Who Does Number Two Work For?

What is Yovani Gallardo worth? Is he a “#2 starter?”

By most accounts Yovani Gallardo is having a bad year. It’s hard to dispute that opinion except to say that some of his peripherals aren’t as bad as the results have been.  Gallardo has been a divisive figure his entire time as a Brewer. In his younger days he teased everyone with ace potential, but his inability to put guys away consistently basically cemented him as a solid 2nd tier pitcher who would still occasionally flash brilliance, but who, more often than not, would be exiting having pitched about five and two thirds innings.

Gallardo has been, without question, a valuable asset and I’m not sure it was ever fair to hold him to such lofty expectations.   The fact is that since 2009 he has never thrown fewer than 180 innings in a season, and he’s very likely to exceed that total again. It is, in fact, very likely that he will exceed 200 IP for the third straight year. In addition to being quite durable outside of a freak Reed Johnson-related injury, he is also just 27 and under contract for one more year for $11.25 million with a team option in 2015 for $13 million. While he’s not super cheap, getting 200 innings of above average starting pitching on the open market isn’t cheap either.

If you’re another team looking at Yo, what do you see? Well, you probably see the troubling things first. Yo’s strikeout rate is a career low 7.2/9. You all already knew that.

Behind the strikeouts I suspect we have a guy who has actually adjusted pretty well to diminishing skills, but who has been victimized by bad defense.  For instance:

  1. We know the Brewers are the worst team in baseball at turning ground balls into outs. Yay.
  2. Yovani has a career high GB rate at 49.9%, and a 1.87 GB/FB ratio.
  3. His LD% is up a bit, but not catastrophically so. It was worse in 2010. And in any case,
  4. He has a career low FB% and
  5. Only 12.1% of those are leaving the yard, his lowest since 2010’s freakishly low 7.1%
  6. And if you’re looking for another indictment of his infield defense, his bunt hit % is also at a career high.

Anyway, while Gallardo is allowing more balls in play than he ever has before, the quality of a lot of those balls isn’t actually that great, and a more competent defense might have saved his ERA from looking like such a disaster. You can see this in his 3.80 xFIP.  Last year it was 3.55. Not a huge difference. Back in 2009 it was 3.71. I think Yovani Gallardo can still be an effective pitcher. The biggest problem with him is that even at his best, he’s really never been a top-flight trade candidate for a contender.  Here’s why.

So what’s a #1 starter (or a #2 starter, or 3 or whatever)?  We can debate this endlessly, but it’s definitely not as simple as #1= top 30, #2 = 30-60, especially for pitchers, and especially for pitchers you may trade.

The reason for this is simple: a team like the Tigers has 3 of the best ten pitchers in baseball this year by WAR, and none of those is Justin Verlander. Yo may be a “#2” pitcher in the abstract, but on the Tigers, a team that is contending and therefore more likely to buy at the deadline, he’s no better than a #5, if even that.  Contending teams, by their nature, employ good pitchers already.  It’s easy to have a hole in your offense. When the Brewers had Casey McGehee and upgraded to Aramis Ramirez, the upgrade was enormous. For a starting pitching staff though, adding any given pitcher displaces the #5 starter.

Gallardo’s career high ERA+ for a season is 112. On the Red Sox that makes him a #3. On Tampa this year that would squeak in as a #3 just ahead of Matt Moore, but really, c’mon.  He’s a 3 on the Braves with that number. Cards? 5. Pirates? 5.  Reds? 6. Maybe 7. Texas? 5. Arizona? 3. The Dodgers? 4.

See any 2s on that list?

ERA+ isn’t the best stat, but keep in mind that:

  1. 112 is Yo’s BEST EVER outside of an awesome rookie season where he only threw 110 IP, and
  2. He’s only at 86 this year, and
  3. His skills have been noticeably eroding, so
  4. It’s unlikely that he will be that good again.

Yo’s career FIP is 3.66. That makes him a 4 on the Cardinals, a 4 on the Reds, a 3-ish on the Braves, a 3 or 4 on the Red Sox, a 4 on the Rays, a 5 or 6 on the Tigers, a 3 on the Indians, and a 3 on the Dodgers.  Again, see any 2s on that list?

So Yo is a #2, probably for some teams. Some teams that have failed to develop starting pitching for a while. Some rebuilding teams.  Maybe a team filled with aging veterans.  But if you think you have a #2 pitcher who you can trade to a contending team, think again. They’ve almost certainly already got that guy. Consider further that in the playoffs your rotation is shortened. Does Yo make the Tiger’s post-season roster at all?

Yo can still be valuable to a contender, but he’s not jumping to the front of a rotation for a contender, he’s bumping the last guy out, and there are a ton of guys who are capable of doing that.

If the Brewer front office is going to be waiting for #2 offers to come in for Yo, they’re going to be waiting a long time.

2 thoughts on “Who Does Number Two Work For?

  1. Nice article, but no mention of velocity drop or command problems? That is the whole story right there. The Brewers notoriously short sighted FO is waiting for #2 SP return on Gallardo this year and will never get it. They will demand this high price is some pipe dream scenario where this years Brewers are bad because of injury and bad luck, not because they just arent a good team. They will ask a high price for him because they believe that if they keep him, he will regain his form, and 2014 then becomes a bounce back contending year again. The main question is: Would you rather get something, anything for a guy whose skills are diminishing and while your team is in decline? Or would you rather pay cheaply for an underperforming pitcher?

  2. Yo’s fastball has been covered to death, at least where I’ve been reading. I agree that his days as anything close to a 2 are done, and it’s silly not to trade him. By the time they contend again he’ll probably be fringe-y.

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