09 February 2016

What's Up With Yovani Gallardo's Slider/Cutter?

The Orioles have a problem. Actually, they have a couple of problems. So to be more specific: The Orioles have a starting rotation problem. Overall, it's not very good. That's one reason why the O's can't stop being connected to Yovani Gallardo, who has yet to sign with a team mainly because of the unfair and punitive qualifying offer system that's currently in place.

On the surface, it seems the draft pick compensation issue is the main thing keeping the Orioles from inking Gallardo to a multiyear deal. They need another competent starter who throws a lot of innings, and Gallardo is a competent starter who will likely throw a lot of innings. And while his presence would help the rotation, it's up for debate exactly how much of an upgrade he'd be.

Gallardo, who turns 30 later this month, would rival Ubaldo Jimenez in the O's rotation in terms of career accomplishments. He's no longer the same type of pitcher he was just a few years ago, when he'd average at least nine strikeouts per nine innings and rely on a steady diet of four-seam fastballs, sliders, and curveballs. In 2012, Gallardo posted a strikeout rate of exactly nine; since then, his K/9 has dropped from 7.2, to 6.8, to 5.9 last season. Meanwhile, he's had to focus more on limiting the amount of hard contact against him and trying to keep the ball on the ground.

He still throws fastballs more than 50% of the time, but he now opts for fewer four-seamers and more two-seamers. And while he's seen a relative decline in his fastball velocity, Gallardo has also seen a gradual uptick in his slider velocity the last couple seasons:

Here's one explanation: Gallardo mixes in a cutter, and the difference is sometimes difficult to distinguish. Brooks Baseball labels Gallardo's offerings as sliders. Baseball Savant has him at 209 career cutters thrown (with only two in 2015). FanGraphs has him at 139 total cutters (going back to 2012). Still, the slider and/or the cutter are two of his better performing pitches, along with the curveball.

Gallardo is throwing his slider/cutter more than ever, and he also threw it higher in the strike zone than in any previous season by a decent margin:

Prior to 2015, Gallardo not only focused on keeping the pitch down and away, but also down in general. But last year, he wasn't afraid to keep the pitch in the zone, high or away:

Opposing batters swung more than ever at Gallardo's slider/cutter, but those pitches also generated fewer whiffs. Opponents did have trouble hitting for power against those offerings. One large reason for that: an infield fly ball rate of 41%. It won't be easy to repeat that.

It's unclear whether Gallardo's slider/cutter results are a product of small sample size or suggest anything meaningful. Maybe it's a pitch he's growing more comfortable with and isn't shying away from throwing it in the zone. It seems like Gallardo is a tinkerer who's unafraid to try different things in search of success. Another example of that is his movement to both sides of the rubber the last couple seasons.

Still, it's tough to overlook Gallardo's lack of strikeouts. He can't exactly be considered a question mark, but he's more of a back-end starter in a good rotation (so at least a No. 2 or 3 for the Orioles). By itself, that would be fine. But that depends on the years and dollars he'd command, and it also doesn't factor in the loss of a first-round draft pick. Gallardo's price is clearly dropping, though, which is why the Orioles are hovering.

Perhaps the Orioles would be better off keeping their first-round draft pick and going with a revolving door of Vance Worley, Odrisamer Despaigne, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson as the fifth starter. That way, they could ride the hot hand and also maintain some flexibility (though Worley is out of options). But that's also something that occasionally sounds better in theory than in practice, and it doesn't account for an injury to any of the O's other starting pitchers. Gallardo would make the O's a little bit better, but it would come at a steep price.

The Orioles' major league team needs some help. Their farm system needs even more help. No one said this would be easy.

Photo via Keith Allison


Anonymous said...

Rotation "not very good"? That is being very generous!!! Giving up the pick is no big deal if you are the Orioles. It would probably turn into another Billy Rowell, Matt BLOBgood, Adam Loewen, Brandon Snyder, Matt Riley, etc, etc, etc! The Orioles in baseball draft as poorly as the Detroit Lions in football!!!

Jon Shepherd said...

If the club cannot produce young, cost-controlled talent then it has no hope at all.

Anonymous said...

This guy seems to leave the same comment on every thread.

Pip said...

So it's looking like 4/45 for Gallardo which is an astonishing amount of money for a declining mediocrity.
If this price is down, what was the original projection?
It sure doesn't seem as if we're saving anything.

Roger said...

I'm seeing 3/40-45. I think the O's have refused to do four. The good news is that the O's might also go after Fowler if they sign Gallardo. That could be a 3 WAR upgrade overall. They are also talking about a one year opt put for Gallardo. That seems like a blessing for the O's and they should jump on it. They need to see if Bundy and Harvey can recover and bring them along slowly. With any luck Bundy could actually be useful by the end of the season and be ready to go for next season.

Jon Shepherd said...

If you choose to use STEAMER. Gallardo is a one win increase and Fowler is around a half won increase.

Roger said...

Jon, consider the elimination of negative wins too. If Paredes is DFA'd as a result of signing Fowler then that would add an extra half win. FG now has Kim at 1.6 WAR instead of -1. The whole lineup has seen a slight bounce and the Orioles have moved up the charts by comparison. Seems to me that Fowler and Gallardo might make them an 81-83 win team.

Jon Shepherd said...

81 to 83 is right in line with I have have been suggesting when it is all said and done. A lot of resources are being leveraged for not much return.

Anonymous said...

How about Mike Minor and David Murphy?

Unknown said...

I realize I'm incredibly late to the party here, but it seems to me that Orioles fans all over the web are overlooking not only the year-to-year regression in Gallardo's stuff and K-rates, but the difficulty he had maintaining performance over the course of last season. It was covered up a bit by his run-support buoyed winning record, but in the 2nd half of 2015 Gallardo was AWFUL. He finished 6 innings twice in 14 starts. His ERA of 4.69 feels almost absurdly lucky, given that he allowed a batting line of .323/.383/.512. Neither Manny Machado nor Lorenzo Cain, 4th and 3rd in the AL MVP voting, equaled any component of that triple slash line for the season. So a league-average hitter was better against Gallardo in the 2nd half than an MVP candidate against a league-average pitcher. That's a real problem.
You could also note here that in spite of maintaining a solid ERA with declining K rates, he actually gave up career-worst LD% and was slightly below his career average rate of generating soft contact. He had a decline in GB/FB relative to 2014, so his reduced HR rate looks lucky. I just don't see much to be optimistic about here. I realize that most informed fans don't think he has a lot of upside. Even so, it seems like a lot of people who should know better are missing the massive downside. It's not hard for me to see him being a negative WAR player from day 1 of his next contract.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I think it depends which fans you're talking about. Steve Melewski has been writing about how he's been inundated with negative comments about Gallardo, so there's a mix of both groups. Many fans are aware of the concerns surrounding Gallardo, though he would likely improve the O's rotation, even slightly. Is that worth the price to get him? No, probably not.

Unknown said...

Turns out to be 3/33 with a 4th year option year buy out at 2 million to make it 3/35. This is VERY reasonable and it enables him to basically be a 1-2 WAR. It will enable the group at Norfolk to not be on the yo-yo and hopefully one of them will take that next step of development. With Fowler, this will be a productive off season...play ball.