John Gant Has a Major Problem

Imagine for a moment that the sabermetric movement never took hold in baseball. Hitters would still be valued based on batting average and RBI; pitchers would be measured on their win total and ERA. In this context, John Gant would be considered among the more effective pitchers on the Cardinals’ staff and in all of MLB. His 4–5 record is not impressive, but his 3.50 ERA ranks second on the team and 45th among all starters who have thrown 50 innings — firmly in the territory of a solid No. 2 starter.

A fan who looks beyond ERA, though, knows Gant has not been a good pitcher in 2021. He has struck out only 16.5% of the batters he has faced, a rate about 33% below average, and walked 15.8% of the batters he has faced, close to double the league average. To put that in context, Gant’s walk rate is second worst among all starting pitchers who threw at least 50 innings since 2018; Tyler Chatwood walked 19.6% of batters in 96 innings that season. His K-BB% is third worst, after Chatwood in ’18 and Bryan Mitchell in that same year. The degree of his struggles with his control is almost unparalleled:

Gant’s FIP stands at 5.01, 1.51 runs worse than his ERA. Incorporate batted ball data, and the picture gets worse; his SIERA is 5.97. All in all, he has been worth just 0.1 WAR in 61 innings.

I would imagine most, if not all, the readers of this website assume that Gant is bound to regress, probably to the point where he will not be in the Cardinals’ rotation either at some point this season or next. To say he is walking a fine line would be an understatement. But I am not going to get into why Gant will most likely struggle the rest of the way. Instead, I want to dig into why he has struggled.

First, take a look at Gant’s arsenal:

John Gant’s 2021 Pitch Mix
CH CU FC FF SI SL
21.5 8.0 7.1 11.7 38.6 13.1
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Gant has a broad array of offerings. Based on my research into pitcher repertoires and their reliance on two pitches, he is among the leaders in number of pitch types thrown and among the laggards in use of his top two pitches. He throws his two most used pitches, the sinker and changeup, 60.1% of the time. He also throws a slider, four-seamer, curveball, and cutter, all of which he uses enough that the batter at least has to think about the prospect of seeing any of them.

The diversity of pitches may not be doing him any favors, though. The league as a whole throws the ball in the zone 49.1% of the time, and batters swing a shade above 47% of the time. Gant’s zone rate is a little below the rest of the league at 46.6%, but he only induces swings on 42.3% of all pitches. Let me break it down by count:

Gant Zone% by Count Compared to League
Player 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2
John Gant 48.6 45.5 43.2 44.7 45.8 35.9 53.4 47.8 43.8 69.6 45.7 53.3
League Average 51.9 45.5 34.0 54.0 49.5 38.9 57.1 56.0 47.1 60.0 60.4 57.4
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

 

Gant Swing% by Count Compared to League
Player 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2
John Gant 25.9 50.4 59.5 35.0 52.1 53.3 27.6 49.3 60.0 8.7 37.0 63.3
League Average 30.1 49.3 52.3 42.2 53.6 57.5 41.9 58.0 65.0 10.5 54.5 70.8
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Gant generally avoids the zone more than the rest of the league in most counts, with the largest deviations coming in hitters’ counts. He grooves pitches into the zone on 3–0 more than league average, but he lags by a noticeable amount in two-ball counts. His control struggles stand out most on 3–1 counts, though. Those are a bit different than 3–0 counts; batters swing so infrequently on 3–0 that you can be confident in throwing a pitch in the strike zone without major repercussions. In 3–1 counts, though, hitters become much more aggressive, hunting for a pitch they can hurt. For whatever reason, whether it is lack of control or lack of confidence in his stuff, Gant finds the zone a whopping 15% less than league average in those situations. Hitters have taken notice, swinging at only 37% of his offerings compared to 54.5% for all other pitchers. Batters also seem to have figured out that getting deep into counts against Gant is especially beneficial given his penchant for walks; they are only swinging at 35% of his 1–0 pitches (42.2% is average), 27.6% of his 2–0 pitches (versus 41.9% league-wide), and 49.3% of his 2–1 pitches (against the 58% average). Clearly the book is out on Gant and his passive approach.

Only one of Gant’s offerings, meanwhile, exceeds the league-average zone rate of 49.1%:

Gant Pitch Type Zone%
CH CU FC FF SI SL
32.8 34.4 44.3 48.9 56.9 45.6
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

His sinker, the most used pitch in his arsenal, is the lone one he can consistently throw for strikes; the changeup, his second favorite pitch, only finds the zone 32.8% of the time. That is a large percentage of total pitches that hitters know will not be competitive.

Though Gant does not throw his curveball very often (8% of the time), his usage of the pitch is notable for one particular reason.

