Note: Sunday's game is not included in this post.
Yovani Gallardo is not having a particular successful season as an Oriole with his 5.18 ERA and 5.14 FIP. However, it seemed to me that lately he had been somewhat more successful than he was earlier in this season. This seems to be the case, in August he has had a 3.18 ERA in three starts and he’s improved his ERA from 5.82 in the first half to 4.50 in the second half. Neither of these numbers are particularly good, but the second number is a significant improvement and would be acceptable for a #5 starter. Has Gallardo improved over the first half of the season or is this just good luck?
One of Gallardo’s major problems is that he has a horrible K-BB%. Of 161 starters that have thrown at least 50 innings as a starter, his K-BB% of 3.5% ranks 155th. In part, this is due to his poor strikeout rate of 15.9% (136th) and in part due to his poor walk rate of 12.4% (157th). In this regard, it’s fair to argue he’s one of the worst starters in baseball. To put this in context, batters have had a .443 OBP against him when they haven’t put the ball into play. This largely hasn’t changed in the second half. He had a 3.6% K-BB in the first half and a 3.4% K-BB in the second half. Clearly, this hasn’t been how he improved.
Likewise, his improvement isn’t due to contact against pitches out of the strike zone. In the first half of the season, 29 batters put a pitch out of the strike zone into play and had a wOBA of .237. In the second half of the season, 30 batters put a pitcher out of the strike zone into play with a wOBA of .246. Out of 171 starters that have had at least nine starts, this ranks 26th in the majors suggesting that Gallardo has been fortunate in this regard.
Gallardo’s improvement has come on pitches that have been put into play in the strike zone. In the first half, he allowed 112 batters to put a pitch in the strike zone into play and they had a wOBA of .447 with an OPS of 1.044. In the second half, he’s allowed 91 batters to put a pitch in the strike zone into play while allowing a wOBA of .406 (OPS of .941). Part of his success is that batters aren’t quite performing as well against these pitches, but also that more batters are putting bad pitches into play.
A closer look at his stats shows that this is because opposing batters are swinging more often at pitches outside of the strike zone while swinging less often at pitches in the strike zone. In the first half of the season, opposing batters swung at 63.9% of pitches in the strike zone and put 31.3% of all pitches in the strike zone into play. In the second half of the season, opposing batters swung at 62.1% of pitches in the strike zone and put only 29.7% into play. As a result, opposing batters did less damage on pitches in the strike zone. Likewise, batters swung at 22% of pitches not in the strike zone and put 6.5% of all pitches not in the strike zone into play. In the second half of the season, batters swung at 24.5% of pitches not in the strike zone and put 8% into play. It’s pretty clear that batters have been swinging at worse pitches in the second half then they did in the first half. Gallardo doesn’t have good enough stuff to really take advantage of this, but he has seen some benefits due to random selection.
He has also been ridiculously lucky in the second half with two or three men on base. Gallardo has allowed just a .287 wOBA on pitches put into play in the second half of the season, with a BABIP of just .143. In the first half, opposing batters had a .438 wOBA in those situations with a BABIP of .353. Going forward, I would expect Gallardo to have numbers more akin to the latter rather than the former. However, it also has something to do with pitch location in those situations. Gallardo threw 44% of pitches in the strike zone in the first half of the season, but just 34% in the second half. This has resulted in a preposterously high 26.9% walk rate with two or more runners on base, but has also resulted in batters doing less damage when putting the ball into play. Given the poor quality of his pitching, hoping batters swing at bad pitches is probably an intelligent strategy.
Gallardo has had acceptable results over the second half of the season. However, it’s pretty clear that his stuff isn’t good enough to start and that he probably isn’t going to turn his season around. It’s probably fair to say that his best strategy is to throw junk and hope that players swing at it and put it into play. He simply isn’t good enough to strike a significant amount of batters out and bad things happen when batters do put a pitch in the strike zone into play. In reality, his best chance of success is either as a middle reliever relying just on a fastball and curveball or as a starter for Bowie.
Many poor pitchers are able to make changes in the off-season that allow them to significantly improve their performance. Indeed, Chris Tillman had a terrible 2015 that was followed by a strong 2016. As a result, it’s theoretically possible that something similar could happen to Gallardo in 2017. However, if he doesn’t have a strong Spring Training, the Orioles should cut Gallardo. He’s not going to be successful as is and is just wasting a roster spot. And perhaps the Orioles need to consider asking themselves why the pitchers they’ve acquired at significant cost such as Jimenez, Gallardo and Miley have floundered so badly. The Orioles are going to be wasting a lot of cash on those three starters next year.