Yovani Gallardo, velocity drop, and throwing a lot of pitches

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

How does Yovani Gallardo compare to other pitchers who have made a lot of starts and thrown a lot of pitches since 2009?

Yovani Gallardo has had a rough year in 2013. That's pretty undeniable. His velocity is famously down, he has given up a bunch of runs, and dominant stretches have been increasingly rare for the man who was supposed to be the Brewers ace.

After hearing so much about how Gallardo has "so many pitches on his arm", I was curious to see just how many he had thrown. Because he missed nearly all of the 2008 season due to his freak leg injury, I decided to look at his career since 2009, when he was still just 23 years old. That's a span of four and a half seasons to present day.

However, just looking at Gallardo's pitches alone wasn't enough. Total number of pitches is a really abstract concept. It's hard to picture just what is "a lot of pitches." So while I could see that Gallardo has thrown 15,590 pitches since the start of the 2009 season, I had no idea what that meant. Was that a lot in the grand scheme of things? It seemed like a lot, but wouldn't most pitchers who stayed healthy throw a comparatively similar number of pitches?

To find the answers to that, I decided to look and see how many pitches other starters had thrown over the same time frame. Gallardo had started 150 games since 2009, so I looked at those with the same number of starts. I cut it off at those with 140 starts or more. I figured 28 pitchers is a decent sample size.

Player Age Starts since '09 Pitches thrown Pitches/start ERA since '09 FIP since '09 ERA in '13 FIP in '13 Fastball velocity change (MPH) since 2009
Paul Maholm 31 140 13460 96.14 4.26 3.99 4.41 4.2 -1.7
Wandy Rodriguez 34 140 13946 99.61 3.47 3.82 3.59 4.41 -0.9
Ervin Santana 30 140 14306 102.19 4.06 4.49 3.03 3.68 -0.2
Ricky Nolasco 30 143 13862 96.94 4.54 3.62 3.72 3.49 -1.2
Jered Weaver 30 144 15137 105.12 2.97 3.48 2.84 3.33 -1.8
Cliff Lee 34 144 15107 104.91 2.99 2.9 3.05 3.17 -0.5
Zack Greinke 29 145 14834 102.30 3.38 3.02 3.43 3.75 -2.3
Trevor Cahill 25 145 14143 97.54 3.96 4.34 4.66 4.35 -0.3
Joe Saunders 32 147 14377 97.80 4.26 4.63 4.65 4.43 -1.1
Max Scherzer 29 147 15216 103.51 3.79 3.58 3.01 2.71 -0.3
A.J. Burnett 36 148 14774 99.82 4.25 4.18 2.86 3.06 -1.9
Edwin Jackson 29 148 15001 101.36 4.06 3.83 4.65 3.45 -1.6
Ryan Dempster 36 148 15170 102.50 3.98 4 4.24 4.83 -1.2
Jeremy Guthrie 34 148 15157 102.41 4.43 4.89 4.22 5.32 0.2
Cole Hamels 29 149 15213 102.10 3.4 3.45 4.09 3.57 1.1
Ubaldo Jimenez 29 150 15593 103.95 4.03 3.83 4.17 4.52 -4.1
Jon Lester 29 150 15703 104.69 3.82 3.62 4.27 4.04 -1.6
Yovani Gallardo 27 150 15590 103.93 3.86 3.7 4.91 4.05 -1.6
Mark Buerhle 34 150 14956 99.71 3.92 4.13 4.27 4.11 -1.3
CC Sabathia 33 151 16093 106.58 3.42 3.4 4.65 4.13 -3.1
Clayton Kershaw 25 151 15809 104.70 2.48 2.8 1.87 2.46 -1.6
Bronson Arroyo 36 151 14657 97.07 4 4.71 3.26 4.24 -1.5
Dan Haren 32 151 15584 103.21 3.79 3.61 5.49 4.58 -1.4
Tim Lincecum 29 152 15909 104.66 3.54 3.23 4.61 3.69 -2.3
Matt Cain 28 152 15753 103.64 3.16 3.53 4.79 3.99 0.5
James Shields 31 154 16238 105.44 3.74 3.73 3.09 3.53 1.4
Felix Hernandez 27 156 16677 106.90 2.75 2.95 2.34 2.48 -2.4
Justin Verlander 30 158 17857 113.02 3.08 2.99 3.88 3.42 -1.9

All stats current as of Thursday morning.

There are a lot of really good pitchers thrown into the mix there. Most of the top pitchers the past five years, in fact. That makes sense--a pitcher isn't likely to start this many games unless they remain competitive.

Would you look at that, though. Gallardo isn't alone in his drop in velocity. In fact, of 28 pitchers with 140+ starts since '09, just four have seen an increase in their velocity. Nineteen of the pitchers saw their velocity drop by over a mile per hour. Some actually would have been even drastic had I gone from peak velocity over the five year span to current velocity. For example, Jered Weaver topped out at 90.1 MPH in 2010, which would mean a drop of 3.2 MPH in his velocity rather than -1.8 since '09.

Further, the majority of these pitchers (18 of 28) have a worse ERA in 2013 than their 4.5-year ERA. Gallardo is one of eight pitchers whose ERA is over half a run worse. Sixteen of these pitchers' 2013 FIPs are worse than their average since 2009, as well.

Some pitchers like Kershaw and Hernandez have been able to be dominant despite losing some of their muster. Others, like Gallardo, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, CC Sabathia, and even Justin Verlander have not.

To me, this is further proof that throwing a lot of pitches over a number of years can result in ineffectiveness. Whether that ineffectiveness is short-term or long-term is another question. It makes me think that Gallardo's current DL stint isn't a bad thing, though. Even if there is nothing overtly wrong with his arm, he has been used a lot over the past five seasons and has stayed relatively healthy, thus not getting a break often. In my opinion, it might just be better to shut him down for the year and give his arm some well-deserved rest.

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