Gallardo Must Throw More Strikes

Of 132 starting pitchers that have thrown at least 100 innings this season, Brewers’ right-hander Yovani Gallardo has the third lowest O-Swing% in the majors at 24.8%.  That means opposing hitters swing at 24.8% of his pitches that are outside the strike zone.

Even Nick Blackburn and Brian Bannister get more swings at pitches outside the zone.

Common sense suggests the better a pitcher’s repertoire, the more hitters will chase bad pitches.  Therefore, we would expect Yovani Gallardo to have below-average stuff and a lower strikeout rate because he gets fewer hitters to chase bad pitches.

That is, we would expect that to be the case if we merely looked at Gallardo’s O-Swing% in a vacuum.

As it turns out, Gallardo gets very few hitters to swing at pitches outside the zone because hitters rarely swing in general with Gallardo on the mound.  His 40.8% swing rate is the fourth lowest in the majors (min. 100 innings).  Not only that, but hitters also do not make contact often with his pitches when they do swing – as evidenced by his 79.6% contact percentage and 8.3% swinging-strike percentage.

We can infer from these numbers that hitters flat-out do not see Gallardo’s pitches very well from the mound.  Hitters do not swing often – and when they do, they do not make much contact.

In short, Gallardo has well above-average stuff.  His 92-94 MPH fastball is a plus-pitch, and his spike curve can be deadly when he is not spiking it before it reaches the plate.  Moreover, Gallardo has developed a slider, which is arguably becoming his best pitch.

So, how can Yovani Gallardo transform himself from a top-tier #2 pitcher to a full-fledged ace?

The answer appears to be simple.  Throw more strikes.

Of the starting pitchers that have thrown at least 100 innings in 2010, Yovani Gallardo throws the 7th fewest balls in the strike zone. (Livan Hernandez is predictably number one).  That high-percentage of balls outside the strike zone would be acceptable, but as we have established earlier, Gallardo does not induce many swings outside the zone.

That obviously leads to higher walk rates, higher pitch counts, and lower innings totals.  Those are all things that must change for Yovani to be a true ace in Major League Baseball.

Many of you are likely thinking: “Of course Gallardo should throw more strikes. That is an obvious statement.”

Not necessarily.

Some pitchers, such as Livan Hernandez and Jamie Moyer, live on throwing balls outside the strike zone.  They do not have good enough “stuff” to live by throwing strikes.  They have contact percentages north of 92% on balls inside the zone, so they bait hitters and get them to swing at poor pitches.  Both of them have literally made a career avoiding the strike zone

Gallardo is not that type of pitcher.  It seems opposing hitters have decided their best chance to reach base is to actually not swing at all, merely hoping the upcoming pitch is a ball – which it is 57.4% of the time.  That accounts for the high pitch counts, the low walk totals, and the low inning totals.

The only worry about Gallardo throwing more strikes is that more balls would then be put in play, which may not be a positive outcome with Milwaukee’s below-average defense.  It could effectively be argued that Gallardo is better suited to stick to walks and strikeouts – though the Brewers’ front office should work to solidify the defense this winter.

Throwing more strikes would lower the pitch counts, lower the walk rates, and increase the number of innings pitched without sacrificing production on the mound.  Opposing hitters do not make much contact whether or not Gallardo throws the ball in the strike zone, so he may as well cut the walk rate and work in the strike zone much more often.

His development of a slider should aid that mission.  That spike curveball cannot be thrown consistently for strikes, but his new slider (sometimes cutter) can be thrown for a strike on any count.

Perhaps that is the missing piece that can help Yovani Gallardo transform himself into a bona fide ace for the Brewers.  Or perhaps the right-hander simply needs to make a conscious effort to not nibble.

Whatever the case may be, everyone certainly knows the Brewers organization could certainly use an ace.  Milwaukee’s success in 2011 may hinge on whether or not Gallardo is able to take the next step in his development – which seems to be consistently throwing more strikes in every start.



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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

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tom
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tom

good post.

Mike Ketchen
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Mike Ketchen

Awesome post man.

Jack
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Jack

I wonder if we could develop an index based on stuff, swing percentage, contact percentage, etc. to determine the optimal strike percentage for any given pitcher.

And from this gauge who makes the best use of their pitches or who stands to improve or decline from changes in zone percentage.

Greg
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Greg

Why can’t the curveball be thrown for strikes?

Greg
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Greg

Are you sure it’s a spike curve?