Gant Pitch% by Count
Pitch Type 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2
CH 12.6 21.1 18.9 31.7 29.2 25.0 20.7 26.9 27.5 13 15.2 23.3
CU 18.3 9.8 1.4 0.8 6.2 5.4 5.2 1.5 7.5 4.3 2.2 3.3
FC 5.8 11.4 4.1 8.9 10.4 5.4 6.9 6.0 5.0 8.7 8.7 3.3
FF 6.8 13.8 35.1 7.3 8.3 19.6 5.2 7.5 13.8 13.0 6.5 15.0
SI 46.0 29.3 29.7 41.5 30.2 35.9 39.7 44.8 31.2 47.8 45.7 38.3
SL 10.4 14.6 10.8 9.8 15.6 8.7 22.4 13.4 15.0 13.0 21.7 16.7
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Gant throws the curveball on almost 20% of his first pitches in a plate appearance. Group that together with the changeup, and more than 30% of his first pitches are non-competitive. Focus on the counts where he struggles to find the strike zone (1–0, 2–0, 2–1, and 3–1) and on his pitch usage in them. Now look at how often he throws each pitch in the zone in those counts:

Gant Zone% by Pitch Type and Count
Pitch Type 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2
CH 31.4 34.6 28.6 41.0 28.6 21.7 50.0 22.2 36.4 66.7 14.3 35.7
CU 37.3 25.0.0 100 0.0 16.7 0.0 66.7 100 33.3 100 0.0 50.0
FC 37.5 50.0 0.0 18.2 50.0 80.0 50.0 100 50.0 0.0 50.0 50.0
FF 36.8 58.8 53.8 55.6 50.0 38.9 33.3 20.0 36.4 100 66.7 66.7
SI 61.7 58.3 45.5 51.0 58.6 48.5 60.9 63.3 60.0 72.7 38.1 56.5
SL 44.8 33.3 37.5 50.0 60.0 12.5 46.2 33.3 33.3 66.7 80.0 60.0
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

He has yet to throw a curveball in the strike zone after starting a plate appearance out with a ball. The changeup’s zone rate on 1–0 counts is only 41%. In 2–2 counts, most of his repertoire finds the zone at a rate 25% worse than league average. For 3–1 counts, the situations where he struggles the most, his two favorite pitches, the sinker and changeup, are thrown in the zone just 38.1% and 14.3% of the time, respectively; the rest of the league fills up the zone 60% of the time! His avoidance of the strike zone and subsequent lack of swings are astounding.

Add all of this up and you can understand why Gant is struggling to strike hitters out and keep them off the bases:

Gant BB% in PAs Reaching Each Count
Player 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2
John Gant 15.5 12.2 8.1 22.8 17.7 15.2 37.9 29.9 17.5 56.5 52.2 36.7
League Average 8.4 4.7 2.8 15.3 9.3 5.6 30.3 19.5 12.3 60.7 44.5 31.9
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

 

Gant K% in PAs Reaching Each Count
Player 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2
John Gant 16.5 26 36.5 11.4 21.9 30.4 6.9 11.9 23.8 4.3 8.7 13.3
League Average 24.0 32.4 47.8 19.8 29.1 45.0 14.5 23.4 39.2 8.9 13.6 28.5
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Gant is walking batters nearly four times more often than the league average on plate appearances that reach 0–2 counts and almost three times more often on plate appearances that are 0–1 and 1–2. While not as drastic, the same trend persists across all counts except 3–0, where he is more likely to pitch in the zone. Correspondingly, he is failing to put batters away when he reaches advantageous counts because hitters feel comfortable leaving the bat on their shoulders.

What does this mean for Gant going forward? Unless he makes drastic changes to how he attacks the opposition, he will continue to give out free passes and fail to put batters away via strikeouts, leading to traffic on the base paths and balls in play — the perfect recipe for opposing teams to put up crooked numbers. Is there a fix? He could start with throwing the ball in the strike zone more often, but if it were that simple, he would be doing it already. Maybe he lacks confidence in his stuff and fears what will happen if he lives in the strike zone at even a league-average rate. Or maybe he just does not have the control to be a starting pitcher.

The latter explanation would put the fault more on the club than Gant. If he is not capable of turning over a lineup effectively due to a lack of control, the impetus is on the Cardinals to make an adjustment. Without Jack Flaherty for an extended stretch and Miles Mikolas for all but four innings, as well as injuries to Kwang Hyun Kim and the struggles of Carlos Martinez to find his velocity, St. Louis has had a hard time piecing together a viable rotation. The only consistent options have been Adam Wainwright and Kim when healthy, with the talented yet raw Johan Oviedo brought up from Memphis as a reinforcement. If the club hopes to make a playoff push, Gant either needs to improve substantially in the very near future, or St. Louis needs to turn to other options, whether it be from the farm or via trade.





Carmen is a part-time contributor to FanGraphs. An engineer by education and trade, he spends too much of his free time thinking about baseball.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I remember when I saw the walk and strikeout totals and his ERA and thought, maybe he’s just inducing a lot of weak contact. “Hmm, he’s got an xERA above 5? Maybe not.”