Last week I wrote an article titled "Is Brendan Donovan For Real?" You can find that here. I feel like, as Cardinals fans, we'd seen enough of Donovan to talk in generalities and in specifics about him in that space. I am not sure that many Cardinals fans know terribly much about Andre Pallante as of yet, except for the fact that he has been a pitching staff savior for the Cardinals thus far in 2022.
Let's start with some of the basics about Andre Pallante. Birds On The Black's resident prospect guru, Kyle Reis, wrote Pallante up as his #21 Prospect this offseason. Later, Kyle and I discussed Pallante (and others) on this podcast as well. If you really want a ton of information about Pallante before he became a major leaguer, follow those links. If you want an article about him recently, then look no further than today's Post-Dispatch and Derrick Goold's article.
Andre Pallante was a 4th round draft pick out of the University of California-Irvine back in the 2019 draft. As a freshman at UC Irvine, Pallante was a reliever. He had a rough season but decided to accept a slot at the wood bat Cape Cod League that summer after his freshman season, as a reliever, and dominated in just 15 innings on the Cape. He came back to UC Irvine for his sophomore and junior seasons as a starting pitcher, however. He threw 195 1/3 innings over those two seasons and was statistically dominant. He gave up just 150 hits and 62 runs (2.86 runs per 9 innings, not earned runs but total runs per 9). He struck out 204 batters and walked 59 (3.46 K:BB). When your K:BB is quite a bit higher than your ERA or even your R/9, that's really a good thing. His WHIP was just under 1.10 in that time.
After being drafted by the Cardinals, Pallante threw 35 2/3 more innings in 2019 at the low A level (added on to his 94 he had already thrown at UC Irvine that spring), putting him at over 130 innings in the calendar year in his age 20 season. He was already showing he could potentially be a workhorse. Then COVID hit and he had a "year off." Pallante came back in 2021 and the Cardinals pushed his assignment by placing him at AA Springfield to start the year at age 22. After 94 1/3 innings in Springfield, they pushed him to AAA Memphis for 2 games throwing him 5 more innings. Then, they selected him to go to the Arizona Fall League ("finishing school") for 21 more innings - getting him just over the 120 innings mark that he had previously eclipsed in 2019. In those ~120 innings, Pallante was not as good as he was in college by any means. He had a WHIP over 1.5 and a K:BB of just 1.93 - largely due to a larger amount of walks than he was accustomed to allowing.
That leads us to what we've seen this season out of Andre Pallante. As you know, if you're reading this, Pallante has been with the big league club since the beginning of the season. He broke camp with the Cardinals and began his MLB career in relief. I'd like to break down what he's done so far into three buckets.
Andre Pallante pitched in relief in 7 of the team's first 21 games of the season. In those games, Pallante threw 11 2/3 innings with an 8:2 K:BB, 1.200 WHIP, 1.54 ERA, and a FIP of 3.39. He threw 61% strikes in those first outings out of the pen. He was basically showing the team what he could do with his four-seam fastball at that moment. While Pallante has shown a 4-seam fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a sinker at the major league level over the course of the year, here was his pitch mix for those first 7 games:
4-seam fastball (4sm)
You can see that he threw his 4sm exactly two out of every 3 pitches in this time period. He was grooving it in there at 95.1 mph on average (top quartile in baseball) with a spin rate of 2293 rpm (second best quartile in baseball). While his BB% on the 4sm was pretty decent at 5.9%, the K% just wasn't there. What was there was that the 34 people who ended their PA with a 4sm just didn't seem to do much with it - with a .226/.265/.226 line against him on that pitch alone.
You can see that while he threw his curveball the second most, it wasn't really his putaway pitch as only 5 plate appearances ended with a curve. He struck out 2 of those five, but the other three all went for hits (two singles and a double). The funny thing is that one of the singles was poorly located, but the other 4 pitches that ended PA were very well located - and he still got burned. Pallante's curve was thrown at 74.9 mph on average (bottom quartile - not necessarily a bad thing) and with 2,808 RPM on average (top quartile - a very good thing).
I mean seriously, look at the location on this curve that got hit for a double!
Pallante's slider was thrown slightly less often than his curve, but he ended nearly twice as many plate appearances with a slider. He struck out 3 of the 9 batters he faced and allowed just 2 hits to the other 6 batters. One of those hits was the sole HR he allowed in the first 7 games of the year. You can see above that the HR he allowed might have been slightly unlucky as the BA and OBP were less than what was expected for those pitches and swings, but the slugging was higher than expected. In any case, he averaged 85.1 mph on the slider and 2,379 RPM on the slider (2nd best quartile on both).
