The Evolution of Yovani Gallardo

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Yovani Gallardo has always been a bit of an enigma. For the years between Ben Sheets/CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke, Gallardo was the Brewers de facto ace. He was a very good pitcher during that time, but he could never get over that proverbial hump and become elite. He showed flashes of brilliance, reaching back and firing his fastball up to 95 mph, followed by a hammer curve that just fell out of the sky. We all remember those dominant games. I, personally can remember sitting on the first base line when he pitched a 1-0 shutout, where he also hit a home run to score the game’s only run.

Those dominant games weren’t enough to define his career, though. His game logs were always peppered with 5 inning outings. As much potential as Gallardo had, he simply threw too many pitches in too many games. He made the most of those innings, but he was so reliant on the strikeout, or perhaps so afraid of contact, that he’d rack up 100+ pitches before making it to the 6th inning, rarely giving the bullpen a day to rest.

Now that he’s reportedly agreed to a 3 year deal with the Baltimore Orioles in the $40-$45 million guaranteed range, Gallardo is drawing mixed reactions once again. Many think he’s a talented, reliable pitcher, who’s not yet in the twilight of his career, while others think 3 years is far too long of a commitment for a pitcher with a declining skill set.

Since the true answer almost always lies somewhere in between, let’s take a look at how Gallardo has matured over the years.

The most common critique from his detractors is that he’s no longer the flame thrower that he once was. This is a serious problem for Gallardo, whose velocity was used not only used to punch batters out, but was also vital in setting up his dangerous curveball. Let’s look at his declining velocity a bit closer.

Gallardo's velocity is clearly in decline

Gallardo’s velocity is clearly in decline

That’s not exactly the trend you want to see. Gallardo has lost 2 full mph from his average four-seam fastball since 2011. For a pitcher that relies on strikeouts, that’s can be a major problem, so how has it affected his results?

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Just as you likely expected, Gallardo’s K:9 has dropped dramatically. We’re talking about nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings to below 6. There’s obviously a direct correlation with his drop in velocity here, and this is precisely the reason many fans are lukewarm on Gallardo going forward. However, when we start to look at his other results, things get a bit curious.

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Gallardo’s ERA has been remarkably consistent. Considering how far his fastball velocity and strikeout rate have fallen, a consistent ERA is counter-intuitive, to say the least. As a matter of fact, Gallardo’s ERA has actually gotten better as he’s gotten used to his new, reduced velocity. In his last two seasons, he’s posted the lowest ERAs of his career.

What’s going on here? How is he allowing fewer runs, despite what appears to be a declining skill set? Many will note that he’s now out-performing his FIP by more than half a point, suggesting that he’s been the beneficiary of some good luck, and that he is likely to regress moving forward. However, if we dig a little deeper, we can see how Gallardo has altered the way he pitches to adjust to his own physical decline.

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This gives us a bit more insight on how Gallardo has evolved over the years. As his velocity has declined, he’s had to rely on the movement of his pitches more and more. Each year since his rookie season, he’s thrown his 4-seam fastball less frequently (if we ignore the slight uptick last season). Gallardo’s been increasing his slider usage since 2009. His two-seamer became a significant piece of his repertoire in 2011, and he now throws it as often as his four-seamer. That’s all well and good, but how has that affected his results? How has this adjustment in pitch selection helped him to maintain — nay, lower — his ERA?

The answer may be ground balls.

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As Gallardo has gotten away from his four-seam fastball, he’s gradually turned into a groundball pitcher. If you can’t strike batters out, you had better be able to pitch to contact. Gallardo is becoming much more comfortable pitching to contact and trusting his middle infielders to finish the job. It also is worth noting that his HR:9 has been below 1.00 for three straight years, despite playing those seasons in Milwaukee and Arlington. Last year he allowed just one home run for every 2 games played.

