St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Packy Naughton needs a longer look based on his performance.
Some of this is just the business of baseball: Naughton has minor league options remaining, so it’s easier to send him down rather than risk losing someone else through a waiver claim. But he has shown a marked improvement so far from his previous experience in the major leagues, where he pitched 22.2 innings for the Los Angeles Angels and amassed a 6.35 ERA.
Not only has Naughton nearly halved that ERA in his admittedly small sample size of 7.2 innings, but his advanced stats are pointing up. Opponents’ hard-hit percentage is down from 40.7% last year to 29.2% this year, and while he is allowing more fly balls than he did last year, that’s not much of an issue when half of his games are in hitter-suppressant Busch Stadium.
Naughton has also nearly doubled his strikeout rate and cut his walk rate from 13% to 3.1%. He also added about 2 miles per hour of velocity to his fastball.
Of course, this raises the question of whom the Cardinals should part ways with if they were to keep Naughton in the major leagues. As a lefty, Naughton is a valuable bullpen piece, but you shouldn’t have too many southpaws in the pen. For that reason, fellow left-hander T.J. McFarland seems to be the obvious choice.
While McFarland was a revelation last year, he has struggled mightily in 2021, and with the Cardinals’ recent offensive struggles, they can’t afford to have the problem compounded with a liability on the mound. I’m willing to part ways with McFarland permanently.
It is possible that Naughton falters under a heavier workload, and his FIP does show that he could be a beneficiary of some luck to this point, but as of now, he is an upgrade over McFarland. Even though it’s only May, the Cardinals can’t spend the time trying to iron out McFarland’s issues, especially when a better option is available. Clearing a long-term spot for Naughton in the bullpen would be a wise choice.