The bullpen for the Cardinals this year has been a somewhat steady combination of pleasant surprises and disappointing performances. Jordan Hicks has taken a step forward this year, while Andrew Miller has failed to wow in his debut season with his new team. John Brebbia and Giovanny Gallegos look to be solid contributors. But Luke Gregerson and Dominic Leone have failed to help. Meanwhile, Carlos Martinez looks promising so far.
All in all, the Cardinals bullpen is treading water. It’s not noticeably bad, but it isn’t exactly what you want from a contending team. As things stand, the group currently ranks...
- 15th in ERA
- 19th in FIP
- 22nd in fWAR
Purposely not mentioned yet is John Gant: a former right-handed starter previously tossed around in the Mets and Braves organizations. After an underwhelming debut season where he split time as a starter and a reliever with the Braves, he was shipped to St. Louis in a deal that sent Jaime Garcia to Atlanta. The Cardinals sent him back to Triple-A, where he looked like nothing more than starter depth. After a brief look with the Cardinals in 2017, he pitched most of the 2018 season in the big leagues, playing a versatile role out of the rotation and the bullpen. But once again, he underwhelmed (7.8 percent K-BB-rate, 3.47 ERA, 4.07 FIP).
To start 2019, in Spring Training, Gant received what looked to be his last opportunity as a starter. A 10:5 K:BB ratio in 18 2⁄3 innings was enough to send him to the bullpen though, where he has remained all season long. And at this current moment, he looks like the Cardinals best reliever.
Gant has been all-around terrific this year. Just with once glance looking at his Baseball Savant page, you’ll notice this.
The main thing pulling Gant towards this newfound success in the bullpen looks to be a gain in velocity (like most cases). As a starter, Gant usually sat 91-93 miles per hour with his four-seamer. This season, in his first full month as a reliever, he averaged 95.3 miles per hour. This month, he’s been averaging 96.5, and has even touched 98.4. Not surprisingly, this seems to be the main cause of his strikeout surge, as his 29.4 percent strikeout-rate is by far a new career-high for him, surpassing his previous high of 22.1 percent in 2016.
His improvements in those departments aren’t as simple as a move to the bullpen though. Before this season, in his career as a reliever Gant was fairly mediocre. Among 453 relievers with at least 30 innings from 2016-2018, he ranked...
- 222nd in ERA
- 346th in FIP
- 338th in SIERA
- 273rd in K%
Noticeably, he only averaged 93.3 miles per hour on his four-seamer, even in the shorter stints. Perhaps contributing to his velocity gain has been his altered release point. In 2018, the release point on his four-seamer ranked in the top 32 percent in vertical location and bottom 18 percent in horizontal location. In 2019, it ranks in just the top 51 percent in vertical location and bottom nine percent in horizontal location. Something has clearly changed, as visually represented below.
These adjustments have made Gant’s four-seamer produce better results than any other pitcher in all of baseball.
With John Gant’s combination of performance and versatility out of the Cardinals bullpen (his appearances have ranged anywhere from one to eight batters faced, four to 37 pitches thrown), if he keeps this up, he might end up being one of the more valuable relief weapons in all of baseball.