Three Other, More Subtle, Yovani Gallardo Trends

Thinking so much about Yovani Gallardo is in part a function of context. Had Gallardo signed a couple months back, he probably wouldn’t have drawn all that much coverage, but the longer he remained available, the less news he was competing against. Gallardo became increasingly interesting on a relative scale not because he was getting more interesting, but because the landscape became less interesting around him. I know that Gallardo isn’t very exciting, from an analytical perspective. I know he’s no one’s idea of a big splash.

But, here’s the deal. For one thing, we need to write about baseball! For another thing, Gallardo has finally signed with the Orioles, for three years and $35 million. They give up a draft pick, and so on and so forth. It’s a risky move, and quite possibly or probably not a good one. And for a last thing, there’s a bit of a bias in the conversation, because so much talk about Gallardo focuses on his declining strikeouts. And that’s important — strikeouts are important — but there’s more that’s been going on. Yovani Gallardo is about more than his strikeout rate, and just in the interest of presenting him as something fuller than one-dimensional, I’d like to show you three more things. They might not do much to predict the future, but they at least allow you to understand him a little better.

1. Gallardo pitches to a friendly strike zone

On several occasions before, I’ve written about a guy’s difference between actual strikes and expected strikes, based on zone rates and out-of-zone swings. It’s something that can be pretty easily calculated using numbers we have on our leaderboards, and then you can get an idea of framing and strike-zone friendliness. It’s easier to talk about when I show you numbers, so, check out Gallardo’s last five seasons.

  • 2011: +2.8 extra strikes above average per 100 pitches
  • 2012: +2.9
  • 2013: +2.8
  • 2014: +2.9
  • 2015: +1.6

Right away, that all seems good, although the scale is unfamiliar since this isn’t a popular metric. For each year, I looked at every pitcher who threw at least 100 innings. In 2011, Gallardo ranked seventh. In 2012, he ranked first. In 2013, he ranked fourth. In 2014, he ranked third. And in 2015, he ranked 18th, out of 141. That might look like a little decline between the last two years, but of course something changed: Gallardo went from the Brewers to the Rangers, so he went from Jonathan Lucroy to not Jonathan Lucroy. This past year, Gallardo pitched to average or below-average pitch-framers, and still his called strike zone was more friendly than average.

It could be a fluke. It could be those Rangers catchers just over-performed with Gallardo on the mound. The way I like to interpret it, though, is as a proxy of command. Gallardo got himself some extra strikes, even without great receivers, and I suspect a big part of that is a product of his ability to work around edges. Obviously, his ability to miss bats has declined. Obviously, he’s remained effective enough. That shouldn’t be a coincidence.

2. Gallardo can’t pick a release point

Pitchers talk a lot about release-point consistency. They talk about losing their release point, and they talk about finding their release point. Maybe the most important thing for any pitcher is finding and staying at a certain release point within each game, and Gallardo seems to have done that well enough. But between games, or at least between some months, Gallardo has had changes of heart. This isn’t an arm-angle thing. Gallardo still has a slot that’s over the top. He’s just bounced between opposite sides of the rubber. Some images from the last three years:

Early in his career, Gallardo used to pitch from the right side of the rubber. He shifted to the left in the middle of 2010, then he went back to the right in the middle of 2013. Then he went back to the left in the middle of 2014, then he shifted again, back to the right, for the entirety of 2015. When pitchers change sides of the rubber, it’s usually about trying to open up an inside or outside edge. I’m not sure why Gallardo has bounced around, since as an over-the-top pitcher he should already generate smaller-than-usual platoon splits. But these things don’t happen by accident. Conversations have led to these changes, and Gallardo took them into meaningful baseball games. Based on last season, you’d think Gallardo will spend this coming year working from the right side. But you never know when he might flip again.

3. Gallardo just pitched lefties really differently

Here’s one thing you could say: lefties just hit for their highest average against Gallardo since 2010. They also hit for their highest wOBA against Gallardo since 2010. So, in that sense, which is an important sense, Gallardo wasn’t great against opposite-handed hitters. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make a fascinating adjustment. Any changes Gallardo made against righties were fairly subtle. Lefties, however, saw fewer four-seamers, and fewer curveballs, and more changeups, and more sliders. Consider those sliders. Gallardo now throws either a slider and a cutter, or he throws a hybrid. The label isn’t what’s important. The usage is what’s important. Pulling from Baseball Savant, here’s where the pitches labeled as sliders used to go against lefties (from the catcher’s perspective):


And here’s where the pitches labeled as sliders just went:


Used to be, Gallardo tried hard to keep the slider down and away. Last season, there was a dramatic shift, which saw Gallardo more the pitch up and in on the hands. Basically, Gallardo used it more like a traditional cutter. Again, the outcomes weren’t fantastic. It’s not like this change allowed Gallardo to mow lefties down. As a matter of fact, his strikeout rate against lefties was well beneath his previous career low. But on the other hand, in 2013, Gallardo allowed the fifth-highest hard-hit rate against lefties in baseball. Last year, he allowed the sixth-lowest hard-hit rate against lefties in baseball. So the pitch did some good, and since the adjustment was fairly new to him, there could be more progress in the year ahead. Without strikeouts, Gallardo will need to do everything possible to keep runs off the board, and at least last year he pulled it off.

Overall, I still don’t trust him very much. I do like strikeouts, maybe too much, but the fact of the matter is that without strikeouts and without a tremendously low walk rate, a pitcher has a narrow margin of error. Gallardo is playing with fire, and there’s a pretty short list of pitchers who’ve been able to have sustained success with Gallardo’s peripherals. That being said, Gallardo very clearly isn’t stubborn; he’s made various adjustments to try to keep his head above water, and he’s kept himself effective and relevant. I’m not sure how much longer he has, but I’m pretty sure he’ll get the absolute most out of himself.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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free-range turducken
6 years ago

Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy and Mike Leake walk into a bar….

Their new GM’s, meanwhile, have each been drinking non-stop since the morning after they signed these contracts.