It's probably best not to sugarcoat this one: this was Yovani's worst season as a major leaguer. If you are into such things, he won the fewest games of any season since his rookie year of 2007. More importantly he had the lowest strikeout rate of his career, the lowest FIP-based WAR outside of his torn-ACL plagued 2008, and had an ugly run-in with the law back in April. If the Brewers were going to compete this year, Gallardo was going to have a monster season, and he did not.
Fortunately, not all is/was lost. It is not like we are talking about a guy that needs to be dumped; good players have down seasons. They always have, and they always will. This season was not a disaster compared to anything other than our own expectations for him, Gallardo was about an average MLB starter this year, and that is something that has value for a pitching staff. It just was not good enough for a team that needed him to be well above-average to contend.
Now after building Gallardo back up I am going to throw a hard caveat into play and clarify that I am actually a bit worried about his long-term success, and it is mostly because of his long-term velocity trending down. Here's a graph from Fangraphs: the vertical lines represent his variation within each game, and the green circles his average in each game. It is pretty easy to see that he averaged between 92 and 93 in his fantastic 2011 season, and that this year he averaged between 90 and 91 and barely topped out at what he used to do regularly.
A lot of pitchers have their velocity diminish with time and stay effective or even improve by trying new pitch sequences or improving their control. It does not appear that Gallardo is at that stage yet. The plan that in the past has worked for him was roughly a 60/20/20 split between his fastballs and slider/curve breaking ball combo, mixing in a few changeups on occasion to keep batters honest. This year, maybe aware of there being a bit less life on his fastball, it looks like he began trying to vary his fastball more by mixing in more sinkers/2-seamers and throwing more breaking balls. Particularly interesting is this trend by month, of percentage of sliders/curves thrown by Yovani: 38, 39, 47, 53, 43, 48, 47 in progression from April through September. Though still a relatively young pitcher, that looks to me like he is trying to find the new mix that can compensate for the missing velocity on his fastball.
2014 is a big year for Yovani. If he gets some velocity back and goes back to being the pitcher we saw in 2010-2012, it will go a long way toward helping the Brewers remain in contention next year (which I think is possible, for the record). If it does not come back, he is going to have to figure out the new optimal mix that allows him to improve on the performance from last year. The third option, a repeat of this year's performance, means the Brewers get the same average-ish pitcher they got this year and they likely bid him farewell and thank him for the memories next November and spend the $13 million elsewhere. I'm hoping for option 1.
It is very telling that Gallardo only went past 7 innings in one start in 2013. His season high in strikeouts was just 7. Considering all the iconic games that Gallardo has started (and won) for the Brewers in his career it seems pretty underwhelming to face the options from this year. I will give honorable mentions to his 8 scoreless innings against Miami on June 10th (4 K, 1 BB) and to 6 scoreless in Pittsburgh against a much better team on August 29th (5 K, 1 BB). But my pick is April 18th, back from a simpler time when the Brewers were still in contention and the Ryan Braun storm was not-a-brewin', when the Brewers beat the Giants 7-2 (oddly enough a week after Gallardo's DUI arrest). Yovani threw 6 innings, gave up 1 run, struck out 6, and walked 1, but more importantly did this:
You can also see Gallardo's six strikeouts here:
Gallardo makes $11.25 million in 2014, the final year of the contract he signed back in his pre-arbitration days. The Brewers hold a $13 million club option for 2015.
**As always, check out Brooks Baseball's player card for Yovani Gallardo to check out more information.
Previous MVBrewers posts can be seen at the links below: