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Can the Blue Jays solve Yovani Gallardo?

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In two starts against the Blue Jays this year, Yovani Gallardo has given up exactly zero runs. For a team that comfortably leads the MLB in runs, that is extremely disappointing. You could almost call Gallardo's pitching against the Blue Jays miraculous. But should we expect the same domination from Gallardo going forward?

Yovani Gallardo
Yovani Gallardo
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Yovani Gallardo has a 3.42 ERA, despite pitching in the Texas heat; pitchers generally fare poorly over there. Yovani Gallardo has improved his ERA to a career best over a full season, despite moving to said Texas heat and away from being able to pitch against pitchers in the National League. Yovani Gallardo has been much better, ERA-wise, than ever before, despite a sharp decline in strikeouts. Yovani Gallardo, therefore, is a mystery. A thorough dissecting of Yovani Gallardo's pitching will have to commence, promptly.

Pitching mechanics

Gallardo/Shields delivery

Yovani Gallardo has quite an extreme angle to his delivery. While there are many pitchers who release the ball from a high slot, Gallardo gets there with a lot of tilt from his upper body, angling it and then throwing his upper body sideward while his pitching arm goes up. That's probably not the technical or official way to put it, but that's how I see it. What this means for the quality of his pitches I don't know for sure, but I would not be surprised at all if it added some deception.

Yovani Gallardo's side of the rubber

And, as you can see here, Gallardo has shifted dramatically from the extreme first base side of the rubber to a more usual spot near the third base side. Sadly, I could have saved myself some work by doing a simple Google search, as Fangraphs had already covered the topic of Gallardo's position on the rubber, twice. I haven't been able to find conclusive evidence pointing towards either side of the rubber being better for Gallardo. Yovani Gallardo, in 2015, has pitched a full season without switching which side of the rubber he's on for the first time since 2012, when he was on the other side of said object. The relevance of this is up in the air, with Gallardo probably being slightly better against righties from this side, and slightly worse against lefties.

Pitch repertoire

Since I've already gone heavy on the images, I will hereby link you the appropriate Brooks Baseball graph for Yovani Gallardo's evolving array of pitches. This season, Gallardo has thrown more sliders than ever before, slightly more sinkers, while throwing fewer four-seamers and curveballs. That doesn't interest me all that much, at least not compared with this:

Yovani Gallardo's slider usage

That is right, Yovani Gallardo has succeeded this year by throwing his slider higher than ever, by a very wide margin. But that is not the whole story, as Gallardo's slider has more velocity (especially relative to his declining fastball speed) and less vertical movement than before. The gap in horizontal movement between his four-seamer and slider is also bigger than ever. In short, Yovani Gallardo's slider has become a cutter or "baby slider", and he is using it as such. The results so far have been good, as hitters have been unable to hit for much power against both the fastballs and the new slider.

Pitch Usage

You might remember I did a piece on underperforming pitchers in the AL East not long ago, where I used various statistics to see why some pitchers were disappointing, while others were overperforming compared to their (x)FIP. Let's put Gallardo (and heck, why not some other Rangers pitchers) in some perspective:

Name Heart% Top Edge% Edge/Heart ratio Predictability
Yovani Gallardo 19,2 3,4 1,29 11
Cole Hamels 19,5 3,0 1,41 8,5
Colby Lewis 23,7 2,8 1,11 10
Derek Holland 19,0 3,9 1,30 21
David Price 24,8 4,3 1,17 10,5
Stroman (2014) 25,0 3,3 1,12 26,5
Marco Estrada 24,9 5,3 0,98 7,5

All stats except predictability score are from Bill Petti's database

The predictability score indicates how big the difference in fastball usage is between being ahead or behind in the count. Not shown here is that Colby Lewis and Yovani Gallardo are predictable against lefties, but will throw their breaking balls in any count against righties, which will help them against the Blue Jays lineup that is so heavy on right-handed hitters.

Back to Yovani Gallardo, who avoids the heart of the plate by simply throwing wide of the strike zone a whole lot. Out of all potentially playoff-bound starting pitchers, only Francisco Liriano, Dallas Keuchel, teammate Martin Perez, Jon Lester and teammate Derek Holland have higher out of zone% according to Bill Petti's Edge%. But since all of those are left-handers (what's up with that?), Gallardo is the playoff-bound right-handed starting pitcher who throws the least amount of strikes. As commenter GrubersTomahawkChop has pointed out, Yovani Gallardo is highest in MLB in pitches thrown per inning pitched, and hasn't pitched past the sixth inning since beating Toronto at the end of June, completing six innings only twice in sixteen starts in that timeframe.

Gallardo's game plan and the Blue Jays

Here's a heatmap for four-seam fastballs out of Gallardo's hand against right-handed batters:

Yovani Gallardo 4S vs RHB

If the image did not state explicitly that it concerns only fastballs, you might be forgiven for thinking we're looking at a slider heat map here. Such is not that case, as Gallardo tries to pound the lower, outer edge with his four-seamer. Gallardo would rather throw balls than pitch to zones where a hitter might generate more power, which could help explain the relatively low HR/FB he has this season (although he's not shown such a quality before).

Obviously, the Blue Jays need to avoid swinging at the multitude of pitches Gallardo throws outside the strike zone (his inside two-seamers barely go for strikes), but the Jays, with the exception of Kevin Pillar, do have a good team for a patient approach and to make Gallardo's pitch count go up. I am less confident in their ability to hit the ball far against Gallardo, as he does a good job of keeping the ball in a spot where almost all Blue Jay hitters don't hit for much power. Only Edwin Encarnacion seems to be good at hitting the low and away pitch (that's still in the zone), the other Blue Jays right-handed batters have a definite weak spot over there.

The game plan for the Blue Jays, then, will differ very little from their usual plan. Work the count, don't swing at junk, crush the mistake pitch that gets left up or inside. Whether the Blue Jays will have more success against Gallardo this time depends on Gallardo's ability to hit his spot, and on the Blue Jays to hit the mistake pitch if/when it comes. "Yes, thank you Captain Obvious, for this wonderful analysis" I hear you saying. Yes, it's all very cliche, something I would usually avoid, but Gallardo is the kind of pitcher for whom the old baseball truisms are actually accurate. While Gallardo is ideally suited for facing a pull-heavy, predominately right-handed, and powerful lineup, his tendency to throw a lot of balls will definitely work in the patient Blue Jays' favour.

To end on a positive and hopeful note, here is video of Troy Tulowitzki hitting an incredible laser shot off Yovani Gallardo two years ago, and not at Coors Field, either: