Pitchers and catchers have officially begun to report to Spring Training, signifying the beginning of the “pre-season” for the MLB. Most free agents have already found new homes, in the winter months, but one intriguing name remained unsigned until this weekend: Yovani Gallardo.
The Baltimore Orioles, still lacking a starting pitcher to round out their rotation, crept in and signed the right-handed Gallardo to a 3-year, $35 million contract. Gallardo, who pitched for the Texas Rangers in 2015 and for the Brewers from 2007-14, has been a talented pitcher throughout his career. So why did he settle for less than $12 million per season?
The pitching market was set, as I wrote about in in November, when Jordan Zimmermann signed with the Detroit Tigers for 5 years and $110 million ($22 million per season). After Zimmermann, two more elite pitchers found new homes: David Price landed with the Boston Red Sox for $217 million over 7 years ($31 million per season), and Zack Greinke signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for 6 years and $206.5 million ($34.4 million per season).
Gallardo definitely fell a tier below these pitchers, but still projects to be a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. Other free-agents who fell in this category were pitchers such as John Lackey, Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija, Wei-Yin Chen, and Scott Kazmir. Let’s see how these players compare to Gallardo from last season:
Something we see here is that every single player is making more per year than Gallardo. In fact, each pitcher is making at least $16 million per season, except Gallardo. The numbers don’t exactly paint all of these pitchers as superior to Gallardo; in fact he may be a better pitcher than some.
Lackey is the only one that separates himself as clearly better than the rest, holding the advantage in ERA, FIP, and WAR. Lackey is older though, at 37, which is why his deal was not longer. Lackey notwithstanding, Gallardo has a clear case to be made that he is just as good (or better) than these other pitchers.
In both ERA and FIP, Gallardo beats out Leake and Samardzija. Gallardo holds a higher WAR than Kazmir. Even Chen, who appears to be a marginally better pitcher, has a higher FIP than Gallardo. As I mentioned before, Gallardo is at the very least comparable to this group.
What, then, is the reason that Gallardo is making less money than the others? The answer is less clear.
We know from his raw numbers that Gallardo has a problem with walks, as evidenced by his 3.32 BB/9. Gallardo is not a strike-out pitcher – he only struck out 121 batters in 2015, compared to 68 walks. This is problematic, and may be part of the explanation, but it shouldn’t cost Gallardo that much money per season.
It’s clear, however, that Gallardo is a very talented ground-ball pitcher. Of every ball in play against Gallardo, 49.3% are ground-balls. Compare that to Chen (40.5%), Kazmir (42.9%), or even Greinke (48%). Ground-ball pitchers are less predictable than strike-out pitchers, but an out is an out. As we can see below, Gallardo’s tendency for ground-balls helps him create a lot of double-plays:
Gallardo doesn’t give up a lot of hard contact either. Of all qualified pitchers in 2015, Gallardo had the 10th-best percentage of hard-hit balls at 24.9%. Gallardo ranked ahead of players such as Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, and more importantly, every player I compared Gallardo to earlier.
Below is an example of a frustrated batter, after Gallardo induces a weak come-backer:
Not only is Gallardo exceptional at keeping the ball from being hit hard, he also keeps the ball in the ballpark. Opponents struggle to hit home-runs against Gallardo; his 8.8% HR/FB in 2015 placed him among the top-15 in baseball. Only 11 qualified pitchers allowed fewer HRs than Gallardo’s 15 total HRs.
Here is Gallardo forcing All-Star Jose Bautista to over-swing, and in turn forcing a pop-up:
Consistency is also a key asset that Gallardo brings to the table. Let’s look at Gallardo’s numbers from 2013-2015:
Even though his K/9 is trending downward, Gallardo has combated that with an increased ability to limit damage by the long-ball. All things considered, Gallardo is going to give you more than 180 innings, a better-than-average ERA, and be worth more than 2.0 WAR to your team. There is comfort in consistency.
For Baltimore, Gallardo will be able to build on what he did last season in Texas. The Orioles have a more pitcher-friendly park than the Rangers, and the Orioles also have a better defense than the Rangers. Gallardo is in position to have an even better season in 2016 than he did in 2015.
For the value he provides, Gallardo is on a very team-friendly contract. At less than $12 million per season, Gallardo is much less of a financial risk than the other similar free-agent pitchers. Also, at only 3 years, Gallardo’s deal is very movable. If the Orioles find themselves in a re-building position at any point during the next three seasons, Gallardo’s team-friendly deal could be very enticing to potential trade partners.
There will be more pressure on Gallardo in Baltimore though. In Texas, he was clearly behind ace Yu Darvish (and later Cole Hamels), but in Baltimore the rotation is much less clear. RotoChamp actually projects that Gallardo is expected to be Baltimore’s number-one, which is a problem. Gallardo, as good as he is, should only be a number-two at best.
But that doesn’t change anything. Gallardo’s signing is still a bargain for the Orioles, and they should be happy that no other team was wise enough to sign him first.
Statistics provided by: FanGraphs.com
Images thanks to: SportingNews, MLB.com, Fox Sports, Washington Post