Yovani Gallardo Pitches Way Into Trade Chip

Yovani Gallardo was supposed to slot into the Texas Rangers rotation as the number-three starter behind ace Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Those plans quickly disintegrated after Darvish underwent Tommy John surgery and Holland pitched just one inning before suffering shoulder problems that will keep him out until at least August. Gallardo, once an ace for the Milwaukee Brewers, was traded in the offseason for a package of prospects that contained more quantity than quality. Gallardo has provided a solid return for the Rangers, just finishing a 33.1-inning scoreless streak and serving as the team’s best pitcher as the Rangers hover around .500 with perhaps an outside shot at a playoff spot. A more realistic look at the team suggests Gallardo’s value is as high as it will be and the Rangers should begin shopping him as the trade deadline approaches.

With Darvish and Holland, the Rangers might have had a playoff-caliber team, one deserving to be buyers instead of sellers. Given the replacement-level pitching at the end of the rotation an extra three wins up to this point and another three wins going forward would put Texas in the mid-80s in terms of wins and a major trade for a player like Cole Hamels might make them the favorite to catch Houston in the American League West. The Rangers have not had their best pitchers healthy and missed time for Adrian Beltre has left them below .500 and quickly falling out of the playoff race. With Gallardo under contract only through the rest of the season, he is an ideal candidate to be moved, and while Gallardo might like it in Texas, he also might welcome a trade that would put him in a pennant race and prevent a qualifying offer at the end of the season making him more valuable on the free-agent market.

Gallardo is having his best season in several years. His 2.67 ERA would be a career low, beating his 3.51 mark from last season, and he has only beaten his current 3.52 FIP once, back in 2010. Gallardo is not the same high-strikeout pitcher he was in his early days in Milwaukee. From 2009 to -12, he was striking out nearly a quarter of the batters faced and walked around 10% — and has remained effective despite losting velocity, albeit by slightly different means. This season, Gallardo has struck out just 17% of hitters while walking 8%, a slight increase over last season. His home-run rate has decreased considerably, however, since moving to the Rangers and his ground-ball rate has steadily increased with more time in the majors, keeping both his ERA and FIP low despite below-average strikeout and walk numbers.

Over the offseason, Dave Cameron wrote that Gallardo’s ground-ball tendencies and decrease in strikeouts appeared to be somewhat of a choice. Gallardo introduced a sinking fastball and used it at the expense of a four-seamer, trading potential swings and misses for ground contact. Gallardo has continued that trend this season, throwing more sinking fastballs than any time in his career, as this chart from Brooks Baseball shows:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (5)

As he has continued to emphasize the sinker, the number of ground balls has risen. Gallardo has a career-high 51.4% ground-ball rate that ranks eighth among qualified pitchers in the American League. The chart above also shows another change in pitch mix for Gallardo: he’s decreased the use of his curve while using his slider a bit more. This change might be less philosophical and more mechanical. Jeff Sullivan also wrote about Gallardo in the offseason and noted that Gallardo has experimented pitching on different sides of the rubber. In graph form, the below graph from Brooks Baseball shows the horizontal release point for Gallardo over the years:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (6)

In visual form, the following images are from Jeff Sullivan’s post in February:

Early 2013:

gallardo2013

Later 2013:

gallardotransition

In 2014, he went back to pitching from the first-base side of the rubber, but he has moved back to the other side this season, as evidenced by the pitch below.

Sullivan posited that pitching from the first-base side of the rubber might help him against left-handed hitters, but rendered him less successful than he might otherwise have been against right-handers. Through 2014, Gallardo had a 3.67 FIP against left-handers with a 23% strikeout rate while posting a 3.71 FIP with a 22% strikeout rate against righties. While we are dealing with half a season of data, Gallardo’s FIP against lefties this year is 4.11 compared to 2.93 against righties and his 15% strikeout rate against lefties is 5% lower than against righties.

Gallardo has gotten roughly half of his strikeouts this season on his two fastballs and roughly half of those have been looking. On his curve and slider, it appears that moving to different sides of the rubber might change the pitches’ effectiveness. The chart below shows the whiff rates for the last four periods where Gallardo has switched from one side to the other since the beginning of 2013, per Brooks Baseball.