Gallardo is, of course, not the first pitcher to make adjustments in his pitch selection to prolong his career, while maintaining an ERA significantly below his FIP. Gallardo’s former teammate Kyle Lohse quite famously turned his career around by swapping his four-seam fastball out for his two-seamer. From 2011, when Lohse really committed to the two-seamer, to 2014, Lohse’s excelled, with an ERA well below his FIP. Strikeouts are weighted so heavily with FIP that it tends to underrate control/pitch-to-contact pitchers.

Lohse joined the Brewers in 2013. The next year, Gallardo’s two-seam fastball usage spiked from 19.5% to 30.5%. It’d be interesting to find out how much, if any, impact Lohse had on Gallardo’s pitch selection.

Gallardo’s clean bill of health has allowed him to start 30+ games for 7 straight years. That’s an impressive achievement. He’s still only 29 years old, but all of those pitches have likely taken their toll on his arm, and a few miles per hour off of his fastball. It remains to be seen if he will continue to lose velocity as he ages, but for now, concerns of him fading into the abyss should be tempered, as he’s shown the ability to identify his problems and make the proper adjustments. There’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to continue to roll with the tide.

Zach Wheeler: Milwaukee Brewer

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The Brewers reportedly sent the perpetually smiling, sometimes angry, Carlos Gomez to the Mets today in exchange for injured starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and 23 year-old infielder Wilmer Flores. The Brewers will have 4.5 years of control over each player, while Gomez has just a year and a half until Scott Boras cashes in on a monster free agent contract.

So, what should Brewers fans expect from their new Starter?

Wheeler has electric stuff. He throws his 95 mph fastball roughly two thirds of the time (50% 4-seamer, 20% 2-seamer). He also mixes in a quality slider and curve. His arsenal causes A LOT of whiffs, as he can maintain a nearly double-digit K:9. However, walks have been an issue for him. His control has improved since being drafted, but he still walks well over 3 batters per 9 innings, and until he can figure this out, he’ll top out as an above average, but middle of the rotation starter. If we dig a little deeper, we’ll see that his struggles are almost exclusive to left-handed batters.

Wheeler dominates righties. This is good because there are more right-handed batters than left-handed batters. Right-handers have posted just a .281 wOBA against Wheeler. His walk rate is a respectable 6.9% against RHB. However, when he faces lefties, those numbers explode. His walk rate more than doubles, to 13.9% against LHB. Lefties have posted a .336 wOBA against him for his young major league car- What’s that?

Oh. Well, nevermind then. Carry on.

Kyle Lohse: Enigma

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Few Brewers players have caused more fans to be so torn as Kyle Lohse has. Sure, he hasn’t been as divisive as Ryan Braun or Bob Terwell, that old bag of gummy worms, but Lohse has been a paradox, no less.

From the get-go, Lohse produced bipolar reactions. Many fans loathed the signing, seeing Lohse as little more than another Cardinal pitcher, destined to fail once he stepped out of the glowing aura that is/was the St. Louis Cardinals and Dave Duncan. Those fans cited his age, his lackluster career stats, and the fact that he once wore the same jersey as Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper. And then there were fans like myself that were legitimately excited by the signing. I cited his increased use of a 2-seamer as a turning point in his career, and a reason to throw out his career stats. Sure, he was old by baseball terms, but he had shown no signs of decline, and he didn’t rely on overpowering stuff. I also noted that his ground ball tendencies would make the transition from pitcher-friendly St. Louis to homer-friendly Miller Park much easier.

One of the bigger concerns with the signing was that it signaled that Mark Attanasio was not ready to rebuild, and that he thought the Brewers had enough talent to ‘go for it’. This was probably the most valid concern, but I countered by noting that if he pitches well, he can be flipped for prospects a year or two down the road, making this signing a potential contribution to the rebuild.

I was wrong. It sucks.

It sucks because I was right, really damn right, but I was so damn wrong at the same time.

He could have been traded at the deadline in ’13. Braun had been suspended, and the season was clearly going nowhere, but keeping him then was more than reasonable. He still had 2 years left on his contract. There would be plenty of time to maximize his return in a trade.

