For the last few years, the St. Louis Cardinals have been behind the curve when it comes to keeping up with the rest of the league. They were behind when using sabermetrics, and they were late to the party when targeting pitchers who strike batters outs. Most recently, the Cardinals were slow to adjust to pitchers and organizations on a new pitch: the sweeper.
The St. Louis Cardinals acquired nine pitchers this offseason. Of those nine, three are penned into the rotation, and at least one will be in the bullpen. Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson will all be in the rotation, while at least Andrew Kittredge and possibly Nick Robertson and Riley O'Brien will be in the bullpen.
There are some similarities between the sub-categories of these pitchers; Kittredge, Robertson, Victor Santos, Ryan Fernandez, and Riley O'Brien all have connections to the Cardinals' newest front-office member: Chaim Bloom. Additionally, many of these players feature either a sweeper or a sinker as their primary or best offering.
Riley O'Brien, and Andrew Kittredge both use their sinkers as their primary pitches, and Sonny Gray Kyle Gibson, Nick Robertson, and Lance Lynn feature their sweepers as their go-to pitch. It is clear when evaluating the team's acquisitions this offseason that the sweeper and sinker were two pitches the Cardinals wanted to improve upon from last year.
In 2023, only four Cardinals pitchers threw a sweeper, and only Drew VerHagen threw it with any success. His 31.1% usage rate made it his most used pitch. VerHagen was eighth in all of baseball in run value on his sweeper, and batters hit a measly .128 against the pitch. VerHagen had a modest 35.8% K rate on this offering. The Cardinals missed their chance to resign VerHagen. Casey Lawrence, Jake Woodford, and Drew Rom also threw a sweeper to various degrees, but not one of those pitchers had a positive run value on the pitch.
The sinker was a much more common pitch for Cardinals hurlers in 2023; twelve different pitchers threw a sinker, and players like Steven Matz, Jake Woodford, John King, and Dakota Hudson used it as their primary pitch. For as common as the pitch was in St. Louis, it was just as ineffective when looking at run value. Steven Matz threw the pitch 56.1% of the time for a +8 run value, but his sinker was the only one with positive results on the staff. Batters hit only .240 against it, and Matz limited hard contact, as the average exit velocity against his sinker was only 89.6 MPH.
Adding pitchers who feature sweepers and sinkers seemed to be a focus for John Mozeliak this offseason. Let's take a look at the pitchers added who use sweepers and sinkers often.