The Orioles signed Yovani Gallardo to be an innings eater. From 2009 to 2015, Gallardo fit the bill, making at least 30 starts and throwing at least 180 innings every year. This season, he’s been ... not that. Over 10 starts, he’s thrown only 48.1 innings, which means he’s averaging under five innings per start. Gallardo also had a DL stint for shoulder tendinitis and missed about two months of game time. I guess it’s a good thing the Orioles did not make a long-term commitment.
Even when Gallardo’s been on the mound, he has not been particularly effective. A triple slash of 5.77 / 5.12 / 5.72 ERA / FIP / xFIP does not lead to much confidence, nor does a K-BB% of 2.3 percent. Gallardo has had difficulty keeping hitters off the base paths; maybe his shorter outings are a blessing? In a bad disguise?
You could blame a velocity decrease. The juice on his four-seam fastball is down about 1.5 mph from last year, though a good portion of that decrease was before his DL stint. He’s up around 90-91 for his post-DL outings, but that’s actually still a little down from 91.6 last year.
Case closed? Nah, not quite.
Zoom in on that four-seam fastball a little more. Enhance it, even. Enhance it again. Here’s Gallardo’s average vertical location of that pitch over the years.
Gallardo is throwing the pitch higher than he ever has - somewhat disregard that 2008 point as it contains all of 24 innings of data. Consequently, Gallardo’s normally good ground-ball tendencies have switched to the opposite side. His 40.4 ground-ball rate this season is well below his career 46.5 percent rate and even more below his last three years of ground ball data (all at least 49 percent).
It does not necessarily seem like this is a conscious choice. Back in April, Gallardo noted he was trying to keep the ball down:
The fastballs I was throwing, they were up, they were a little bit too much over the plate. Earlier in the game, I was locating the fastballs down and I think that's going to happen.
This has been fairly steady through the season. The game in which Gallardo located his fastball the lowest was back on April 22nd against the Royals, after which he was placed on the disabled list. He threw only two innings that game. His location has moved back up since coming back from the disabled list.
If it is conscious, there is maybe some logic behind the decision. Gallardo’s fastball is definitely in the class of rising fastballs, but the whiffs have never followed. The whiff rate on his four-seam fastball has hovered around 6-7 percent, except for 2013 and 2014 when it was below five percent.
However, most of Gallardo’s whiffs on the four-seam fastball have come since his return from the DL. In addition, all three of his infield fly balls as tracked by FanGraphs have come since his return from the DL. The goal in locating a rising fastball higher is to get whiffs and popups while allowing more fly balls and potentially more home runs. Overall, the whiffs and popups have not come, but maybe they’ll come post-DL.
They’ll need to. Gallardo’s HR/FB has not gone up, but the increase in fly balls has meant more home runs. That’s not going to work if he can’t keep people off the basepaths.
Kevin Ruprecht is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review.