He should have been traded at before the ’14 season. The team looked mediocre at best on paper, and Lohse had just completed the three best consecutive years of his career.

At the deadline in ’14, the Brewers looked all but certain to make the playoffs, so they held onto him. That’s all well and good, but after the September collapse, Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio had 5 months to trade him, but they sat on their hands, juggled their ball-bags, and sold their fans another line of ‘we think we can compete’ garbage.

Kyle Lohse was a valuable trade asset for two years, but now all the Brewers have to show for it is a 74-win season, an 82-win season, $7 million dollars of deferred money, and a video of Lohse playing Golden Tee against a Juggalo.

The worst part of it all is how familiar it feels. The Brewers have managed to effectively turn themselves into the Milwaukee Bucks of the 00’s, doing just enough to get by, without really doing anything of actual significance.

For years, Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio couldn’t decide whether they wanted to rebuild or retool. They tried to do both, and honestly, it looked like it was possible. Nay, it was possible. Except, when the timing was right, they lost focus, fell asleep at the wheel, and drove the bus into a field of quicksand. Now, just like the post-Allen Bucks, this team is in danger of being stuck in perpetual mediocrity. Unfortunately for the Brewers, there aren’t 16 playoff spots in baseball.

It’s impossible not to place blame on Doug Melvin, but at the same time, I can’t help but believe he’s smarter than that. I can’t help but believe that Melvin knew exactly when certain windows closed, but he was also smart enough to realize who the real boss was. Lohse playing well meant the Brewers were playing well, and Mark and Doug were too skittish to press the button. Now that Lohse is bleeding out, so are the Brewers. It’s obvious that the window has closed, and a Lohse trade couldn’t even bring back a toxic wasteland. The opportunity has come and gone.

Once a deity in the city of Milwaukee, Mark Attanasio is quickly turning into a modern-day version of Herb Kohl. It’s a business, after all, and winning today helps the bottom line. That may be true, but the Bucks have shown us that only kind of/sort of winning gets old fast. Eventually, only winning half of the time starts to hurt the bottom line. The fans stop showing up, and you have no current assets to flip for future assets. Now, Bucks fans are left with two new meddling owners left fighting for the Bucks’ life and trying to sell the city on a new arena, and a half-billion dollar Park East development that will never really come to fruition.

Luckily for the Brewers, Lohse’s window was not the last window to close. Milwaukee has two current assets that could command monster returns in a trade. Bringing on Lind and Parra (and actually using them correctly) was a coup for Melvin, but their trade values have moderate-to-low ceilings. Gomez and Lucroy, however, are two of the best players in baseball. They are each in their prime, and both are currently signed to some of the most team-friendly contracts in the game. As much as it hurts to say, these two fan-favorites will be well into their decline by the time the Brewers are competitive again.

There’s money to spend next year in free agency. Mark can still put a 74-82-win team together without Gomez and Lucroy. Those guys may have seemed like franchise players, but fans will still pay to see different players win 45% of the time. The team can still be respectable, and let’s be real, summer, tailgating, and beer sell a lot more tickets in Milwaukee than the players do. At least this way there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

And that’s the bottom line.

Brewers Reportedly “Very Interested” in Jake Peavy

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 Reports have been coming out recently saying that the Brewers are very interested in Jake Peavy.

Doug Melvin likes to keep things close to the denim vest, so it’s unusual to hear adverbs like, “very” describing the Brewers interest in a trade target. I honestly can’t remember the last time that Brewers had their interest in a player reported before they traded for him. Maybe Nyjer Morgan, but Melvin immediately refuted that report, only to trade for him a day later. Sabathia and Greinke were out of the blue. It’s just not in this FO’s nature to have reports like this leak.

So, like I said about reports that Rob Gronkowski could be ready to play in Week 1, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Sure, it’s possible that this report is coming from the Red Sox side of things. If that’s the case, then it’s definitely not to be believed. Perhaps Doug made a call to the Sox to ask about his availablity, but Melvin just doesn’t seem to be the type to express that he’s VERY interested in a player. Plus, the Sox have every reason to try to drum up competition for Peavy’s services.