Y. Gallardo Whiff Rate Position on Rubber Slider v. LH Slider v. RH Curve v. LH Curve v. RH
4/1/2013-7/1/2013 1B 8.9% 13.4% 9.9% 11.8%
7/2/2013-5/8/2014 3B 11.0% 10.9% 6.7% 14.1%
5/9/2014-10/1/2014 1B 6.8% 15.0% 13.1% 12.1%
4/1/2015-7/7/2015 3B 7.8% 12.7% 7.8% 14.1%

There could be a considerable amount of noise in those numbers given the relative scarcity of pitches, but it looks like the curve to left-handers might be the most affected pitch and it does make sense logically. Gallardo might feel that the curve could be easier to pick up for left-handed hitters from the third base side of the rubber and use his slider and fastball more often. Gallardo is also throwing a change close to 10% of the time against lefties, a pitch that can help to neutralize hitters with the platoon advantage.

The reason for Gallardo’s experimentation is not exactly clear, but when Gallardo came into the league, he did not pitch from the first-base side of the rubber. As the graph from above shows, his horizontal release point when he entered the league was close to his release point currently. His pitching coach when he came into the league with the Brewers was Mike Maddux, but Maddux left the Brewers after the 2008 season for a job with the Rangers, where he is now Gallardo’s pitching coach once again.

Any team trading for Gallardo should not expect a sub-three ERA to continue, but almost every team in contention could use a pitcher like Gallardo. He is above average and has pitched at least 180 innings every season for the past six years. With the contracts of Ervin Santana and James Shields, the 29-year-old Gallardo looks to be in line for a healthy payday at the end of the season. In this market, the Rangers should be able to receive an offer better than the draft pick they would receive by making a qualifying offer to Gallardo at the end of the season. If the Rangers want Gallardo back, it is probably in their best interest to trade him as the draft pick will look more enticing as winter comes. The Cubs traded Jason Hammel last season and signed him back up for this year and the Rangers could do the same as they retool for 2016. Getting a prospect or two fairly close to the majors could help them get to contention sooner than holding onto Gallardo or trying to sign him to a long-term contract extension now.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

9 Comments
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Derpy Dog
7 years ago

Lower K%, higher BB%, and a 35% drop in HR/9 from career average.
I may be derpy but that dog don’t hunt.

Mr. Jones
7 years ago
Reply to  Derpy Dog

If you read the article, the author notes how Gallardo is using more sinkers and getting more ground balls. This would naturally lower his HR/9. Also, the move from Milwaukee to Texas helps that as well if you look at park factors. Probably even more so than the factors indicate, as the somewhat recent changes to Globe Life Park have likely not been completely reflected in the HR park effect as of yet.

jdbolick
7 years ago
Reply to  Mr. Jones

While his GB% has increased, it hasn’t been anywhere near as much as the decline in HR/FB% or HR/9. Throw in the unexpectedly low BABIP and Derpy Dog is absolutely correct, Gallardo is a prime regression candidate. Teams would be buying high and likely disappointed in the results.

Paul
7 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

Agreed. If you look at the xbabip, his 2014 number was 3.64 and his 2015 number is currently 3.95. Over 1397 career innings, his HR/FB% has shown to be higher than 10% so his xFIP would be even higher if we regress toward his career norms.

As you said, he’s a prime regression candidate.

Paul
7 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

*xFIP

Mr. Jones
7 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

Nowhere has anyone said he’s not a regression candidate. That is rather obvious. But there are reasons to think his allowing fewer HRs is due to conscious changes that he’s made (as well as changes in environment) rather than pure randomness.

Paul
7 years ago
Reply to  jdbolick

Like what, Mr. Jones? His transformation began 2-3 years ago, yet his HR/FB% has continued to remain high every year until his current fluky first half of 2015. Even if you ignore his early career, you can’t ignore his 12 HR/FB% over 373 IP from 2013-2014 with the Brewers after his transformation started.

Derpy Dog
7 years ago
Reply to  Mr. Jones

Oh yeah?!?
Well the jerk store called and they’re all out of YOU!

Derpy Dog
7 years ago
Reply to  Mr. Jones

4 HRs in 4 starts, you were duped into buying fools gold.Also interesting that NOBODY wanted anything to do with him at the trade deadline.