As is tradition around these parts after the season is over, we’re taking a look at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. That’ll range from someone that didn’t record an out to someone that played almost every inning. Treat it like they are stopping by the manager’s office (umm, also imagine this was before the managerial change) on their way home for the winter for a performance review. Stats listed are ones generated during their time with the Cards and the grade is based not only on their performance but on the expectations for them going into the season. As he has the past few years, the legend that is cardinalsgifs has provided our excellent header image!
Player: Daniel Ponce de Leon
Season stats: 1-1, 2 SV, 3 SVO, 6.21 ERA, 24 G, 33.1 IP, 32 H, 5 HR, 22 BB, 24 K, 6 inherited runners, 3 inherited runners scored, 6.11 FIP, 1.620 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, -0.7 bWAR, -0.5 fWAR
Statcast: .349 xwOBA, 6.5 barrel %, 89.6 exit velocity, 37.4 hard hit %, 15.1 K %, 14.5 BB %
Best Statcast category: Curveball Spin (63rd percentile)
Worst Statcast category: Fastball Velocity (36th percentile)
Hero/Goat: Hero 1, Goat 1
Positives: Made the Opening Day roster, though some of that may have been because he was out of options….published a book in spring training detailing his return from that line drive to the head he took a few years back….was in the initial rotation and allowed just one run in five innings in his first start….had three relief outings of two or more scoreless innings….kept right-handers to a .775 OPS….had a 1.69 ERA in 5.1 August innings….third-place hitters had a .328 OPS against him….batters hit .220 when the count was even….limited his first batters faced to a .174/.208/.304 line….was solid with no outs (.520 OPS against) and with two outs (.638 OPS against)….hitters had a .721 OPS with runners in scoring position….posted a .494 OPS against in high leverage situations….batters hit .227 between pitch 26 and pitch 50….had a 2.25 ERA on no days rest as a reliever….the Cubs went 1-12 with four strikeouts against him….batters hit .225 against him at night.
Negatives: Gave up seven runs in 1.1 innings in his second start, which put an end to him in the starting rotation….was scored on in 11 of his 22 relief appearances….lefties got to him for a .914 OPS….had over a 6.00 ERA at home and on the road….had two different stints on the injured list….batters slashed .308/.367/.577 against him in June….cleanup hitters as well as those hitting sixth and seventh had an OPS over 1.100 against him….batters had a 1.200 OPS when they were ahead in the count….with one out, gave up a .388/.476/.776 line….allowed a 1.069 OPS with a runner on first….had a double digit ERA in three of the first five innings….gave up an .858 OPS on his first 25 pitches….had a 7.94 ERA on two days’ rest….the Brewers had an OPS of 2.114 in the 14 plate appearances he had against them….said the wrong thing to the wrong person.
Overview: Back in the spring, when Ponce de Leon was doing his media tour for his book promotion, I heard from a PR guy that I usually get book emails from about it and he asked if we wanted to set up an interview. Allen Medlock and I jumped at the chance to have him on Meet Me At Musial and set up an appointment. A day or so before the interview, though, the PR guy got back to me and said they had to cancel. I got the impression from what he said that Ponce’s team was disregarding some of the professional advice they were getting because they felt like they knew best. That might not have been exactly it but there’s no doubt that the PR guy I was dealing with was irritated with how it all went down.
Perhaps Ponce got some bad advice in his professional life as well. There’s no doubt that his performance wasn’t going to do him any favors and he was definitely going to be non-tendered this winter. However, the club’s reaction to his spat with Yadier Molina in the New York dugout during the winning streak (an outing where Ponce de Leon walked three batters in a third of an inning) seems pretty telling to me. They didn’t just sideline him and not use him for the last couple of weeks. They didn’t give him a graceful way out. They designated him for assignment with just a couple of weeks remaining in the season to add Brandon Waddell back to the 40-man after he had spent a month on the COVID IL (which doesn’t count against the 40-man), only for Waddell to go down four days later (without pitching) when Jack Flaherty returned. You can’t tell me that wasn’t to send a message and if this front office is sending that sort of message, you have done more than pitch badly, you have worn out your welcome personally. The fact that, after Ponce cleared waivers, they released him instead of keeping him at Memphis for the last two weeks of the year is just icing on the cake.
Outlook: Ponce’s return from that near-fatal line drive is inspiring and exciting. Inspiration doesn’t get you that far in this game, though, and his walk rates and overall performance isn’t anything that gets people fired up. He does have some strikeout ability (though it wasn’t seen much in 2021) and that might be enough for some team to give him a minor league invite to spring training. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already thrown 80% or more of his career major league innings, however.