Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's up with Yovani Gallardo?

In his past two starts Yovani Gallardo has been roughed up to the tune of 17 hits, 4 walks, and 11 earned runs in the past 10 1/3 innings.

The most puzzling thing about Gallardo's first 3 starts was the lack of strikeouts. Going into last Sunday, Gallardo had only struck out 9 batters in 20 innings of work. This, after striking out more than a batter an inning over the past two seasons. And it's not as if Gallardo has faced stiff competition this far. Outside of an opening day start at Cincinnati, Gallardo has face the the struggling bats of the Braves, Cubs, and Nationals.

So what's wrong with Yovani Gallardo? Is anything wrong with Yovani Gallardo?

It looked like Gallardo had broken out of his early season funk after the first four innings of play against the Nationals on Sunday. Through the first four frames, Gallardo had struck out five, walked none, given up just three hits and one run.

But then everything fell apart in the bottom of the fifth, as the Nationals started making hard contact with everything that Yovani was throwing, culminating with two three-run home runs by Danny Espinosa and Ivan Rodriguez that chased Gallardo from the game in the sixth.

The graph above plots the velocity of each pitch Gallardo threw Sunday against the Nationals.  His fastball sat 92-94 through the first four frames, but then he lost 2 MPH during the next two innings. There were similar velocity dips for each of his pitches, with an even more pronounced drop in the velocity of his slider.

Now maybe this doesn't tell us anything at all. After all, it stands to reason that a pitcher would lose some velocity as he gets deeper into a game. But on a lark I decided to look up the PitchFX data on Gallardo's best start from last year - a June 24th complete game shutout against the Twins in which he struck out 12, walked none, and allowed only five hits.

In this start, Gallardo actually gained velocity as the game wore on.

So is it a question of Gallardo just needing to round into "mid-season form"? We know that the average fastball velocity for all pitchers goes up 1-2 MPH from the beginning of the season to the middle of the year. Is it just a matter of Gallardo building up endurance in order to sustain the success that enjoyed over in the first four innings against the Nationals?

My guess is Gallardo will be fine, but it will be interesting to track the changes in his PitchFX data over the next couple of weeks.

He gets the Houston Astros at home on 4/22. That should help.

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