The St. Louis Cardinals might soon feel some regret over dealing Johan Oviedo to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Johan Oviedo's start to the season is a welcome sight for long-suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fans, but for Cardinals supporters, it could be a sign of another pitcher who got away.
The Cardinals traded Oviedo to the Pirates along with Malcom Nunez for pitchers Jose Quintana and Chris Stratton on Aug. 2, 2022. To the Cardinals' credit, Quintana pitched exceptionally during his time in St. Louis, starting 12 games and amassing a 2.01 ERA. While there was a lot of clamoring among the Cardinals fanbase to re-sign Quintana, he signed with the Mets in free agency. Stratton, meanwhile, was a decent bullpen arm for the Cardinals last year, and he has a 3.38 ERA and a 2.29 FIP this season.
Oviedo, though, has found another gear with the Pirates. After being relegated to the bullpen for all but one game with the Cardinals in 2022, Oviedo returned to the rotation with the Pirates after the trade. Since then, he has a 2.78 ERA and 53 whiffs in 55 innings. Through four starts this season, Oviedo possesses a sparkling 2.22 ERA.
Oviedo was a nondescript pitcher in his time with the Cardinals, relying on his fastball over half the time and mixing in a slider. With the Pirates, Oviedo has made the slider his top pitch and now utilizes a curveball more often, throwing the bender 21.7% of the time this year compared with only 11.9% in 2021 with the Cardinals.
The run value on Oviedo's curveball per 100 pitches is -6.6, which is elite. Opponents' expected batting average on the pitch is .130, and the actual average is .087. His percentile rankings on Baseball Savant are quite solid: Oviedo is in the 92nd percentile in extension and the 86th percentile in barrel percentage, among other strengths.
Some signs point to Oviedo coming down to earth a bit: His FIP is 3.86, an increase of 1.64 from his ERA. The spin rates on his pitches also don't jump off the page. Despite this, Oviedo could be a better pitcher than the Cardinals ever envisioned.
Although fans often hear that a player was needed to help patch the team's holes down the stretch, it doesn't ease the pain of losing players who became above-average to exceptional major leaguers. I am, of course, speaking of the Cardinals acquiring Marcell Ozuna and sending away Zac Gallen and Sandy Alcantara, both of whom the Cardinals could sorely use to shore up their wobbly rotation.
There's a chance that Oviedo would have never unlocked this performance if he remained a Cardinal, and it's too early to cry about losing him; we all remember Luke Voit leading the major leagues in home runs in 2020 and falling off a cliff afterward. While the Alcantara/Gallen trade and the Randy Arozarena trade have led many fans to put former Cardinals under a microscope with their new teams and sharply inhale whenever these players are successful, we shouldn't proclaim Oviedo to be another one who got away just yet.