Update: The Orioles physical process has claimed another victim. Due to some holdup, maybe with his shoulder, the Orioles have renegotiated the terms of the contract. The new terms according to Roch Kubatko of MASN are these: two-year contract at $20 million total with a $2 million buyout or $13 million team option for a third year.
It's the latter part of February, and the Baltimore Orioles are in the unenviable position of still piecing together their 25-man roster. With the departure of Wei-Yin Chen, a less-than-stellar rotation in 2015 had a major hole in it going into 2016.
Over the weekend, the O's penned long-time Brewer, and 2015 Ranger, Yovani Gallardo to a three-year, $35 million deal with a team option for a fourth season at $13 million or a $2 million buy-out. Gallardo has been a consistent starting pitcher his entire career regardless of where he has pitched, and Baltimore is hoping for more of the same.
The Brewers drafted Gallardo in 2004, and he served as a major part of their 2007 rotation at just 21 years of age. Since 2009, Gallardo has started at least 30 games, thrown at least 180 innings, and posted an fWAR of at least 2.0. He has demonstrated success as a durable mid-rotation starter his entire career, even in sometimes challenging pitching environments such as Texas' Globe Life Park, a home park ranked the fifth-most hitter friendly in 2015, and homer-rific Miller Park.
Although Miller Park mostly profiles as a neutral run environment, it has always profiled as one conducive to home runs. Gallardo remained largely unaffected by the longball, which should bode well for the Orioles. In three of the last four seasons, Oriole Park has been in the top five for home run environments, and last season Baltimore was the second-most home-run friendly park in baseball (behind Milwaukee).
Gallardo started his career primarily relying on a four-seam fastball supplemented by a slider and curveball. As his career has developed, he halved the usage of the fastball, added in a sinker, and increased the usage of his offspeed pitches.
*an injury-plagued 2008 forced him to pitch only 24 Major League innings
There's nothing overly remarkable about Gallardo's repertoire, but the results are uncanny. The reason for the consistent production despite a declining strikeout rate (which has precipitously dropped from striking out 22 to 25 percent of hitters to 15 percent in 2015) has to do with inducing ground balls.
Worm-burners are Gallardo's forte and the reason he's still a more-than-serviceable rotation option. Over the last three years, approximately 50 percent of the batters he's faced have put the ball on the ground. Despite the declining strikeouts and consistently average walk rate, he remains effective thanks to a ground-ball percentage that ranked 24th in all of baseball last year. His four-seam fastball has always generated more grounders than most four-seam fastballs largely due to his arm-side mechanics, and the other pitches follow suit.
The slider produced a decent amount of worm-burners last year. In 2015, the pitch ranked as the eighth-fastest in the majors, yet he still had the second-worst whiff rate compared to every other starter in the game who threw the pitch at least 200 times. Gallardo did do well however to garner ground balls, which he induced 51 percent of the time from the pitch.
Gallardo's ground-ball effectiveness and minimal home run rate are ideal for Baltimore considering their solid defense. He is unlikely to give up many fly balls, resulting in a home run per nine under one.
The Orioles have a potent offense, decent defense, and strong bullpen. Their starting pitching will be their Achilles' Heel (more on this on Thursday), but for a team that did not have a solidified rotation this close to spring training, Baltimore did well to sign Gallardo. Considering the terms, they could have done a lot worse (cough Ian Kennedy cough).