BIRD BYTES: 

Nothing deep here, but I’m thinking about the Cardinals’ bullpen for 2021 and the smoke they’ll spark from the mound. It’s an imposing group of hard throwers and strikeout punchers. 

Provided that all of these fine individuals remain healthy and strong, here’s the kind of firepower that the Cardinals can bring to late-inning rumbles — based on strikeout rates. 

Alex Reyes: a career-best 31.4% K-rate last season. And his average four-seam fastball velocity ranked tied for 14th among 655 pitchers that threw at least 50 pitches in 2020. 

Giovanny Gallegos, 36.8% K-rate last year. And an overall 34.1% rate in his 90.1 innings as a Cardinal. His 36.8 K rate in ‘20 came in 56 percent above the MLB strikeout rate for relievers. 

LH Genesis Cabrera, 33.3% last season. His average four-seam fastball velocity (96.1 mph) was 61st among 655 pitchers. 

Daniel Ponce de Leon: 39% punch-out rate as a reliever in 2019 — and a 31.7% as a starter in 2020. Among the 126 MLB starting pitchers that worked at least 30 innings in the short-season schedule for 2020, “Ponce” had the 13th-best strikeout rate. He’ll be used in relief this season; there’s a good chance we’ll see him make some starts as well. 

LH Andrew Miller, 29.6% overall in two seasons as a Cardinal including his impressive 36% wipeout rate of LH batters. Miller’s 36% strikeout rate ranked 10th among 99 MLB relievers who worked the equivalent of 30 innings in matchups against LH hitters over the past two seasons. 

Jordan Hicks had a 28.2% strikeout rate through 19 appearances in 2019 before blowing out his elbow. Before the unfortunate setback Hicks’ K-rate was on the rise. In 2018 and 2019 Hicks led MLB pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 101 mph; he stood alone in that regard. Hicks is likely to increase his strikeout percentage as he settles back in following an extended absence. Hicks gives the Cardinals an extra blast scary-stuff aggressiveness that makes hitters uncomfortable.

May 30, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Jordan Hicks (49) pitches in the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

“You’re talking about a big piece that you can count on, has experience in higher level situations, clearly has his stuff,” Cards manager Mike Shildt said. “Just allows more depth to what we’re doing. It creates more roles for different people. That depth is huge. It’s a big, big piece of what we’re doing getting Jordan back.”

Ryan Helsley has a surprisingly below-average strikeout rate (20.5%)  in his two seasons with the Cardinals. But you have to think that more punch-outs are coming. Why? His fastball velocity averaged 96.7 mph last season, 30th among MLB pitchers. And the whiff rate on Helsley’s slider improved by percent in 2020 compared to ‘19. 

Rookie Seth Elledge was called upon to help the Cardinals during busy, hectic times last season. And he joined the power-pitching crew by striking out MLB hitters at a rate of 28%. 

John Gant: He’s in line to be the 5th starter if necessary. But he posted a strikeout rate of just under 30% as a reliever in 2020. 

Johan Oviedo: The rookie’s fastball averaged 95 mph during his 24.2 debut  innings last season. 

Johan Quezada: The Cardinals picked up another hard thrower in their recent low-key deal for Quezada; his fastball averaged 97.1 mph in his brief stay with the Marlins last summer.

The most exciting part of this? 

For me, it’s the idea of seeing Hicks and Reyes go after hitters. Though Reyes contributed a few innings for the Cardinals in 2018 and again in ‘19, he’s never really teamed with Hicks to form an intimidating, late-inning armament. It didn’t happen in 2020, with Hicks out of the picture. But in 2021? It looks like game on. And I don’t think the other side’s hitters will enjoy facing Hicks and Reyes — in the same game, or in any moment. 

Thanks for reading…

-Bernie 

I invite you to check out my sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. “The Bernie Show” It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and also download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store. 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.