Adam McCalvy reported at MLB.com that the Milwaukee Brewers are looking to increase Yovani Gallardo’s efficiency. Ron Roenicke introduced an interesting idea while discussing Gallardo’s efficiency:
“Sometimes it’s not throwing the nastiest pitch you have the first pitch…There’s a lot of guys that you don’t see the real nasty breaking ball until you get two strikes, or you don’t see the ‘humped-up’ fastball. … There’s times when it can’t be, ’100 percent, full-gorilla, this is everything I have from the first pitch through 95.’”
This is an interesting idea, because frankly, it sounds like how people describe pitching in the earlier decades of the game (it reminds me of Christy Mathewson, who best said, save your fadeaway for when you need it). It generally seems that people expect pitchers to work at a higher effort level since the game has hard-hitting centerfielders, second basemen, and sometimes even shortstops (besides all the other sluggers). It’s interesting to think about whether or not a pitcher can control his effort — 100% or less — without changing his stuff or mechanics.
What Gallardo lacks in efficiency, he makes up with consistency. The righthander averaged between 3.98 P/PA and 4.04 P/PA between 2009 and 2011, consistently ranking between #2 and #3 NL rotation spots, consistently posting average or better Fielding Independent Pitching ratios.
2009 (#17): 0.79 FIPratio, 4.04 P/PA (185.7 IP, 110 ERA+)
2010 (#39): -0.10 FIPratio, 3.98 P/PA (185 IP, 105 ERA+)
2011 (#26): 0.55 FIPratio, 4.00 P/PA (207.3 IP, 111 ERA+)
Furthermore, Gallardo consistently approaches batters with his fastball, curveball, slider, and change up. Really, he’s about as basic a four-pitch pitcher as one could find (and of course, that doesn’t mean his stuff isn’t excellent). According to TexasLeaguers, Gallardo threw his rising fastball more than 52.5% from 2009-2011, his hard curveball 21%, a sharp slider just under 16%, and his change up 4%.
Within that overall selection ratio, Gallardo is starting to favor his slider (from 10+% in 2009 to over 19% in 2011) and pocket his change up (from 7+% in 2009 to 1% in 2011), while his curveball remains consistent (right around 20%). Meanwhile, he is apparently countering his rising fastball with a second fastball, although it’s difficult to say if his “two-seamer” is a sinking pitch or a hard, moving fastball.
One of the most interesting things about Gallardo is that for all his pitches, his fastball clearly emerged as his most valuable pitch, according to FanGraphs. The more he threw his slider, the less valuable it was (although, it accompanied a more valuable fastball).
So, where does efficiency come from? What the Brewers have is a young pitcher that has faced between 790 and 870 batters in each of the last three seasons. While doing so, Gallardo maintains a dependable curve, a strong fastball, and he throws two other pitches to boot. Certainly, at this point in his career, the Brewers shouldn’t be inclined to change his mechanics (which are strong, anyhow), and beyond that, it’s difficult to determine which pitch Gallardo should actually use more (or less).
(Furthermore, one should note that his high pitch counts or inefficient outings are not costing him IP or outs. Compared to what one might expect an average pitcher to work with 865 batters faced, Gallardo’s 207.3 IP is notably above average (by approximately 10-15 IP). This is clearly driven by his strike out rate.)
Part of me wonders if pitching in Miller Park — a neutral environment that suppresses other batting elements while encouraging high home run rates –introduces hazards to Gallardo’s efficiency that are unavoidable. For instance, over the last three years, he improved his walk rate significantly (from nearly 12%/PA to below 7%/PA), while maintaining a strong strike out rate (between 23.5% and 25.5%). However, Gallardo allows high home run totals at times (27 in 2011, although 17 of those came on the road).
Could it simply be that this is Gallardo’s pitching profile?
The Brewers have a young +#2/+#3 pitcher that consistently strikes out batters at an extremely high ratio (approximately 40 strike outs beyond league average per 800 PA) while improving his walk rate. Furthermore, he consistently mixes at least three pitches, while repeating his easy delivery. Short of striking out fewer batters, there seems to be little room for Gallardo to actively change his approach. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; there are some pitchers that get by with throwing a lot of pitches, and Gallardo seems to be one of them (he has 31 starts of 110+ pitches from 2009-present).
If Gallardo continues to strike batters out, improve his walk ratio, mix pitches, and repeat his delivery, the Brewers should have no problems with Gallardo’s effectiveness, even if it comes at the price of inefficient outings.
AVERAGE BF/K/BB/HR PROJECTION (2009-2011): 820 BF, 204 K/76 BB/20 HR/3 HBP; 520 BIP, 152 BIPH, 8 BIPerrors, 360 BIPOuts, 5 random outs; career 74.4% LOB. 189.7 IP, 172 H, 80 R, 204 K/76 BB/20 HR. Approximately 81 FIPruns. Profile: Strong #2. Ranking: #22.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.
ESPN Player Card (ESPN Internet Ventures, 2012).
FanGraphs (Pitch F/X and Statistics pages)
McCalvy, Adam. “Brewers Want Gallardo to be More Efficient.” MLB Advanced Media, 2001-2012.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2012.
Zettel. 2009, 2010, and 2011 NL SP rankings (100+ IP). Journal Sentinel, Inc., 2012.