From 2009-2012, Yovani Gallardo was about as consistent as a MLB pitcher could be. Each year featured at least 200 strikeouts and an ERA between 3.50 and 3.75 for the Milwaukee Brewers. The 2013 season was slightly different for Yo, as he faced some challenges on and off the field.
Look for Gallardo to return to form in 2014 if he improves in one statistical area: first-pitch strikes.
Taking a quick step back, however, last season was the first-year Gallardo was pitching without his mom, after she passed away the previous November. It’s impossible to gauge the impact that loss has on an individual trying to perform at the highest level. She was only 46 and had a big influence on his career.
Tack on his short, rushed spring training to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, a drunken driving arrest and an injury that sent him to the disabled list, and it may have just been one of those years.
Of course, his lack of success has some statistical data to explain it as well.
In 2013, Gallardo threw his first pitch for a strike only 55.9 percent of the time, his lowest efficiency in that category in four years. Falling behind hitters on a regular basis is a recipe for disaster, especially that opening pitch. It’s particularly dangerous when a pitcher throws a straight fastball and is prone to giving up the long ball.
Gallardo fits the bill and he has been notorious for nibbling around the zone in his career, and doing that on the first pitch hurt him dearly a year ago.
Giving a hitter the early edge in the count also affects other aspects of the at-bats. For example, batters swung at more of Gallardo’s pitches in the strike zone than ever before. That’s a result of Gallardo being forced to throw fastballs for strikes when trailing in the count. They know it’s coming, sit on the fastball, and take a rip.
Hitters also made contact over 90 percent of the time when they swung at a pitch in the zone, the worst of Gallardo’s career. This again illustrates the ease at which they could rely on a fastball in the hitting zone they could handle. Not surprisingly, those confident hacks led to more line drives. Of the balls contacted against Gallardo, more than 23 percent went for line drives, the balls in play most likely to be a hit. That was more than two percent higher than 2012 and more than six percent worse than in 2011.
Furthermore, when hitters get ahead in the count, they can lay off his 12-to-6 curveball that dives out of the zone. Gallardo relies on that pitch to get swings and misses, but if they don’t have a strike or two on them, it’s easier to take and is rarely thrown for a strike.
When Yo has the advantage in the count, then they need to worry about protecting against the curve, making it more feasible to sneak a fastball by a hitter.
That simply wasn’t the case last season as batters swung and missed at less than seven percent of strikes thrown, the lowest total in Gallardo’s career.
I’m confident 2014 will be a bounce-back season for the Brewers’ longest-tenured pitcher. He will have a normal spring to fully and properly prepare for the regular season. And while he’ll always miss his mom, time helps to heal those wounds and allows individuals to manager their emotions, focus and energy.
Every pitcher has a tough year or two, but consistent arms like Gallardo’s quickly veer back to their norm. Not to mention, the Crew has a solid rotation to take the pressure off his shoulders. He even has a potentially nice payday waiting for him next year if he produces this season.
All these factors will lead to a more confident hurler, one that will be willing to attack the hitter with his first pitch, setting himself up for success, and enabling him to effectively utilize his entire repertoire.