Effective Piggyback?


When the Cardinals traded for both Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery at the trade deadline, they went from having four starting pitchers in their rotation to six starting pitchers in their rotation. They weren't about to let Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Jose Quintana, and Jordan Montgomery pitch every 6th day instead of every 5th day, so the Cardinals needed to decide what to do with (at least for now) starting pitcher Dakota Hudson and currently stretched out as a starter (but previously this year used in the long role in the pen) Andre Pallante and that fifth rotation spot.


On Friday night against the New York Yankees, the first time this "5th spot" came up after the trade deadline, the St. Louis Cardinals (intentionally or not) did effectively what I have been asking for them to do for YEARS now. They piggybacked Dakota Hudson and Andre Pallante.


My take on piggybacking is having two separate "stretched out as a starter" type guys throw to 18 batters apiece in the same game. That'd be 36 batters in which they would attempt to get 27 outs. Any outs they could not cover in those 36 batters would then be turned over to the bullpen. That would be a 5-man bullpen in my plan, where I've got 8 "starters" - the Cardinals would currently have a 7-man bullpen with four traditional starters and the Hudson/Pallante spot in the rotation (if this is indeed what they are planning to roll forward with).


Hudson (20) and Pallante (15) faced 35 batters and were able to get 24 outs (both pitching 4 innings apiece). They allowed 10 hits and 4 walks between them, but were able to pull off two double plays (one traditional and one of the "strike 'em out, throw 'em out" variety) behind the two. Hudson allowed all 3 runs scored against for the Cardinals in the game and Helsley was able to take the final 3 outs for the victory.


However, are Hudson and Pallante really the best choices to put together for an effective piggyback? I always assumed, when I was drawing up these plans in the pre-season, that you'd take two guys who were quite different from one another (a Jordan Hicks and a Kwang-Hyun Kim for instance) and pair them up to give the opponents two very different looks to have to prepare for. It seems to me that Dakota Hudson and Andre Pallante are very similar pitchers on the surface. Let's dig deeper to see if they really are as similar as I think or if they could consistently create an effective piggyback.

 

What you see here above is a chart comparing Dakota Hudson's and Andre Pallante's pitch offerings and what they average this season. You can see in the top section (red and orange) that the first difference between the two is that the primary (upper left) fastball offering (by percentage of time thrown in 2022) from Hudson is his sinker, whereas Pallante leads with his four-seam fastball. Pallante also throws his a lot harder (3+ mph) with more spin. Obviously, the movement on the two will be different as well. However, if you look at their secondary (upper right) fastball offerings, they are reversed - with Hudson throwing a 4-seamer less often and Pallante throwing a sinker less often. Pallante's secondary fastball is also 3+ mph faster. Now, if we compare colors - so Hudson's (red) 4-seamer to Pallante's and Hudson's (orange) sinker to Pallante's, you can see that Pallante continually throws his two fastballs with more spin and more heat on it. Pallante gets less vertical movement on both pitches, but still matches Hudson's horizontal movement on his sinker. That helps Pallante to differentiate his four-seamer a bit more from his own sinker because he has a higher difference in break between the two pitches horizontally.


The rest of the chart is easier to read as both Dakota Hudson and Andre Pallante rely on their sliders as their primary breaking ball and the curveballs as their secondary breaking ball. Hudson's slider is harder with both less horizontal and vertical movement on the pitch as compared to Pallante's slightly slower slider which breaks 8 inches more vertically and 5 inches more horizontally, despite similar spin rates. The same is true of their curveballs, Hudson's is faster (by a lot, 4 mph) but Pallante's has a much higher spin rate in this case. It leads to a drop 18 inches more than Hudson's curveball and one more inch of horizontal break. That's an incredibly large difference. Lastly, Hudson has a change up and Pallante doesn't.


Looking at the last two columns in each of the sections of the chart - the ones titled "spin" and "obsv" - more closely can help us see why these two may or may not be successful. The column titled "spin" is the "spin-based movement" of the pitch that a batter sees out of the pitcher's hand. In other words, at what angle on a clock is the pitch spinning when it comes out of the pitcher's hand. The last column, titled "obsv" is the "observed movement" of the pitch. In other words, in what direction on the clock does the pitch actually move when it is on it's way to the plate and is that different from the original direction the batter would think based on it's spin-based movement (and by how much)? This is a way that new data is helping coaches, pitchers, hitters, and analysts figure out what a batter is seeing vs what a pitch is actually doing - allowing batters to actually hit major league pitches that are coming in faster and moving more down and left/right than ever before.


You can see that Hudson does a good job of what is called "mirroring" his sinker, four-seam, and change up. They all come out of his hand looking similar but move in different directions. His sinker and change move one way while his 4-seam moves another. That's good! Pallante could probably use a little help shoring up his 4-seam and sinker a little more in where it comes out of his hand, according to the data I'm seeing.


Since hitters can see the spin axis out of the hand quite well, but often fail to tell very clearly in which direction on that axis it is spinning, having pitches that come out of the hand at a 6 hour difference (on a clock's face) is quite good as well. You can see that Hudson's curveball comes out of his hand with nearly the same axis but breaking the other direction off of his 4-seam, sinker, and change up. That makes his fairly ordinary pitches play up a bit more, most likely. The same can be said about Pallante's curveball off of his 4-seam and sinker, but his curve is a much better overall pitch than Hudson's. Hudson's slider comes out at a similar enough axis that it could potentially at times be confused with one of his other pitches, but Pallante's has a completely different axis than anything else he throws (yet it's been his most successful pitch - although expected stats tell a different story).

 

Basically what this all boils down to is that I'm unsure if this leads them to be a great piggyback in the future. That said, I think this exercise leads me to believe that they are different enough pitchers from one another that despite similar results and profiles, their pitch mixes could play differently enough to enable a decent piggyback. I do like that if one of them is off, then you can short that guy a couple of batters and the other might be strong enough to get through 22 batters instead of 18 (if the other can only get you through 12-14 batters in an individual game. I also like that you can start either one (because both have started games) and you can relieve either one (because both have been a reliever in the past as well) and not really lose anything, depending on the matchups you like better as a manager vs. any particular lineup in the league.


I'm very interested to see how this plays out over the course of the last third of the season!


Let's go Cards!