Fantasy Baseball NL Beat: A Starting Pitcher Conundrum - Yovani Gallardo

by on May 4, 2011 @ 12:36:42 PDT


Christoper Kreush

It is widely known that many a fantasy player spends a relatively small amount of their resources - whether it is auction dollars or high draft picks - on pitching. The main reasons for this are pitching isn't as reliable as hitting year-to-year and more viable pitching emerges on the waiver wire each year than does hitting. Yet it is often the case that nothing causes more grief and frustration for fantasy owners than poor pitching performances.

It all comes down to numbers. On a standard size roster there are 14 hitters as opposed to nine pitchers so a bad performance by a hitter can be better absorbed by the team as a whole than a bad outing by a pitcher. In addition, a healthy offensive player will provide up to 162 games of stats whereas a pitcher will only provide as many as 33 games of stats. A hitless streak of 20 at bats for the batter is less than 4 percent of his potential total while a streak of five bad starts is about 15 percent of the potential number of games for the pitcher.

So we have a sort of Catch 22. The better, more reliable starting pitchers cost a lot of money but we don't want to spend a lot on pitching because of the inherent unreliability of pitchers in general. Now we'll take a look at one of those pitchers that cost a good amount of a player's budget but isn't living up to their cost.

Milwaukee Brewers SP Yovani Gallardo
Gallardo: falling behind

The Milwaukee Brewers have a new ace in town by the name of Zack Greinke, although he has yet to appear in a regular season game. Prior to 2011, however, the ace for the past couple of years was Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo came to the big leagues with a lot of hoopla and a strikeout rate in the minors that, at its worst, was still an impressive 9.89 per nine innings. So a lot was expected of Gallardo from the moment he arrived in Milwaukee. For the most part he delivered even though some expected more.

In 2009 (his first full season), Yovani went 13-12 with 204 strikeouts in 185 2/3 innings - a rate of 9.89 strikeouts per nine. He allowed too many walks, however (4.56/9), which contributed to a WHIP of 1.31 for the year. His ERA for the season was 3.73. All in all a very useful fantasy season for the rookie.

Due to his successful debut season, it was expected Gallardo would take a step forward in 2010 and the results on the whole didn't disappoint. Yovani improved his record to 14-7 with 200 strikeouts in 185 innings. At 9.73 K/9, he kept his strikeout rate at the fantasy gold level. Further improving on the previous year, walks per nine were down almost 1.00 and home runs per nine were cut almost in half. ERA was up slightly to 3.84 due in large part to a decrease in strand rate from almost 78 percent to just under 70 percent.

Due to two successful seasons, much was expected from Gallardo entering 2011. However, he has bitterly disappointed his owners. We have reached the point where he has already made seven starts, a little more than 20 percent or about one-fifth of his projected starts, and his record is two wins against two losses. But that isn't the whole story. In 41 1/3 innings of work, Yovani only has 30 strikeouts which equates to a paltry 6.53/9 - a little more than half of what it was the past two seasons. His walk rate (3.70/9) hasn't improved a bit over last year, and he has allowed more than one hit per inning - which would make it the first time in his career he's surpassed this mark.

While Gallardo's ground ball rate is up and his fly ball rate is down from last year, he is allowing home runs at a rate per fly ball nearly 50% higher than 2010 - from 7.1% to 12.2%. Further hurting him is another decrease in strand rate as more runners getting on base are reaching home plate which has led to an ERA of 6.10 to go along with a 1.69 WHIP. The combination of more hitters reaching base, more fly balls leaving the park and fewer strikeouts when they are needed is taking its toll.

So what is the source of Yovani's woes? His pitch selection isn't drastically different from last year with an almost identical amount of fastballs while the number of sliders is up a bit and curveballs and changeups are down a bit. Looking further, the velocity on all his pitches is right in line as well with his fastball and slider sitting at 92 and 86 miles per hour respectively. But there are a few things that stick out a bit.

First, the percentage of pitches a hitter is swinging at is up from 40.8% to 42.4% and the total percentage a batter makes contact is up as well from 78.8% to 82.6%. Second, the percentage of first pitch strikes is down a whopping 10 percent from 61.8% to 51.3%. Adding it up, to me this says that Yovani is missing the plate more on his first pitch and is getting too much of the plate afterwards to try to avoid walking hitters. As a result, they are not only getting a good look but getting good wood on the ball and squaring it up off him. The fact that his percentage of strikes swung at and missed is also down considerably (from 8.4% to 7.1%) is also indicative of working more towards the middle of the plate instead of on the corners where hitters would be more apt to let strikes go by.

So what's the bottom line? For me, Gallardo is a buy candidate. The fact there's no decrease in velocity indicates there isn't any underlying injury that's causing him to perform badly. All the evidence is pointing towards pitch location being too fat instead of something more sinister and this could be fixed fairly easily if he starts being more judicial with where he's putting the ball. I'll live with a slightly higher walk rate if the hits against come down and the strikeouts shoot back up. The end result will be lower ratios and more chances to pick up some victories not to mention owners that can sleep fitfully at night.

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