Switchin’ Pitches: Gallardo’s Mysterious Cutter | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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Last month, I investigated Franchise Starter Yovani Gallardo‘s fastballs, in part to respond to the clamor over the righty’s falling velocity. Specifically, I focused on the strange fact that Gallardo appeared to be focusing on secondary fastballs more in 2013 than in previous seasons, while also noting the importance of Gallardo’s high slider velocity (as opposed to his falling fastball velocity). The main point was that we should not simply focus on Gallardo’s fastball performance, but how he uses that pitch in tandem with his full arsenal; mechanical inconsistencies that explain a drop in fastball velocity could correspond to important approaches regarding his slider.

Since that post, Gallardo’s arsenal and approach shifted notably:

Dates Primary Fastball Secondary Fastball Third Fastball Slider Curve Change
Before 5/21 30.4% 23.8% 0.2% 22.0% 20.7% 2.9%
After 5/21 25.1% 14.7% 7.9% 24.9% 24.7% 2.7%

Specifically, Gallardo went to his slider even more frequently than his first seven weeks of the season. Furthermore, his total fastball selections dropped beneath 50% of his total selections. However, he wasn’t necessarily becoming a junkball pitcher, as his change up occupied only a sliver of his selections (his curveball did receive a boost, though). Notably, in terms of pitch f/x classifications, a third fastball suddenly emerged: that’s right, Yovani Gallardo threw a cutter.

Last month, I noted that although pitch f/x showed that Gallardo focused more on secondary fastballs in 2013 than in previous years, Gallardo still wasn’t necessarily throwing a true sinker. Similarly, there is reason to be skeptical about Gallardo apparently throwing a distinct cutter. First and foremost, there is relatively little press about Gallardo ever throwing a cutter. This might not mean much — maybe he’s working on a pitch and keeping the details on the down-low; maybe his developing cutter is not as significant to his arsenal as it was when Zack Greinke announced to the world that he was working on a cutter (of course, Greinke has also been known to announce when he’s going to throw 50 MPH curveballs, too). In fact, the only notable news about Gallardo throwing a cutter popped up on his Wikipedia scouting report, which was trumped up to begin with (his Wikipedia page has Gallardo throwing a 92-95 MPH fastball, reaching 96 at times, which sounds like a fastball reading from Miller Park’s scoreboard gun).

Secondly, if we think about how Gallardo approached his slider over the years, it’s possible that Gallardo was throwing a cutter the whole time, anyway. If a pitcher’s slider increases by a couple of MPH over time, to the extent that it touches the high-80s, odds are that pitcher is doing something different to get that slider out of the mid-80s. The idea that Gallardo is now suddenly throwing a cutter could simply be the end result of all those hard slider developments over the years. While this might sound fantastical, I think we can draw merit to this type of conclusion by also noting that Gallardo typically changed his fastball approach here-and-there, over the last two years, too. Pitch f/x classifications aside, if Gallardo needs to get an extra weapon against batters, perhaps he changed his grip on his fastball in certain situations. What could be nothing more than subtle variations on the mound could be amplified as extreme variations in pitch f/x data.

Of course, there’s another possibility, too: whatever Gallardo is doing with his fastballs, perhaps pitch f/x data is simply wrong. Notably, the vast majority of Gallardo’s cutter count in his last month is isolated to his Houston start: after throwing four cutters on the 10th of June, and three cutters on the 15th, Gallardo selected THIRTY-EIGHT cutters in Houston. In fact, apparently Gallardo threw so many cutters that (a) his “Four Seam” classifications were reduced to nine total offerings, and (b) his “Two Seam” classifications were non-existent. Whatever Gallardo was throwing in Houston, it was above 91.0 MPH, it was “rising” (10.86 vertical movement), and it “broke” in on lefties (3.19 horizontal movement).

For what it’s worth, BrooksBaseball disagrees completely with the idea that Gallardo is throwing a distinct cutter. In fact, their scouting-based classifications don’t give Gallardo a “cutter” in any regard, and they also have different interpretations of his “secondary” fastball. However, I wonder if this is simply a matter of semantics at the end of the day; even though BrooksBaseball doesn’t call Gallardo’s fastball a cutter, their movement chart agrees that Gallardo’s fastball “broke” in against lefties. (Expanding this idea, there is evidence in Gallardo’s slider from the Houston game that there may have simply been a calibration error in the pitch f/x tracking machinery, as his slider also broke in on lefties to an extreme degree. Looking out for calibration errors is yet another lesson from analyzing pitch f/x data for one start).

Ultimately, this type of movement makes sense if we incorporate Gallardo’s approach into the equation, too. As J.P. Breen noted yesterday, Gallardo changed his approach to bust lefties inside, all afternoon. Similarly, Gallardo’s release points show that he set up almost as close to first base as possible for a right-handed pitcher…

…and his spin movement reflects that he was breaking that fastball into lefties / away from righties.

This whole approach reminds me of the age old debates about a cutter/slider (previously known as a “sailer,” too), or even the old classifications of a “change up” — previously used as a catch-all for changing speeds off any pitch (note Uecker’s call of the “slow curve,” for instance, which he’ll call a “change up”), and now used to describe a specific type of pitch (such as the “circle change” or the “straight change”). At the end of the day, Gallardo might not have thrown a “cutter” per se; it might have simply been a fastball. But, whatever he was doing with the pitch, it behaved like a cutter, which is rather interesting — this behavior goes along with the general theme of 2013 for Gallardo, namely that he is working on secondary fastballs. Or, at the very least, Gallardo is changing his fastballs.

Through all of this, it’s worth noting that in the past month, Gallardo’s fastballs are faster. Furthermore, his slider is also slower. If we can draw anything from these facts, perhaps we should note that pitching is an extreme mechanical process, running through peaks and valleys for an entire season for each and every pitcher. If people were going crazy about Gallardo’s “decreased velocity” to start the season, they were rather quiet about his super fast slider; now, shall we clamor about his “decreased velocity” on his slider? Suddenly, we have a new gap in Gallardo’s approach, yet another area to investigate. For, if his current adjustments continue, the combination of an increased gap between primary and secondary pitches and new movement trends with his fastball could escalate Gallardo’s overall performance (21 IP, 3 R, 15 K / 5 BB / 0 HR over his last three starts, to begin with).

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
BrooksBaseball. BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC, 1996-2013.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2013.

Gallardo: David J. Phillip / AP
Spin / Release Points: TexasLeaguers, Trip Somers, 2009-2013.

P.S.: Thank you to FanGraphs for linking previous research/analysis on Zack Greinke’s cutter from Disciples of Uecker. Hopefully this post is a suitable thank you, and a continuation of analysis about that strange art of pitching.

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