Pallante only threw three sinkers (1.5% of his pitches at 96.5 mph, 2354 RPM averages) in those 7 games. Nobody ended a PA on a sinker. He really didn't show this pitch hardly at all.
After his first seven games in relief for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pallante had earned a bigger role in their bullpen. Starting with his 8th game, the Cardinals 25th of the season, Pallante threw in 8 games in which he earned 4 holds. That's some sort of decision (or helper, if you will) in half of those games in this "bucket," so to speak. There is a statistic called aLI or average Leverage Index, which tries to let you know how much pressure was on the pitcher when he came into the game and throughout the game that he came into. In the first bucket, Pallante had an aLI of 0.71. Below 1.0 is a low leverage situation whereas above 1.0 is a high leverage situation. In games 8-15, his next 8 games outlined here in "bucket 2," Pallante's aLI jumped all the way up to 1.35. He was becoming (quickly) a key component to Manager Oli Marmol's bullpen.
In the 8 games played in Bucket 2, Andre Pallante threw 7 1/3 innings. Pallante was both better and worse in this bucket. He only allowed 6 hits on those 7 1/3 innings, but he had just 4 strikeouts and walked 8. He threw only 52% strikes in this stretch of games. I can't say for sure if the pressure was getting to him or the fact he had thrown 15 times in 42 games after being a starter since the beginning of the 2018 season was getting to him, or a combination of factors (most likely), or even just a rough stretch. What I can say is that his 1.91 WHIP and 0.5 K:BB were much worse than his previous 7 games. So what was so good about this stretch? He Dakota Hudson'd his way out of trouble and allowed 0 runs despite nearly two batters being on base per inning. His OPS allowed was nearly identical to his first 7 games because despite the OBP being .400 over this stretch, he just didn't allow damage - just 1 xbh allowed and it was only a double.
In these 8 games, how did Pallante's pitch usage change, if at all? Let's get straight to the four images of his individual pitch lines and check it out!
Pallante's four seam usage went down from 2/3 of the time to just over half of the time in this stretch. You can see that he was throwing the ball harder with a higher spin rate than before - but was walking a ton more people (nearly 5x as many) while he barely raised his K rate on the pitch. That's likely the reason behind him throwing it much less, as hitters still didn't connect with it very well when he allowed them contact.
Pallante's slider usage went up by a lot as he threw it only 14.4% of the time in the first 7 games. Again, he struggled with location a bit here. Again, while batters did not hit the ball well when they had a chance to hit this pitch, Pallante walked far too many with the pitch while striking out much less than before. With him throwing this pitch harder than before with more RPM than before, I'm wondering if he was just overcorking his pitches a bit in this stretch of games. He had to have been hyped up a bit after earning that much bullpen trust in just one month of major league experience. That's my working theory.
Pallante's curveball usage stayed about the same as it was before and it got hit around a bit again - clearly his worst offering in the first third of the season, results-wise. This pitch, too, was thrown on average a bit harder than it had been in the first 7 outings.
Again, Pallante showed just a few sinkers, potentially to keep hitters off balance or potentially just slipping his grip a little to make the ball move just slightly differently than his fastball at times.
Starting with a 3 inning outing on May 26th against the Milwaukee Brewers and then his 3 1/3 inning May 30th outing against the San Diego Padres, Andre Pallante began to be stretch out into a starter by his manager. I wrote about it shortly after that time as part of an article. From June 4th to June 29th, Pallante was used as a starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 5 of his 6 outings - the other being a 2 1/3 inning relief appearance in a stretch of 9 games in which he wasn't used as a starter. He basically threw a bullpen between two broken up starts in an actual game session. That catches us up to present day. Pallante has made 5 starts in his major league career, however I'll be looking at these 8 games as a whole prior to breaking up his stats into simply starter and reliever statistics later in the article.
In the 8 game stretch of 3 extended relief appearances and 5 games started, Pallante has thrown 36 2/3 innings. He has a 2.70 ERA and 4.11 FIP over those games, with a 1.23 WHIP (good) and 1.75 K:BB (not good). He's allowed 5 doubles and 3 homers, but coerced 7 double plays from his opposition. He's thrown 62% strikes in this time - back to where he was in the first 7 outings of the year.
Pallante's pitch mix has changed as a starting pitcher. He has thrown his four-seam fastball 56.5% of the time, his slider 18.1% of the time, his curveball 16.9% of the time, and has raised his sinker usage to 8.5% of the time. That puts his overall fastball usage at 65% of the time and his overall breaking ball usage at 35% of the time - more in line with that first bucket of games.
