Finally. After what seemingly felt like an eternity of “the Baltimore Orioles are likely to sign Yovani Gallardo” talks, they did. MLB Trade Rumors reported that the deal was a three-year, $35-million deferred doozy with a $13-million option in 2019.
It’s not a bad deal, it’s just not exciting. The Orioles needed to go out and get a starting pitcher because they lost Wei-Yin Chen to the Marlins, and Gallardo seemed to be their man from the get go. Gallardo, who is entering his age-29 season, certainly has the experience to lead a rotation.
The question that has to be asked is did the Orioles get better?
Unfortunately, I don’t think this move improved the Orioles situation, but in the same sense, it didn’t get much worse. Their starting rotation was arguably the worst in the AL East last season, and with four of the same faces, it would have taken Clayton Kershaw to drastically improve them.
Gallardo comes to the Orioles to replace Chen. There are positives right there as Gallardo is younger and cheaper. Chen signed a both a bigger deal (five years at $80-million) plus has that new trendy two-year opt out clause that seemingly will allow all these big signings to test the free agency market and get even more money.
Gallardo had a great ERA last season playing for the Texas Rangers, and like the Rangers’ home grounds in Arlington, Camden Yards is a launching pad. It is certainly a positive to see that Gallardo was able to post a 3.42 ERA in such a hitter friendly atmosphere.
He can also pitch. A lot. The righty has made 30-plus starts in seven consecutive seasons. That kind of reliability in today’s Tommy John driven MLB is invaluable, especially at less than $12-mill a year when someone like Chen is commanding $16-mill a year.
Everyone knows the bad on Gallardo. FanGraphs pointed it out just a few days ago. While Gallardo has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park and keeping runs from scoring, his strikeout rate has been in a steady decline.
And by steady, I mean six year.
Gallardo used to be one of the more exciting strikeout pitchers in baseball, averaging about one an inning or over nine a game. Then the strikeouts seemingly stopped. They went from seven per nine, to six per nine, to last season’s career low of 5.9 per nine. That is a serious regression.
There are two ways to look at this. There have been plenty of young fireballers who needed to adjust their games as their careers went on to become finesse PITCHERS as opposed to fireball THROWERS. It’s a rite of passage for many, and the Nolan Ryans and Randy Johnsons are exceptions to the norm.
The problem here is that Gallardo is 29. We aren’t talking about someone late in his career that losing velocity or placement should be an issue. In fact, you should be arguing that he is in his prime and it should be getting better.
Secondly, despite the fact that Gallardo is consistently making all of those starts each season, he isn’t an innings eater. He hasn’t thrown 200 innings once in the past three seasons despite starting 31, 32, and 33 games respectively. Last season he only made it seven innings or longer four times. If you are on the Kansas City Royals, that’s a-ok. But if you are now the ace of the Baltimore Orioles, well let’s just say T.J. McFarland, Darren O’Day and Zach Britton — despite being pretty good — are no HDH.
Now let’s — for arguments sake — say Gallardo has seen a dramatic drop in his strikeout rate because he has improved other aspects of his game. That, too, would be ok. But that, too, is not the case.
Gallardo has become increasingly more hittable each passing season, and last season in Texas, a hitter’s ballpark like in Baltimore, Gallardo allowed 193 hits in just 184.1 innings which comes out to 9.4 per nine. That was his career worst, which outdid his previous career worst set just the season prior. Throw on top of it that he walked 3.3 batters per nine, a number almost a whole walk worse than his 2014 campaign, his frightening 1.42 WHIP becomes understandable.
Last season Gallardo stranded 77.2% of his runners — the second highest margin of his career. Should his numbers continue to regress as they are, that number is going to need to get closer to 80% or else all of those baserunners are going to come back to haunt him.
Impossible? By no means. Likely? Not very.
It’s also rough on the Orioles because Gallardo comes to them after declining the Rangers qualifying offer. That means they lose a draft pick and a pretty good one at No. 14. If this were a good farm system, I’d say it was a good gamble, but there isn’t much depth down on the farm in Baltimore.
SO GOOD MOVE OR NOT?
I think the fairest way to assess the signing is to say it was the right move because they got what they needed: a very affordable ace. Time will tell whether it was a good or bad move. Gallardo came at a low cost in today’s market financially, but a high cost in the draft pick compensation. If he can turn into the ace this staff needs for the next three years, that draft pick will be forgotten.
If his regression catches up to him and he can’t fix it, the Orioles will be bad. Which means they will unfortunately have a lot better draft picks in their near future than the No. 14 pick they lost.