We often talk glowingly about pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff. Swings and misses correlate well with strikeouts, and strikeouts are obviously an effective way to prevent runs.
Yovani Gallardo is a different type of pitcher. Let's call what he does Look-and-Miss (as in missed opportunities to swing), and he is one of the best in the game at it.
Since 2007, Gallardo has posted the third lowest swing percentage, 41.5, among qualified starters. He has ranked as one of the five least swung-against pitchers in four of the past five years. He already ranks third this season, inducing swings only 37.8 percent of the time.
A lack of swings doesn't mean a lack of strikes, however. Gallardo's career strike percentage is only 2.2 percent below league average.
Rather, since entering the league, Gallardo has repeatedly shown a unique ability to accumulate looking strikes. His yearly looking strike percentage (L/Str stat at Baseball Reference) is consistently in the top ten in the MLB. For his career, Gallardo has posted a L/Str of 32.1 percent compared to 27.7 league average. (His L/Str is already 37 percent this season.)
"The movement on his ball is the reason hitters don't fire off swings," Hurdle said today when asked to describe Gallardo's unique look-and-miss profile. "It's angles, basically, it's angles and controlling the bat speed. He's the type of pitcher that when the foot's down and you haven't decided to swing, boom!, it's a strike, and you haven't got your swing off," he added.
Hurdle also pointed to Gallardo's command and pitch mix as a key: "He is able to throw four or five pitches, with command. He is going to work both sides of the plate. You can't really pick a side. You have to, but it's hard to. You have to pick a side of the plate. That's what we've kind of thrown out there for our guys. Because if you dealing with four pitches and your trying to hit up-and-down, in-and-out, that's where he just ties you up."
Hurdle summarized Gallardo's look-and-miss stuff: "It's impressive. That's professionalism at its best. It's kind of like mastery of what we do."
The Evolution of Yovani Gallardo
Yovani Gallardo has been (somewhat) quietly one of the most effective and consistent starting pitchers in Major League Baseball the past seven years. He is one of only 14 active starting pitchers to post a sub-4.00 FIP in six of the past seven seasons. Over the same time frame, among active pitchers with 600-plus innings pitched, he ranks:
- top-sixth in xFIP, 3.53
- top-fifth in quality start percentage, 64.3
- top-fourth in FIP, 3.64
- top-third in ERA, 3.68
Since an excellent 2011 season, however, some of Gallardo's numbers have drifted in a dangerous direction. He has lost 2.1 mph on his average fastball velocity, his strikeout percentage is down 5.3 percent, and swinging strikes have dropped 2.1 percent.
Yet, even with these rather dramatic shifts, Gallardo's ERA/FIP/xFIP have held at around his career average. The explanation for this stability appears to be tied to an increasing groundball rate. Between 2007 and 2011, his highest GB% was 46.6 percent. But in the last two seasons he has set consecutive career highs: 47.7 percent in 2012, and 49.2 percent last year. Three starts into this season, Gallardo's ground ball rate is up to 53.6 percent.
Today, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he didn't think that Gallardo's pitch mix has changed that much, even with the drop in velocity. He still uses a tough breaking ball to set up the fastball, he said. "I have no idea why the velocity is where it is at," Hurdle concluded, "It hasn't made him easier to hit, at all."
Hurdle said that Jose Tabata did not suffer a concussion and will be available off the bench tonight.