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Yovani Gallardo's Opening Day

In which we check in on Gallardo's velocity and pitch selection during his six shutout innings in the Brewers win over the Braves.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

We've devoted a fair amount of offseason attention to Yovani Gallardo here at BCB; I've written about him here and here and Derek contributed his thoughts last week here. His 2013 season was his worst as a major leaguer and a lot of the hope of contention this year might hinge on his ability to bounce back. The problems from last year were numerous; his strikeouts were way down and his swinging strike percentage (a good proxy for nastiness of stuff) was at a career low. His fastball velocity was also down all year, and it seemed as though he was trying to compensate for having less velocity by:

1) Throwing fastballs with more movement, mixing in a 2-seam sinker more often.

2) Throwing fewer fastballs overall and relying more heavily on his slider, while holding the number of curves roughly steady.

3) Basically eliminating his changeup, throwing it only about 1-2% of the time, likely because the gap between average fastball and average changeup shrunk to about 5-6 miles per hour. An 8 mph gap is generally considered ideal.

So how did things go today? The results were solid: 6 innings, 4 hits, 4 K, 2 BB, 0 ER. The reviews were not all positive, though-- Gallardo was behind in the count a lot, and just watching it did not make it appear to be a dominating start. So let's dig a bit deeper.

Fastball Velocity

Overall fastball average: 91.7

Average FB velocity by inning: 91.9, 92.0, 91.6, 92.1, 90.9, 90.9

Max FB in each inning: 93.2, 93.0, 92.2, 93.2, 92.0, 91.6

I am going to interpret this overall as good news. In straight-up average fastball velocity, Gallardo averaged 91.7 back in 2012 and fell 1 mph to 90.7 in 2013. Being back up at the 2012 average in game one is a positive development. Also consider that as a general rule, historically Gallardo (like many pitchers) has worked his way up to peak velocity in the summer months and is not at full strength on Opening Day.

This velocity profile described here is fairly typical of what we saw for Gallardo in the middle and later parts of last season. Back in 2011, Gallardo would routinely average 92.5-93 and max out over 95. It does not look like we are going to get those days back, but Yovani had success in 2012 with the kind of velocity he showed today. That's good news, especially if he can keep working that average upwards as we head into the summer months.

One side note: a casual look may make it seem like Gallardo's heavier reliance on the 2-seam sinking fastball might be keeping his fastball velocity down in exchange for more movement. I am skeptical to draw that conclusion. For one, I have had a long-term, well-documented skepticism towards Pitch f/x algorithms classifying pitches between 2- and 4-seamers. Empirically, today the pitches that Brooks Baseball called "2-seam sinkers" were actually thrown harder than "4-seam fastballs". I tend to treat all fastballs just as fastballs for that reason.

Pitch Selection

Gallardo talked a lot about his curveball in Spring Training, but we all know that pitchers like to babble about new emphasis on pitches all the time and then just tend to end up doing the same things they always do. My main interest here is to see if his pitch selection was more in line with last year or his career, which might tell us if he made a conscious effort to change things up this spring. We cannot really draw any real conclusions from only one game (particularly because lefty/righty matchups within one game can really mess up pitch selection data), but that's not going to stop us from looking at it.

Overall: 57% fastballs, 23% sliders, 21% curves, 0 changeups

vs. Lefties: 72% fastballs, 5% sliders, 24% curves

vs. Righties: 52% fastballs, 28% sliders, 20% curves

For one thing, it looks like the changeup has been shelved again, maybe for good. That fastball percentage overall is a bit higher than it was last year, which is something that I pinpointed in the offseason and thought would be a good thing-- but it comes out to only about 2 fastballs thrown today instead of breaking pitches, so I'm not ready to say anything about him recommitting to it. Maybe the most interesting thing today, though, is the split against lefties; he opted for a fastball/curve tandem against them today (5 curves and only 1 slider), compared to last year when he threw each pitch over 20% of the time against them. Maybe it's scouting against Atlanta batters or maybe there's something more there. Either way, we will be paying close attention.

*Thanks, as always, to Brooks Baseball for saving me time on the velocity numbers.