Johan Oviedo’s first appearance for the St. Louis Cardinals this season was impressive. The right hander threw 4 2⁄3 scoreless innings while allowing a pair of hits and a pair of walks and striking out four. Additionally, he saved the rest of the bullpen by lasting nearly five innings since the starter, Daniel Ponce de Leon, failed to make it out of the second inning.
There were some noticeable improvements from Oviedo in this game after he struggled in 2020. It was just one appearance, so his numbers will not mean anything unless he can replicate them over the course of the season, but Oviedo appears to have increased his velocity and movement on every pitch, while still managing to control his pitches.
To begin with, Oviedo’s fastball averaged 96.4 miles per hour in the game after averaging 94.8 miles per hour in 2020. Additionally, his average spin rate rose by nearly 150 rpm. The benefit of this, is that not only did his fastball move faster, but it also rose more and had increased horizontal break. Oviedo’s four seamer dropped just 16.7 inches according to Baseball Savant (which factors in the effects of gravity), which is 30% less drop than the average fastball. Due to this, Oviedo’s fastball had an increased rising effect to go with a nearly 2 inch gain in horizontal movement. This makes Oviedo’s fastball much more difficult to hit, and if he can maintain these improvements, then he could have a plus fastball this year.
Oviedo’s slider also improved, gaining over 1 mph from last season while also increasing in both vertical and horizontal movement. Generally a hard slider has sharper movement, while a slower slider has more, but loopier, movement. However, for Oviedo in his first appearance, his slider increased in both velocity and movement. This makes it more difficult for the hitter to hit, as the pitch is both harder and sharper while also breaking 53% more horizontally than the average slider. Additionally, Oviedo’s curveball also gained more break in both the vertical and horizontal directions. This means that both of his offspeed pitches appeared to have improved in his first game which gives him a weapon against lefties, who primarily face his curveball, and righties, who primarily face his slider. His ability to improve these secondary pitches could be what determines if he will stick in the rotation long term or move to the bullpen, and through one game this season, it appears that these pitches may have improved.
Another interesting change was seen with his changeup, which increased in both velocity and spin rate. This is not a pitch that he used very often last season when it averaged 87.4 mph and 1470 rpm. In his first start of the 2021 season, this pitch averaged 90.8 mph and 1984 rpm. This is a substantial difference, especially for a pitch that is supposed to be slower and typically has significantly less spin than the rest of a pitcher’s arsenal. That meant that in Oviedo’s first appearance, his changeup was just 5.6 mph slower than his fastball, while the usual range among MLB pitchers is around 8-10 mph slower. Additionally, the increased spin on his changeup led to less drop, but much more run on the pitch, as the horizontal movement increased by 4.3 inches from 2020. This may be a good, and fitting, change for Oviedo, who could grow into a solid power pitcher at the big league level.
Even though he threw just five changeups in his first appearance, this is still something worth noticing. For a pitch that typically does not have a lot of spin, it is interesting to see Oviedo’s changeup increase so drastically in spin rate from last season. It is nearly impossible to analyze anything after just five occurrences, though, so it remains to be seen if this is a permanent change or simply a one game spike.
Besides his five changeups, Oviedo threw 33 four seam fastballs, 14 sliders, and 13 curveballs. Thus, any attempt to identify long term trends from this one game could be problematic. However, it appears that Oviedo has become more of a power pitcher. If he can maintain his velocity increases and his improved pitch movements, then he could have a much better season than he did in 2020. Additionally, with the way that the Cardinals rotation is struggling right now, he may find himself in line for some starts if he can build off his strong first appearance. This would offer the Cardinals some security while they try to get through the early season absences of Miles Mikolas and Kwang-Hyun Kim, but even if Oviedo does struggle this season, he is still just 23 years old and has plenty of promise.