At first glance, a trade for Peavy doesn’t seem to make much sense. The rotation is full. Nelson will replace Estrada on Saturday, and even if there’s an injury, Estrada can slot back in with similar results to what we’d expect from Peavy.

There are a few ways I could see this trade make sense, though. First of all, Peavy could be an intriguing buy-low candidate. Boston isn’t an easy place to pitch by any means. When he goes on the road, it doesn’t get any easier, with Toronto, Baltimore, and New York’s hitter-friendly parks all in the division. Perhaps the team thinks that playing in the AL East is obscuring his stats a bit. His peripheral stats don’t seem to support that, as his K:9 is taking a nose dive, and his BB:9 is exploding. But hey, Maybe the Brewers have identified a mechanical flaw or think he’s simply pitching scared and avoiding the strike zone because of the parks he’s playing in. Admittedly, that latter possibility is a big stretch.

What would make a bit more sense is if the team is looking for Peavy to provide bullpen help. Peavy’s average fastball velocity is now just 89.7 mph according to Fangraph’s Pitchf/x data. For reference, it was 93.9 mph in his rookie year. The pitch has lost its effectiveness, but a move to the bullpen could result in an uptick in throwing speed. Peavy’s always been tough on right-handed batters (not so much this year), so maybe they see him as a potential ROOGY in a lefty-heavy pen. If he pitches well out of the pen, maybe he could be a potential rotation candidate down the road. Jimmy Nelson is going to be pitching more innings than ever before this year, so there’s a distinct possibility that he could wind up being fatigued by September. Peavy could become a short-term option to allow Nelson to rebuild arm-strength before the playoffs, or a fill-in if one of the other starters gets hurt.

Now, let me be clear, I do not support a Peavy trade. I don’t think there’s much upside there, even if the cost is minimal. That said, if the Brewers see something that Peavy’s stats aren’t telling, he could be an intriguing pickup that the Brewers could get creative with.

Slump Got You Down In the Dumps?

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If you’re like me, you’ve seen a lot of people freaking out about this Brewers slump in recent days. You’ve also got long skinny toes that you can use to pick up clothes and stuff. I mean, not food stuff, but just stuff in general that isn’t gross to pick up with your feet. Maybe a dog toy.

I understand the frustration. The team hasn’t been firing on any cylinders. The hitting has been as absent as comedy at a Carrot Top show, the bullpen’s ERA has ballooned quicker than Carrot Top’s biceps, and the starting staff has been… I don’t know, something about Carrot Top and steroids or props or whatever. But then, just when it looked like it couldn’t get any worse, they have one of those gut-wrenching games where their WPA plummets faster than Carrot Top’s career trajectory. A frustrating, late-inning loss really is the icing on the proverbial meat cake here.

With that, I’ll say here what I keep yapping about on Twitter: The sky is not falling.

First of all, although the team’s playing like garbage, they’re still in first place. True-talent-wise, I view this roster as an above average team with very good pitching and average, maybe slightly above-average hitting. The holes are obvious. Their bench is week. They lack left-handed bats. The have a 24-man roster due to Wei-Chung Wang’s continued attendance.

Secondly, the bullpen looks exhausted, but help is on the way. The All-Star break can’t come soon enough. A week or so of rest could do wonders for Will Smith and Brandon Kintzler. Henderson is nearly ready to return, and Thornburg is throwing again. On top of that, the team is likely going to fill any remaining bullpen holes through trades.The important thing is that the main pieces are in place.

The next, and possibly biggest reason not to fret is that they’re healthy. People can’t seem to stop complaining that Jimmy Nelson has yet to take Estrada’s spot in the rotation, and I suppose I can’t say I blame them. You know what, though? At least Nelson didn’t get forced into the rotation because Kyle Lohse needed Tommy John surgery, or something of that sort. The Brewers have made it to the All-Star break (3 games left, knock on wood) with their original starting five still in tact. Offensively, while they’ve had Braun and Gomez miss some time here and there, Aramis Ramirez has had the only truly extended absence.

