It was rumored to be in the works for weeks now, but the Orioles have finally made their signing of Yovani Gallardo official–well at least Twitter has made it official. The two sides have reportedly come to an agreement on a three-year deal worth $35 million. It’s the first “big” acquisition they’ve made this offseason that wasn’t just re-signing a free agent on the verge of departure (Matt Wieters, Darren O’Day, Chris Davis). Clearly the Orioles have designs on making another playoff run but, while Gallardo is a solid pitcher, he doesn’t quite make up for what the O’s lost in Wei-Yen Chen.
At one time, it appeared as though Yovani Gallardo was on the verge of becoming one of the better strikeout pitchers in the league. From 2009 through 2012, Gallardo sported a K% north of 23% – the league average was around 18-19% in those years. It might surprise you to learn in that timeframe, Gallardo’s 24.5 K% was the fifth-best in all of baseball among qualified starters, ahead of the likes of Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, and Adam Wainwright.
But something happened to Gallardo in 2013. His strikeout rate dropped dramatically to 18.6% and it hasn’t recovered since, perhaps due to a corresponding drop in velocity. In fact, in each successive season, it has only continued to decline, along with his velocity. Last year, the league average K% was 20.4%. Gallardo logged a 15.3 K%, well south of average. After three years of data, we can conclusively state that Gallardo is nowhere near the strikeout pitcher he once was, but that doesn’t mean he’s no longer a good pitcher.
He has a career 3.66 ERA and 3.74 FIP. Only once in his career he failed to end the season with a sub-4.00 ERA, back in 2013 when he had a 4.18 ERA. The last two seasons he had a 3.51 ERA and 3.42 ERA, the latter of which was a career low, so he still has been able to enjoy positive results. FIP doesn’t like him as much, but he’s consistently shown he can best the projections. However, now that he’s a contact pitcher, that ability is in jeopardy as he’ll be relying a lot more on the defense behind him than in the past.
Perhaps more valuable to a team is his durability. Outside of an ACL tear during the 2008 season (which he came back from to pitch at the end of the year, including the Postseason), he’s never had a major injury. Last year, marked his 7th consecutive season making 30+ starts. The safety net that durability provides is absolutely something the Orioles desperately needed, as their top pitching prospects (Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey, and Kevin Gausman) all have been injured, ineffective, or inexperienced at the highest level.
When the offseason began, it seemed probable that Gallardo was in line for a contract similar to that of former teammate Matt Garza – four years and approximately $56 million. However, the Rangers extended him the qualifying offer, which he subsequently declined, meaning that the signing team would be forced to forfeit their highest draft pick. That severely depressed and limited Gallardo’s market and is the reason he ended up signing for considerably less.
Assuming Gallardo’s strikeout rate doesn’t plummet yet again, three years and $35 million is a pretty good bargain for the Orioles. But as noted above, they did pay a rather high price in the form of the 14th pick in the 2016 Draft. That’s not insignificant for a farm system was ranked 27th by both Baseball America and Keith Law at ESPN. I think they had to do it though, because they still weren’t a playoff team after spending big on both Chris Davis and Darren O’Day. They’re in win now mode, and that’s the time when prospects and draft picks are most expendable. The problem is they probably still aren’t a playoff team with Gallardo.
If the rumors are true and they’re also on the verge of signing Dexter Fowler, the dynamic shifts a bit. Maybe then the Orioles can get lucky and win a Wild Card spot. The American League is pretty wide open, though there really aren’t any “bad” teams in the league aside from maybe the Athletics. But they’ll have to hope Gallardo can continue to beat his FIP, and that his K% doesn’t continue to suffer decline. Because if that happens, he may not even be worth his modest contract.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs