We are only three weeks into the regular season, so the sample sizes are not large enough to make concrete arguments about anyone’s performance. We can, however, begin to identify interesting trends that have developed over the past three weeks and track them to see if they become indicative of anything larger as the season progresses.
There are many more trends than the ones outlined below, but here are some that have caught my eye this season:
Quick … tell me what two pitches Yovani Gallardo throws the most.
If you said fastball and curveball, you would be incorrect. For the fifth-consecutive season, Yovani Gallardo has increased the usage of his slider. It has now completely overtaken his curveball as the second pitch in his arsenal. In fact, Gallardo is throwing almost half as many curveballs (14.6%) as he did during his injury-shortened 2008 (30.6%).
It’s tough to judge the impact of this change in repertoire. His peripheral numbers are almost identical to career norms. He also has roughly the same swinging strike rate and has not gotten more opposing batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. In fact, the amount of pitches within the zone itself lies just under his career average.
In some ways, one could argue that Yovani Gallardo is exactly the same pitcher whether he features a slider as his second pitch or a curveball. He will still attempt to nibble the edges of the strike zone and throw what seems to be far too many pitches. He will dazzle from time to time, which causes everyone to wonder if he has finally turned the corner into ace-hood, but inevitably follow up with an outing that sees him throw 100 pitches through five innings and surrender three runs. Yovani Gallardo is what he is (a very solid #2 starter) no matter if he throws his slider or his curveball because it’s more about his approach on the mound than it is the pieces in his repertoire.
CARLOS GOMEZ’S STRIKEOUT RATE
Carlos Gomez has a career 22.1% strikeout rate. That should surprise no one. Brewers fans are accustomed to watching Gomez swing wildly at a two-strike curveball in the dirt or lose his balance after whiffing on a slider low-and-away. This season, however, Gomez has a 3.2% strikeout rate through his first 31 plate appearances. He has struck out exactly once, and even that was a strikeout looking against Carlos Marmol on April 11. He will not be the last player to be fooled by Carlos Marmol.
I am in no way suggesting that Gomez has figured it out at the plate and will finally begin to scratch the potential he displayed in the minor leagues for so long. After all, 552 games is quite a sufficient sample size to determine what a player is at the plate. At the same time, though, it remains difficult to shake the notion that Carlos Gomez is still just 26-years-old (the exact same age as Mat Gamel). Should we really believe that Gomez is no longer improving as a player?
Parra has always been intriguing in the bullpen because he throws 92-94 MPH from the left side with two legitimate offspeed pitches with which he can throw for strikes. His splitter has been his best pitch this season and is one of the reasons why he has a 10% swinging strike rate, despite not getting opposing batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone very often. The league-average reliever gets opposing hitters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 29% of the time. Parra, however, only possesses a 25.3% O-Swing%.
The fact that he still has a higher swinging strike rate than the average reliever means that opposing hitters are swinging and missing at more pitches inside the strike zone, which is still a very useful skill.
RANDY WOLF’S CONTACT RATE
The southpaw has endured a dreadful start to the season, compiling an 8.80 ERA through his first three starts. His peripheral numbers are not all that dissimilar to those from 2011, but there are signs that Wolf is struggling to keep opposing hitters offbalance and off the basepaths.
Amongst starting pitchers, Randy Wolf has the highest contact rate at 91.1%. Opposing hitters are not being fooled by his repertoire this year, nor are they missing the baseball when swinging. That is further evidenced by his minuscule 4.3% swinging strike rate. Thus, we should not be surprised that opposing hitters are lighting up Wolf on the mound. The left-hander is surrendering a .352 batting average and an 18% line drive rate.
Wolf needs to work off his offspeed pitches a bit more. His fastball and cutter do not overpower hitters, though 87-90 MPH does seem much faster at the plate following a 67 MPH curveball or a 78 MPH changeup. This is not to suggest that throwing more offspeed stuff will magically solve the problem, but Randy Wolf works best when he changes speeds and throws any pitch in any count. Having three distinct speeds is always a luxury for a pitcher because a hitter then cannot have a 50-50 guess in terms of velocity. Wolf needs to utilize all three of those speeds — fastball/cutter, changeup, and curveball — if he wants to find success on the mound, start fooling some hitters, and ultimately lessen that contact percentage.