If we look at our competition in the NL Central, we see some major injuries. The Cards just put Molina on the disabled list for 2-3 months with a thumb injury. Before that, however, they may have suffered an even more important loss in young starter, Michael Wacha. Wacha has a stress reaction in his scapula, that could turn into a stress fracture if the team is not careful. It’s an extremely rare injury by baseball standards, and while he might only miss a few more weeks, it could most definitely become a recurring issue.

Meanwhile, the Reds have just placed Brandon Philips on the disabled list with an injury similar to Yadi’s. More importantly, though, Joey Votto is back on the DL. He was never really fully recovered from his “quad strain,” which is probably more of a tendon issue that he’s going to have to deal with for the rest of his career than a pulled muscle as the name would indicate. The Reds are a still a decent team without Votto, but they are certainly not a legitimate contender.

The Pirates just put Gerrit Cole back on the DL with a strained lat. It’s nothing too serious long-term, but it’s still an injury to their best pitcher. They’re also still the Pirates, which doesn’t help their cause.

I guess what I’m saying is that, while the individual games may be frustrating, it helps to take a step back and look at where the team stands in the grander scheme of things. The obvious answer is “1st place,” but when we dig a little bit deeper, past the carroty top, we find that the state of the Brewers is pretty damn solid right now.

Doug Melvin’s Trade Notes Have Leaked As Well

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Yesterday, we learned that the Astros experienced a security breach in which somebody accessed an internal server and stole notes that Astros executives compiled about trade discussions had with other teams. The notes were published on an anonymous dropbox site called Anonbin (here and here). The Astros claim to have known about the leak for a month, and say that they have contacted the FBI.

This seems like quite a bit of work and risk to go through for such little reward until you realize that in order to breach the Astros security, all you need to do is walk past a sleeping guard dog (literally a Great Dane named Astro), and ask Rosie the Roomba for directions to the “Trade Notes”. She’ll print you out a copy and send you on your way.

Well, today, another MLB team had their notes posted on a site called, DougiLeaks. That team, of course, was the Milwaukee Brewers. Presented below without comment, are some of the highlights of Doug Melvin’s trade notes from January 2013 to May of 2014.

March 15th, 2013: Gord Ash offered me a bite of his fish taco for a bite of my leftover boiled potatoes. Fish tacos are a bit exotic for my tastes. Not a risk I was willing to take.

March 16th, 2013: Really glad I didn’t make that trade yesterday. Hot stoves are perfect for boiling potatoes, but what in the slimy heck are they going to do for a fish taco?

March 20th, 2013: Counsell told me that my secretary called him. I guess Neil Huntington has called each of the last 4 days. I know the guy’s in Florida, but what abomination of a world does this guy live in where he thinks I’m not wartchin’ my team in Arizona?

March 23rd, 2013: Boy, this Wil Myers kid sure can swing a bat. I sure hope Dayton gives me a call when I get back to Milwaukee, because, boy, do I have the deal for him!

April 4th, 2013: Still no call from Huntington. Not sure what he wanted.

May 1st, 2013: Saw Anthopoulos on MLB Network today. Gotta admit, that traitor sounded pretty good… I haven’t talked to him since he told me he doesn’t have a single player seeking to become a permanent citizen. Still haven’t figured out why he thanked me for the Lawrie trade. Gonna have to teach his guys how to recycle when they visit Milwaukee in July.

June 8th, 2013: I think this season’s officially in the laundry hamper. Time to break out the old Calgary flame and heat up that stove.

July 20th, 2013: Duquette called today. He’s looking for some relief help. Says he thinks his Orioles can make it to the playoffs, HA! I had a good laugh at that one. Anyway, he asked about K-Rod, and I told him he was a good kid, the type of guy that will call you from jail. I also told him to pay more attention to time zones and call after lunch next time.

