Is Yovani Gallardo Good Again?

For a long stretch of time, the Milwaukee Brewers might have been better off having Jeff Suppan in their rotation than Yovani Gallardo.

From July 27, 2010, against the Cincinnati Reds, to May 2, 2011, against the Atlanta Braves, Gallardo had been pitching terribly or, at least, his stats sure seem to suggest that.  Over that time frame--a total of 108.2 IP and 19 starts (nearly 2/3 of a full season)--Gallardo had a 6.21 ERA, an 11.02 H/9, a 3.72 BB/9 and a 8.53 K/9.  Even Suppan would be hard pressed to call those results "good".  For the most part, Gallardo was still striking out loads of batters, but man was he getting hit hard.  Over his career (including this awful stretch), Gallardo has an 8.2 H/9 and a 3.75 ERA.  All of those other statistics seem to reflect his career results (though his career K/9 is over 0.6 higher than over those 19 starts).

This season, those numbers had actually been worse as he had an opponent slash line of .329/.388/.503 through his first seven starts of 2011 and an ERA of 6.10.  Even more concerning was his strikeout rate.  During his 2010 struggles, he was still striking out a high number of hitters.  Then, all of a sudden, his K/9 rate plummeted down to 6.53.  His career K/9 is 9.17, 2.64 higher than what he was producing this year.  This made Gallardo's continued struggles increasingly more worrying.

So what happened?  Did Gallardo just all of a sudden became hittable?  Well, his opponent BABIP over that period (.383 from July 27, 2010 until the end of last season and .369 from the beginning of this season until May 2) seem to indicate that his opponents were getting lucky.  But boy is that a lengthy stretch of unluckiness.  And his much lower K/9 rate earlier in the year seemed to indicate that he just wasn't fooling batters anymore.

Finally, on May 2 of this year Gallardo pitched just five innings and allowed five runs on nine hits and four walks to the Atlanta Braves in a 6-2 Brewers loss.  At that point, the Brewers had a 13-15 record. 

Then, over Gallardo's next five starts, including today's against San Francisco, this happened:

 

Date Opponent Decision IP ER BB H K
May 7 Cardinals Win (4-0) 8.0 0 4 1 6
May 13 Pirates Win (5-2) 6.0 2 3 5 5
May 18 Padres Win (5-2) 6.0 2 3 5 9
May 23 Nationals Win (11-3) 7.0 1 1 5 9
May 29 Giants Win (6-0) 8.0 0 1 4 5

 

All of a sudden, over those five games, Gallardo had a 1.29 ERA, a 3.08 BB/9, a 5.14 H/9 and a K/9 of 8.74.  His strikeout rate isn't quite up to his career levels, but those are utterly dominant numbers.

It is, of course, important to note the opponents faced as well.  The Giants, despite currently being four games above .500, were without star Buster Posey and also had Pablo Sandoval, Mike Fontenot, and Mark Derosa on the DL.  They also didn't play starters Cody Ross or Miguel Tejada.  San Francisco has also scored the third least amount of runs in the Major Leagues.  The Padres have scored the second least amount of runs in the majors.  The Pirates, the sixth least.  The Nationals, the eighth least.  The only good offense Gallardo has had to face was the St. Louis Cardinals, who were one run behind the Reds for most in the majors despite Albert Pujols struggling. 

Still, though, one can't discount just how good Gallardo had been in those starts.  His start against the Cardinals may arguably have been the best of the five, and Gallardo wasn't just good over this stretch; he was completely dominant. Even if he were pitching against the best teams in the majors it seemed like Gallardo would be able to knock them down.

One personal theory of mine is that Gallardo's pitch selection may have had something to do with his struggles and subsequent resurgence.  Gallardo throws five different pitches: a four seamer, a two seamer, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup. According to Texas Leaguers' pitch f/x tool, here is how often Gallardo threw each pitch from July 7, 2010 to May 2, 2011:

Pitch Selection %
Four Seamer 51.8%
Curveball 21.8%
Slider 21.1%
Two Seamer 3.3%
Changeup 2.1%

 

Contrast that to his selection from May 7 to May 26 (texas leaguers doesn't have the info for today's game yet):

Pitch Selection %
Four Seamer 35%
Two Seamer 24%
Curveball 22.9%
Slider 17.4%
Changeup 0.7%

 

All of a sudden, Gallardo started throwing his two seamer a lot more, his four seamer a lot less, his slider somewhat more, and his curveball somewhat less. 

The big difference, of course, is in the fastballs. The four-seamer is also known as a more straight fastball, though it tends to give off the illusion that it rises as it approaches the hitter.  The two-seamer is designed to have more movement.  Perhaps Gallardo and pitching coach Rick Kranitz decided to make the change and start throwing it more after seeing how hard hit Yovani had been?  His career numbers are very similar to that first graph of pitch selections.  Since he was called up to the big leagues, Yovani has only used his two seamer 3.3% of the time.  

Maybe big league hitters all of a sudden did figure out Yovani Gallardo and learned how to hit him.  Maybe the change to a more balanced four pitch attack reflects that.  Or, it could be that this is just a four game sample aberration and Gallardo will go right back to following his career trend of throwing the four seamer over 50% of the time.  Maybe his pitch selection has a lot to do with his sudden change in numbers, maybe it has very little to do with it.

One thing is for sure, Gallardo has been dealing and we Brewers fans sure hope he can keep it up.

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