The Anatomy of Galarraga’s Strong Start

When I saw Armando Garlarraga‘s performance last night and decided to write up a bit about him, I wondered if it would be possible to do so without mentioning the perfect game that wasn’t. Clearly I decided that such a mention was necessary, at least at this stage. It still is, and will continue to be for some time, Galarraga’s defining moment.

It is also the highlight in what is so far a very good start of the season for Galarraga. With his peripherals, a 2.67 ERA is certainly unsustainable — his 4.50 FIP and 4.91 xFIP speak to that — but a few things have changed for Galarraga. These small changes could make his 2010 season look more like his 2008 campaign than his 2009 hit parade.

Here are a few observations from Galarraga’s five starts and one relief appearance.

Better control

You can see it right in his Dashboard: Galarraga hasn’t walked many batters in his 33.2 IP this season. He is neither a strikeout nor a groundball pitcher, so keeping hitters off base can be be a bit of a problem. One way this type of pitcher can mitigate his situation is by issuing few free passes. Galarraga has walked just seven so far. Even more impressive: he walked three in his first start against the Red Sox, meaning he was walked just four in his last four in his last 28 IP.

A high walk rate was part of Galarraga’s undoing last season. He walked 4.20 per nine after keeping that number around three per nine in 2008. More walks plus a normal BABIP equals a ballooning ERA. If Galarraga can keep his walk rate in the 2 to 2.5 per nine range, he might be able to stave off disaster once his BABIP rises from its current .212 mark.

More bad contact

Galarraga has missed fewer bats this year than ever before. With just 13 strikeouts and a 6.4 percent swinging strike rate, his fielders will have to do plenty of work. Thankfully for them, the work hasn’t been all that arduous. Galarraga has been inducing poor contact, taking pressure off the defense that has to turn plenty of plays behind him.

Specifically, Galarraga’s line drive rate is way down, 12.7 percent. In 2007 he was at 16.8 percent, and I’d expect a regression to somewhere around that mark, if not a bit higher, by year’s end. His O-Swing% is actually down compared to the league average, but his O-Contact percentage is way, way up. He never even got to a league average level in 08 and 09, but this year he’s well above, 74.1 percent against the 66.4 percent average. Finally, hitters haven’t been hitting the ball far in the air, as just four of his 48 fly balls have left the park, which constitutes a mark below his career HR/FB rate of 12.7 percent.

Getting ahead in the count

Of the 131 batters Galarraga has faced this season, 67 have seen an 0-1 count while another 18 have put the ball in play. In other words, Galarraga is getting ahead in the count at an above-average clip. He’s also seeing good results in those situations. On the first pitch hitters are just 4 for 18 with one extra base hit. Once down 0-1, opponents are batting just .175/.224/.302. Those numbers probably won’t stand up, but for now they’ve been to his benefit.

More fastballs (and fewer changes)

Given the way the data is collected, it’s tough to find significant changes from year to year in a pitcher’s repertoire. For instance, the year-to-year, not to mention park-to-park, PitchFX calibration can make for tough comparisons. I’m not exactly sure what to make of these changes, but I wanted to note them anyway.

It looks like he’s definitely thrown his fastball more. According to the BIS data Galarraga threw 49.1 percent fastballs in 2008 and 48.9 percent in 2009. This year he’s throwing 64.6 percent. Not only that, but the BIS data has him a full mph faster. The PitchFX data is close, having him at 61.9 percent fastballs (including 7.6 percent two-seamers). He’s doing this by slightly cutting down on his slider usage, from roughly 38 percent in the last two years to around 32 percent this year. More drastically, he’s cut down on his changeup, nearly eliminating it from his repertoire.

It’s tough to say whether these changes will translate into future success for Galarraga. Given his history and scouting report it would appear that he’s due for a regression. It’s tough for any pitcher to succeed with Galarraga’s strikeout, home run, and groundball rates. Whatever he’s doing so far has worked, though. His season, and perhaps his career, might be defined by his outing against the Indians, but that’s just one big part of an otherwise excellent season to date.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

10 Responses to “The Anatomy of Galarraga’s Strong Start”

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  1. Paul says:

    Slight nitpick, it’s Galarraga.

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  2. Cameron says:

    A few other niggling errors:

    “but a few things have changed for Galarraga. These small changes could make his 2010 season look more like his 2010 season look more like his 2008 campaign than his 2009 hit parade. ”

    “It looks like he’s definitely throw his fastball more.”

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  3. Cameron says:

    Not a problem. As a Tigers fan though, love this piece. Lots of us fans are hoping that we can count on Gaga for the summer (and fall?!)

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  4. Eric Cioe says:

    One thing I’ve noticed with Galarraga’s pitch f/x is that his fastball and changeup are on more of a continuum rather than two super distinct pitches. Looking at a brooks chart, it’s pretty difficult to tell where the line between them is. So I wonder if his usage hasn’t actually changed all that much, but some 87 mph pitches with running action that were classified as a changeup two years ago are being classified as fastballs this season. But then there is the velocity discrepancy, too.

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  5. Nathaniel Dawson says:

    This statement seems contradictory: “He is neither a strikeout nor a groundball pitcher, so keeping hitters off base can be be a bit of a problem.”

    Not getting strikeouts would make it difficult for him to keep runners off base, but not being a groundball pitcher would help.

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    • verd14 says:

      Interesting point Nathaniel. I personally don’t know if “ground ball” pitchers allow fewer base runners, rather than non-ground ball pitchers (i.e. fly ball pitchers)? I feel like I prefer ground ball pitchers (i.e. Doc and Ubaldo), but haven’t done the research on it.

      Also, I think the article is interesting. It does a good job illustrating how a (average) player can make changes and possibly improve. It’s clear he is performing better than previous years, and not many people would argue that he is due to regress. Only time will tell if his command and increased fastball usage are actual tactics that lead to a better starting pitcher, or will the bad contract eventually turn into good contact and trump his success.

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        Groundball pitchers generally allow more baserunners. This is due to a higher batting average on groundballs compared to flyballs, fewer strikeouts which allow batters to put the ball in play more often, and from a higher number of batters reaching base on errors.

        It’s not a huge difference, probably something like a half a baserunner or so more per 9 innings.

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  6. Well with your permission allow me to grab your rss feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.

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