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Bird Bytes: STL Rotation Rebound, Bullpen Calming, and Taking on Corey Kluber

Bird Bytes…

Reading Time, 8-10 Minutes:

John Gant threw a wonderful game at the Indians on Monday (as you know), with one infield hit allowed in seven shutout innings. He walked five, but easily navigated around the potential trouble, and the Indians had only one runner reach second base against Gant all evening. “He kept us off-balance,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “I thought he just really pitched,” …

One thing that doesn’t receive enough attention is Gant’s outstanding performance against left-handed hitters this season … Francona loaded his lineup with six LH batters, two of whom were switch hitters Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez… and the Indians’ LH bats went 0 for 15 against Gant with three walks and two strikeouts …for the season, Gant has faced 84 left-handed hitters and has checked them to  a .197 average, .303 slugging percentage and .565 OPS. And with a solid strikeout rate of 23 percent… The right-handed Gant has neutralized left-side bats with his four-seam fastball (.135 average) and changeup (.242 average.) … Against all hitters this season, Gant has a 36.8 percent swing-and-miss rate with the change, and that includes a 54% swing-miss rate on changeups outside of the strike zone …

Is the rotation rebounding?  Over a 16-game span that began June 5, the Cardinals’ rotation tumbled into a maelstrom of damaging pitching. The statistics were ghastly: 79.2 innings, 50 earned runs, 5.65 ERA, three quality starts, and an opponent OPS of .836. The rotation walk rate was a bloated 12.6%, and the strikeout rate dipped to 18.7%. Their starters were belted for a homer every 21.4 at-bats, and 38 percent of opposing hitters reached base … but the last four starts have been encouraging with Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Luke Weaver and Gant combining for three quality starts and a 1.70 ERA over 26.1 innings. Opponents had 10 hits in 87 at-bats, an average of .115, and had a muted .435 OPS …

Now, before we get too revved up here … the Cards’ rotation won’t be in proper working order until Carlos Martinez gets sharp and slithery with his pitching. Martinez had a 1.62 ERA before straining his right lat muscle, and idled on the disabled list for 27 days. In his first four unstable starts since returning to the rotation, Martinez has a grotesque 8.10 ERA, walked a startling 23 percent of batters faced, and gave the Cardinals an average of only 4.08 innings per start…  Martinez will try to find himself again Tuesday night in an intriguing matchup against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber. And the right-handed Kluber is as tough as ever, having already stacked 11 wins while pitching to a 2.10 ERA. His absurdly good 9.42 strikeout-walk ratio is the best in the majors …

Since the start of the 2014 season, Kluber has thrown more innings than any major-league starter and ranks second with 104 quality starts and 74 wins. Only Max Scherzer has more in each category. Kluber is third with a 2.75 ERA, third in WHIP, and third in fewest base runners allowed. He’s also in the top five for strikeout-walk ratio, opponent OPS, and fielding independent ERA (2.79).

Kluber, by the, was part of a prominent three-way trade made by the Cardinals at the trade deadline in 2010. A prospect in the San Diego system, Kluber was traded to Cleveland for starting pitcher Jake Westbrook. The Indians dealt Westbrook to St. Louis, and the Cardinals sent popular outfielder Ryan Ludwick to San Diego…

Kluber owned the Cardinals the last time he faced them, back in May of 2015 in Cleveland. Kluber went 8 shutout innings. He allowed one single. He didn’t walk anyone, though he did hit one batter. But the performance will be remembered for strikeouts. Lots and lots of strikeouts. Kluber faced 26 Cardinals that day, and struck out 18 of the 26 … hey, that’s only 69.2 percent …

Some advice for the Cardinals’ hitters and yeah it’s kind of obvious: do not let this man Kluber get you into two-strike counts if you can avoid it.

Here’s why:

–Over the last 30 days, when Kluber has two strikes on a hitter, they’re batting .094 with a .141  slugging percentage … and a .248 OPS; that’s the best by a qualified starter in MLB; League Average .489.

–Opponents are hitting just .120 (26-for-216) against Kluber with two strikes this season — 9th best among  qualified SPs in MLB; League Avg: .165

–Kluber has a strikeout rate of 56.3% (with two strikes since the start of last season — 2nd highest among  qualified SPs in MLB; League Avg: 43.4%. … and a strikeout rate of 54% with two strikes since the start of 2016 — 2nd highest among  qualified starters in MLB; League Avg: 42.8%.

–Opponents are hitting just .117 (124-for-1063) against Kluber with two strikes since the start of 2016 — 2nd best among  qualified SPs in MLB; League Avg: .167

–Kluber has allowed an OBP of just .144 (222 PAs) with two strikes this season — best among  qualified SPs in MLB; League Avg: .235.

–When he has the two-strike count,  Kluber’s favorite pitch is the curve; he’s thrown it 41% of the time with two strikes since the start of 2017. And he’s gone with an offspeed pitch 61.3% on two-strike counts since the start of last season.

–How effective is Kluber with the off-speed pitch? He’s thrown them  for a strike 72.8% of the time since the start of last season — highest among  qualified starters in MLB.

–Hitters have swung at 58.0% of Kluber’s non-fastballs since the start of last season — highest among  qualified SPs in MLB; League Avg: 47.6%.

–Moreover, hitters have chased 585 of Kluber’s 1,211 breaking balls out of the strike zone since the start of last season … a chase rate of 48.3% that’s the highest among  qualified MLB starters.

–Kluber, by the way, has walked 2 of 117 batters (1.7%)  over the last 30 days.

–His walk rate for the season is 2.9%.

–And he’s walked only 4 of 219 RH batters this season, 1.8%.

So swing the damn bats, fellas.

Finally: is the Cardinals bullpen calming down? In their last 15 games through Monday, Cardinals relievers have worked 52.2 innings, allowing a .200 batting average and .587 OPS, with a healthy 3.22 strikeout-walk ratio. The bullpen ERA in the last 15 games is 2.56, and the the relievers have allowed only 3 homers in 185 at-bats, with a strikeout rate of 27.4 percent … still too many walks (9.4%) though … still, this is a really big improvement.

Thanks for reading …

-Bernie

More: Miklasz – The Brewers and Cubs Have Given the Cardinals an Opening. So Make Your Move.