In order to figure out why Yovani Gallardo struggled so much in 2013, I had to do a little digging. And what I found jumped out at me. Gallardo’s underachievement can be narrowed down to a single statistic: pitch count.
The principal reason for his struggles came down to not being able to pitch deep into ball games – not necessarily because he was giving up runs (although a 4.18 ERA is nothing to smile about) but because he couldn’t resist getting into deep counts. Gallardo started 31 games in 2013 but threw over 100 pitches before reaching the eighth inning 15 times. He reached 90 pitches before the fifth inning on four occasions.
Part of staying away from deep pitch counts is throwing strikes, something Gallardo had a tough time doing. Take a look at this chart:Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com
For someone who’s supposed to be the ace of the pitching staff, he’s obviously below average at throwing strikes. Furthermore, Gallardo also underachieved at getting swings-and-misses. In 2013, the MLB average for the percentage of whiffs a pitcher creates with his four-seam fastball was 6.03%. Gallardo only managed 3.7% because of his drop in velocity. Since 2010, the velocity on his fastball has decreased by 2 MPH. Now, instead of throwing close to the mid-90’s, Gallardo is barely averaging 90 MPH. That’s a big deal.
Now, like many good pitchers, Gallardo does a nice job of keeping the ball down in the zone. His pitch location is not why he had a down year.Courtesy of FanGraphs.com
Last season, Gallardo held hitters to a .256 batting average but had to battle each at bat. He threw 3048 pitches in 180.2 innings. To put that in perspective, Zack Greinke, who pitched 177.2 innings, tossed only 2814 pitches. So even though Gallardo pitched only three more innings than Greinke, he threw 234 more pitches. Crazy.
Dealing with high pitch counts has always haunted Gallardo but 2013 was Halloween all year long for him. He must find a way to go right after hitters and learn how to put them away before his pitch count soars. His inability to manage his pitches is not just his fault – some of the blame must be given to pitching coach Rick Kranitz. If Kranitz is incapable of teaching Gallardo how to limit his pitches per inning, then he has no place on a coaching staff.
Gallardo’s time in Milwaukee could be drawing to an end. He’s not the lights-out pitcher the Brewers expected him to be but he’s a nice piece in a starting rotation. With one year left on his contract (the Brewers have a team option in 2015), Doug Melvin could be tempted to trade the right-hander.