Updated: Feb 22
John Gant has been in the St. Louis Cardinals organization since the beginning of the 2017 season when they acquired him and two others from the Atlanta Braves for Jaime Garcia, in potentially John Mozeliak's most shrewd trade of his tenure.
In John Gant's time in St. Louis, he has faced 492 right-handed batters, 41 of them in 2020. He has started off just 38 of those plate appearances with a cut fastball. On September 10th, 2020, John Gant started off Detroit Tiger Daz Cameron with a cut fastball in what might have been the most dominant plate appearance by any pitcher on the Cardinals in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign.
The Cardinals had a 3-1 lead in the 6th inning when Gant faced Cameron with one out and a runner on first. Cameron represented the potential tying run. There was very little chance that Daz Cameron was expecting a cut fastball to start off the plate appearance. Gant started off 49% of right-handed hitters with sinkers in 2020.
As you can see on this first pitch, Cameron's swing path is designed for that ball to cut back towards the middle of the plate. Out of Gant's hand, he saw middle-middle sinker. What Cameron got instead was a whiff on a cut fastball that just made it outside the strike zone, away from the righty. What makes this even better is that Gant did not typically throw cut fastballs (cutters) outside to right-handed hitters. Here's a contour map, courtesy of Baseball Savant, of where Gant threw the cutter in 2020 - from the catcher's and batter's perspective. You could probably pick out this particular cutter on the below pic because it might have been the only one near that location.
A truly magical way to start the plate appearance for Gant. It only gets better from there.
Yadier Molina is a heck of a game calling catcher. I don't know if it was Gant or Molina that noticed Cameron's swing on that first pitch, but the duo go to a sinker - 9 mph harder than his cutter - for strike two.
The pitch starts out further away than the previous offering, if but slightly. After swinging through the first cutter, Cameron had to be thinking that Gant would not get him to chase on that again - especially further away than that last one, which barely missed the corner. So what does this pitch do, then? It slices back over the plate right into the swing path of the first pitch. Look at Cameron's reaction on pitch #2. He doesn't know what to do at this point, does he?
Furthermore, Gant threw his sinker in a place that he actually did pepper a bit during the 2020 season. His typical sinker to a right-handed hitter was down and in, but his second most frequented position was that outside corner, catching the black. That's exactly what it did in this plate appearance.
Another reason for Cameron to maybe be taken aback. Hear me out. Gant starts him with a pitch that was definitely "out of left field" so to speak. It was a pitch that Gant doesn't use often and then also in a position over the plate that Gant doesn't typically attack with that offering. Then this pitch is something that played off the first one perfectly, that Cameron should have prepared for - AND YET STILL CAUGHT HIM COMPLETELY OFF GUARD. I mean, just wow.
Now, John Gant went to an 0-2 count on 18 different occasions in 2020 against RHH and went to the change up 7 times, 4 times for strikeouts. This was one of those times.
Look how well that he tunnels his change up with the previous two offerings, looking like a fastball on or off of the outside corner. Look how off balance Gant makes Cameron with that pitch just completely falling off of the table, down out of the zone.
Looking at the same type of contour map that we have for the last two pitches, shouldn't Cameron have been both expecting this pitch 0-2 AND known that Gant likes to drop that change up out of the zone like that? Yeah, he should have, but with the way Gant disguised it due to the two prior pitches, Cameron had no chance whatsoever.
Thanks to Nick Childress, we can digest these a little bit more easily by seeing the colorful trails on the ball. The first pitch from John Gant is the red cutter breaking away from Cameron as he swings and misses, looking for a 2-run jack to tie it. The second pitch is the orange sinker, breaking right where he thought the first one was headed. The third pitch, the putaway, is the green change up breaking sharply out of the zone.
I think the black and white back-to-back-to-back above with colorful tails expertly shows how Gant put Cameron away. However, let's look at one more thing.
Nick helps out again by putting all three pitches together on the same image. Notice how amazingly well the sinker (still orange) works as a setup pitch for the change up (still green). It looks as if it will follow the same path for a third of the way to the plate or so - very much further than the pitch recognition point approximately 100 milliseconds after it leaves Gant's hand. By the time Cameron has to make his decision on that one, it is way too late to decide not to swing for Cameron.
This was just an absolute masterful plate appearance engineered by Legacy Player Yadier Molina and the man in question here, John Gant. Three pitch strikeout in which the batter looked completely flummoxed three separate times on three separate pitches.
John Gant is #good.
This was an attempt to do something similar to Alex Fast here in this tweet: https://twitter.com/AlexFast8/status/1308469921974714371, but not audio-visual - just text and visual.