his slider usage finally overtook his curveball usage in July and then the gap became more of a chasm in August. This is honestly the right strategy for Pallante until he figures out his curveball, but even then, his slider still gets hung way too much. He can’t throw 100% fastballs, can he?
So after all if this analysis, I just want to say that it’s amazing that Pallante has been as good as he has been considering that he only has one reliable pitch. And that fact is why I still believe in Pallante’s ability to be an impact arm. Now that might sound crazy and I’m not even saying it’ll happen but I will say that he has the ceiling to be a solid starter or a really effective reliever.
His stats may not support that theory but his pitch data does.
Think about it this way. Pallante has a really good fastball. It’s unorthodox and it’s not a huge bat misser but it’s effective and it’s an outlier pitch. He also has the ability to generate a ton of spin on two different breaking ball shapes. If you look at the profile, he’s a clear supinator and supinators tend to get their advantage from being able to spin breaking balls better than the average pitcher.
Except, That’s not Pallante’s advantage. But it could be.
Right now his advantage is his weird cutting fastball that hitters can’t get under but it wouldn’t shock me to see his breaking balls become effective all of a sudden if he improved his command of them enough to make them usable.
And therein lies the benefit. Breaking balls tend to miss more bats than fastballs. And Pallante is no exception to that rule as his four-seamer whiff rate (14.2% is well below his slider whiff rate (27.7%) and his curveball whiff rate (32.7%). If he improves his command of these pitches enough to make them usable, then it’s also possible that his breaking ball whiff rates would rise as Pallante would get more chases against his curveball and throw fewer meatball sliders.
Pallante has never really been a big strikeout pitcher but I do think he has more strikeouts in the tank. I’m not saying he’ll get to them, but they do exist closer to his ceiling.
And then there’s the other part of this equation - walks. I think it goes without saying that better command generally leads to fewer walks. Better breaking ball command not only means that Pallante would put more curveballs in the zone but I would also expect that to boost his extremely low chase rate too. Either way, that’s fewer walks.
So I’m still a believer in Andre Pallante.
Imagine Pallante, who’s basically getting by with one good pitch, being able to mix in two high-spin, heavy-breaking breaking balls on top of his highly effective four-seamer That’s a good pitcher, with three good pitches, who misses more bats, walks fewer hitters, and still gets an absurd amount of ground balls.
The upside exists. Pallante is not at his ceiling. That’s my whole point. There’s always upside with outlier pitchers. But he has to get there.
I don’t know how he can improve his breaking ball command. Obviously the little league coaching method of telling him to “just throw strikes” isn’t going to help. Pallante may need to tweak his mechanics, his finger pressure, his pitch shapes, or any number of other variables to improve.
On top of that, I don’t even know if he even has the ability to improve his breaking ball command but I do know that if he can keep his slider out of the meatball zone, it’ll be a better pitch. The same goes for Pallante’s curveball if he can harness it.
Pallante is an outlier. That’s why I like him and it’s why I still haven’t given up on the idea of him being a starter, or at least being a more effective reliever. I am realistic, though. Pallante may simply be what he is. There’s a world in which he never improves his command and basically rides his outlier fastball to a career as a ground ball oriented middle reliever.
The pitch is good enough to give him that at a minimum.
I think he can be more, though. It all comes down to how much he can improve his breaking balls to complement his outlier skill set. He may not be able to do that but, if he can, he can be much more dominant than he is today.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Sunday.