Pallante's four-seamer has not been dominant by any means, but he has gotten his walk rate back to an acceptable margin. A .276 batting average with an OPS over .700 is not where you want to see the ptich you throw the most often at all. I wouldn't be surprised if this pitch doesn't find more success that Pallante starts to get hit a bit harder overall.
Again here, the slider just isn't fooling as many batters as it was out of the bullpen and he is still walking too many with the pitch. This pitch has gotten harder and harder (higher mph) throughout the season. I'm wondering if it's maybe losing a bit of it's pitch shape that he started the season with. Balls that have been hit have gotten a huge boost from a wonderful defense as his batting average allowed is over 100 points worse than expected and his slugging allowed is barely over half of what would be expected. This pitch could blow up on him very badly soon if he doesn't get it more in line with what it looked like in the first month of the year.
Thankfully for Pallante, while his four-seam and his slider are faltering, this pitch - his curveball - is no longer giving him the major problems it was before. He is only allowing a .167 batting average on this pitch over the last 36+ innings and 1+ month of baseball and that's even worse than was expected on those balls in play. His .617 OPS allowed is way worse than the expected OPS allowed on this pitch of under .400! He has a 9:1 K:BB on his curve in this month. This is his far and away best pitch right now. Here he is freezing Ke'Bryan Hayes of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pallante's sinker is finally getting some love with him ending more plate appearances in the last month with it as he simply threw pitches in the first 7 weeks of the year. The sinker has become a pitch that he needs to rely on more if it gets these kind of results. While he's only striking out 11.1% of batters with this pitch, he has walked nobody with it. The contact he's allowing shows that his line against his sinker might be a bit lucky right now, but it's not as bad as the line he's allowing with his four-seam fastball currently.
Starter VS Reliever
I did want to make sure at some point in the article I looked solely at his relief outings and his starting pitcher outings separately. This seems to be the point in which it makes the most sense.
You can see in the chart from Baseball-Reference above that Pallante has pitched nearly the same amount of time in relief and in the rotation at this point of his career. He has thrown 28 innings as a starter - to 113 batters. He's thrown only 45.8% of his pitches as a starter on the season. Meanwhile, Pallante has thrown 27 2/3 innings as a reliever - to 118 batters- with 54.2% of his pitches on the season being used in these outings.
While Pallante has a higher WHIP and thus more batters per inning as a reliever, his higher K rate and slightly lower walk rate has allowed him to allow less runs as a reliever. As a starter, he's allowing more runs despite the lesser amount of runners on base per inning and the drastically higher number of double plays turned behind him.
Overall Numbers and Statcast Data
If you look at Andre Pallante's overall numbers, you would say he's been a very good pitcher this year. All in all, Pallante has pitched in 23 games, starting 5 of them. He has a 2.10 ERA. However, he also has a WHIP just over 1.31 and a K:BB of just 1.50, not something typically associated with a pitcher that has an ERA of 2.10. Just as I don't think Pallante is a 2.10 ERA guy moving forward, I think it's too early to jump to the conclusion that he's a 4+ ERA guy, as his FIP suggests and his xFIP nearly suggests. He very well could be, but his xERA pegs him slightly lower than that as a 3.64 guy right now. Pallante being a 3.50 ish ERA guy seems like it could be right if he starts striking out more or walking less - or both - so long as the batted ball data stays as it does.
Regarding that batted ball data, Pallante has done an admirable job of keeping the ball off of the barrel of opponent's bats. His 3.4% barrel rate is slightly more than just half of league average (6.7%). His average launch angle allowed is at negative 3.8 degrees - that means it's coming of the bat as a grounder on average - go figure with his incredible 64.6% GB rate. The sweet spot % against Pallante (see below image) is at just 25.7% - league average is over 7% higher than that. Players just don't hit many of those line drives that create damage off of the bat. against Pallante.
Pallante is still clearly figuring out who he is as a pitcher at the major league level on multiple levels. The team is figuring out if they need him in the rotation or if he's more of a middle reliever long-term. He's figuring out that while he was a dominant four-seam fastball / slider guy in the short term for the first 7 games, the sinker / curveball combo is working much better for him in this stretch of much longer outings.
The advanced stats might not say that "Andre Pallante IS FOR REAL" just yet, but with as much change as has happened for this 23-year old pitcher who has a great season stat line, I'm not willing to say that he is overrated and needs to be moved to the minors - or even out of the rotation for that matter.
Unlike with Donovan, whose start looks very real to me, I need more time with Pallante to tell. I do know that he has plenty of time to figure it out at only 23 years old and also that the Cardinals have plenty of time to allow that to happen so long as he's getting good to mediocre results as he's under team control for 5.5 more seasons. I'm loving watching where this is going in the process.
Cover art by Nick Childress.