Last week, when describing Yovani Gallardo’s struggles I claimed that it would take his strikeouts returning to his typical one-per-inning rate for the Yovani of last year to resurface. On Saturday afternoon, Yovani Gallardo had the type of ace start he made us expect last year, but the driving force was not the strikeout. Instead it was the force behind his complete game shutout against the Braves earlier this season: the ground ball.
Gallardo induced a whopping 12 ground balls out of 14 hit in play against him en route to seven innings of no-hit ball until Daniel Descalso broke up the no-hitter on one of the few hard-hit ground balls of the night. Much as there was a bit of poor luck involved with the grounders in his last start against Atlanta, it’s hard to imagine Gallardo didn’t benefit from some timely bounces this afternoon. However, if a pitcher isn’t striking batters out, one can’t ask for much more than to keep the ball on the ground: usually the result is a harmless out, and if not, the chances for extra bases are usually slim.
The term “sloppy” no-hitter has been bandied out a bit of late, mostly in reference to Francisco Liriano’s recent accomplishment, but also by the St. Louis announcers (this writing comes from Huntingburg, IN, the filming site of A League of Their Own. Who knew?) to describe Gallardo’s bid today. Although I wouldn’t say that Gallardo’s performance was nearly as “bad” (insomuch as a no-hitter can be) as Liriano’s, there were similarities — six strikeouts is by no means a high amount for Gallardo, and he also put four runners on base via the walk.
Don’t construe this as saying that Gallardo didn’t have a fantastic start — he obviously did. However, I don’t think my expectations are too high in saying that he can do better. I believe the key lies in his curveball, a pitch that drew swinging strikes 15.8% of the time in 2010, and maybe more importantly, was a strike (of any kind) 59% of the time. This year, prior to Saturday, that number has dropped to 48.4%. Saturday was no better, as only 11 of his 32 curveballs (34%) went for strikes, and none of them drew a whiff.
I still believe that Gallardo’s success will depend on his ability to draw strikeouts, and the fact that he was able to strand four walks on 14 balls in play without allowing a run is not something that should be relied on in the future. But today was a very good day, and if Gallardo can continue to induce groundballs at a high rate, he won’t have to rely on the strikeout quite as much as he has in years past.