2014 Fantasy Baseball: Is Yovani Gallardo’s Resurgence Legit?
Yovani Gallardo’s declining strikeout rate and ever present command issues set off alarms in 2013, forcing nearly everyone to avoid him on draft day. But, despite all of the warning signs, he’s pitched well. Interestingly enough, though, he hasn’t done what many people – including myself – thought he had to do in order to regain his footing.
Gallardo’s calling cards for years were two things: innings and strikeouts. From 2009 until 2012, Gallardo threw at least 185 innings and struck out at least 200 batters each year; his 2013 totals were 180 and 144, respectively. He was never an ace, but he was solid, reliable. But in 2013, the wheels came off a little. His strikeouts plummeted, which made his walks hurt even more.
Gallardo never pounded the zone. He relied on batters chasing pitches, especially his curveball.
[am4show have=’p3;p7;p11;p13;’ guest_error=’Front Office’ user_error=’Front Office’ ]
His peak (2009-2012) coincides with the years his curveball was at it’s best. It was rarely in the zone, and it wasn’t put into play that often. Then, though, things began to go awry.
As Gallardo’s velocity diminished, so did his results. His curveball’s movement stayed similar, but it was no longer as sharp, coming towards the plate slower than it did in the past. Unfortunately, his velocity isn’t coming back – although it is better than it was in 2013, it’s still on a downward trend. And without that velocity, his strikeouts aren’t coming back, either.
Gallardo’s been able to remain productive, though, thanks to two changes; changes he controls, not the continuously declining human body. He’s become better at limiting free passes, and generating groundball outs.
As mentioned in the intro, command was never Gallardo’s strong suit. He issued too many walks. Until now he didn’t have an immediate need to improve that area of his game because of his ability to wiggle out of trouble using his arsenal to generate empty swings. Now that those empty swings are less prominent, he’s had to switch things up.
Per Fangraphs, Gallardo’s two-seam (sinker) usage has gone up 10 percent this season. It’s not a coincidence that his groundball rates sits at a career high. Surprisingly, his walks are down even though he hasn’t been in the strike zone that much more than he was in 2013, although his first pitch strike rate has improved. And hitters are actually chasing less than they ever have against him.
Admittedly, I’m at a loss. It’s hard to understand how his walk rate has fallen so quickly despite the fact that he isn’t actually in the zone much more than he has been in the past. Even on a per pitch basis, his zone numbers aren’t that different. It’s an odd deal, and I’m not sure I have an answer, but whatever he’s doing is working. I have no idea if it’s sustainable, although I’d bet against it a little, given his history.
Gallardo’s bounce back season is undoubtedly a product of his abilities, good luck, the return of some velocity and his ability to adapt. He throws to one of the best catchers in the major leagues. And his infield defense isn’t too shabby, which helps him on all of those extra groundballs.
The truth is, I’m a little disappointed. I expected to find a surefire answer of why Gallardo has bounced back. I didn’t. He’s getting more groundballs, which helps; he’s doing so by being down in the zone a little more. And he’s issuing fewer free passes, despite not throwing many more strikes and generating even fewer swings outside of the strike zone. He’s actually grooving more pitches than ever. Maybe he’s generating weaker contact, but we have no way of testing that.
Basically, I’m just throwing my hands up. Perhaps he was only a slight tweak away from being good again, and hasn’t really changed much from last year – his release points are identical, too – although his scenery has been much different. Gallardo’s not the pitcher he once was, and he’ll never be that guy again. But maybe we wrote him off too quickly. Projection systems don’t seem to think so, though; Steamer projects a 4.11 ERA going forward, ZiPS is at 3.91. So, I’m kind of buying his resurgence, but not really. I haven’t found anything tangible that makes me think he’s found a way to reinvent himself.