The bullpen has been instrumental in the resurgence of the St. Louis Cardinals. Giovanny Gallegos has been the unheralded leader of the pack.
Entering the season, the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen had some new faces assuming new roles. After the bullpen was a weak point in the 2018 season (4.38 ERA, .259 BA against, 1.91 K:BB), the front office made some moves in an attempt to turn a weakness into a strength.
A once elite lefty, Andrew Miller, was given a multi-year deal to try to bridge the gap from starter to closer.
Jordan Hicks was promoted to the team’s closer to start the season.
John Gant was moved from the rotation to the bullpen in order to unlock some extra velocity.
John Brebbia was given a full-time role with the big league squad.
Even former 2-time All-Star starting pitcher Carlos Martinez was kept in the bullpen to solidify the back end.
This season, they’ve improved in nearly every statistical category (3.93 ERA, .219 BA against, 2.84 K:BB)
If you told me before the season that the deadliest weapon out of the ‘pen this year was part of the (mostly) frowned upon Luke Voit trade, I would’ve called you a liar.
Not to say that the other pitchers haven’t been good as well, Gallegos just stands out from the rest.
In 48.1 IP this season, Gallegos has a 2.23 ERA with an absolutely phenomenal 0.745 WHIP. His 13.0 K/9 added to his minuscule 1.5 BB/9 this year gives him the best K:BB ratio (8.75) of any reliever with 40 IP this season.
Perhaps the most impressive part of his season has been his ability to strand runners on base. Of the 59 pitchers this season who have inherited at least 20 base runners, Gallegos ranks second in all of baseball with a 10% Inherited Score %.
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Look back no further than the July 21st showdown with the Reds. After throwing 4.1 scoreless innings, Jack Flaherty loaded the bases with one out in the 5th. In an aggressive move by Mike Shildt, he pulled his starter for his most dominant reliever in just the 5th inning.
Gallegos came into the game and struck out the next two batters to finish out the inning unscathed. He then struck out the first two batters of the next inning as well, finishing the day with 1.2 IP and 4 Ks. The Cardinals won that game 3-1, so just one hit could’ve completely changed the complexion of the game.
To understand why Gallegos is so dominant, you have to know HOW he does it.
Gallegos basically only throws two pitches: a 4-seam fastball, and a slider. He also throws the occasional changeup, but only around 1% of the time this season.
His slider is getting batters to whiff 51.4% of the time they swing at it, regardless of location. To right-handed batters, the low outside zone is getting whiffs on 79% of swings when he puts it below the zone and 55% when he hits the outside corner.
He counters his slider with a high fastball, usually placed above the zone to induce swings and misses. This combination keeps hitters perpetually off-balance, which allows for insane strikeout numbers like Gallegos boasts.
Gallegos is not the team’s closer, and he shouldn’t be. The role he fills now is far more valuable. Instead of just coming in the ninth inning with nobody on, Gallegos is usually used as the “stopper”. He’ll come in at the highest leverage point in the game, regardless of inning. His ability to strand runners would be wasted as the closer since he would rarely, if ever, inherit runners.
Nobody saw Gallegos as a weapon coming into the year, but he has more than earned a spot in the bullpen now and for the future.