July 21st, 2013: Gord told me that he talked to Danny Duquette today. He says Danny’s not joking about the playoffs thing.

July 22nd, 2013: Took a look at the standings in the Toronto Times, and by I’ll be… I guess Gord was right!

July 23rd, 2013: Well, I’ve officially traded the single-season saves leader. It’s been in the 80’s all week, so maybe we can chalk it up to the heat wave, but he’s gone. There’s no turning back. Not sure how to break the news to Fran’s family.

July 25th, 2013: Dombrowski called today. He wanted to, “Make sure I didn’t have any players available that he might be interested in, unlike last time.” Huh?

July 31, 2013: This afternoon’s trade deadline is approaching faster than a honey bee chasing Yogi Bear. Phone lines have been quiet, which has been kind of nice. I would have liked to see more offers, but those are natures ropes. I guess we won’t be rebuilding things around here. Like I always say, “Trust in the Queen, let the Maple Leafs fall where they may, and who knows, maybe Carly Gomey falls in your lap.”

September 2, 2013: Phone rang today and scared the living Cordero outta me. I didn’t answer, but Mozeliak left a message. Hopefully he calls back soon.

September 3, 2013: Cardinals called again, asking about Axford. I made a joke about people putting the k before the s in the word, “ask,” and said, “What are you Aksing for Axford?” We lost our connection, but they Mozeliak called back. He didn’t want to give Wainwright, but did ask how Cory was coming along as a scout. He offered Blazek instead. What a gent, class act!

September 29th, 2013: TGIFridays ran out of gravy today. I offered them a piece of my mind in exchange for better service. They declined.

January 8th, 2014: Gave Axford a ride home from Dale Howerchuk’s Canuck & Puck Tavern tonight. He paid for the gas. We both won that trade, you say?

March 15th, 2014: Explained the process of obtaining a passport to Counsell today. He’s going to be the Greatest Scout of the Great North. HashtagCanadaScouting

The notes mysteriously end there, with March 15th being the last entry. It isn’t clear if Doug left his notes in Maryvale, or if he simply hasn’t had any trade discussions since March.

So, what do you think? Still think you could run this team better than Doug Melvin?

Post-Draft Recap

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Yeah, yeah, I know there are still two days left, but I don’t have any friends or relatives hoping to be picked, so I’m going to say the draft is over.

As I noted yesterday, professional sport drafts are boring. In all leagues, they’re boring, but in baseball, they’re especially boring. At least players entering the NBA or NFL could make an immediate impact, but in baseball, these guys generally have 3-5 years of development left. I mean, some college pitcher might find himself in a bullpen at the end of the year, or the middle of next, but that’s certainly not the norm. For every player from the first 2 rounds that makes it to the big leagues, there is another that sputtered out and turned into a bust, or another with a career-derailing arm or knee injury. Plus, at least in football and basketball, we’ve seen the draft prospects play, and have a more clear idea of why we like whom we like.

In 5 years, ESPN or MLB Network will start showing high school games of top prospects in prime time, and start hyping their top plays on ‘Sportscenter’ so that they can hype up their live draft show, kind of like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. But that won’t change the fact that these kids are still 3-5 years away, Hell, some of them won’t even sign.

So, while I’m not going to waste my time watching players I don’t know play MLB dress-up on a stage with Bud Selig while actual baseball is being played, I did see the names roll by on Twitter, and read some scouting reports after the fact. The Hawaiian guy whose name I can’t pronounce seems like a safe, sure-to-sign, money-saver that was drafted so that they could afford a more expensive second pick. That second pick was Gatewood, who people seemed to be excited about, so that’s cool. Now that I kind of know the names (“Young Richie Sexson” and “Hawaiian Guy”), I have my reference for when news breaks about them getting hurt or promoted. Those of you who watched it, hey, more power to you, but I read their names, and that’s all I need from the MLB draft.