Welcome back to “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, my annual countdown to Opening Day.
We’re seven weeks away from tailgating, bunting (both the good kind and likely the reviled kind), cheering, high-fiving, and (if you’re old enough) day-drinking.
That’s all there is left. Just seven weeks. Seven little weeks. And you already know this because of both simply math and the fact that it’s written right there in the title of the column, but seven weeks left multiplied by seven days per week gives us the knowledge that we’re 49 days away.
What you also already know is who wears #49 for the Milwaukee Brewers. He is the longest-tenured Brewers pitcher who wears #49 in honor of his childhood idol Teddy Higuera. He is…
I stopped short, just now, of even referring to Gallardo as the “staff ace” in Milwaukee. He’s got the tenure and up until last season consistently performed as the best starting pitcher year in and year out (with the exception of parts of Zack Greinke’s Milwaukee tenure) when he was healthy and on the mound. Such was not the case in 2013.
In fact, 2013 was the overall worst statistical season of Gallardo’s seven as a Brewer. He posted an ERA over 4.00 (4.18) for the first time along with just 144 strikeouts in just 180.2 innings pitched. That dropped his K/9 rate to a career-worst 7.2 and despite his downtick in BB/9, he still finished with a career second-to-worst K/BB of 2.18.
This couldn’t be coming at a worse time for Milwaukee as Gallardo’s base salary jumps by $3.5 million this year. They do hold a club option for 2015 at $13 million with just a $600 thousand buyout. Make no mistake, but even less after signing Matt Garza to a four-year contract: How Gallardo pitches in 2014 has an incredible amount to do with where Gallardo pitches in 2015.
But to this point, it’s all been for the Brewers franchise after being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. Gallardo signed a month after the draft and pitched for both the Arizona rookie and Beloit Class-A affiliates that year. He posted a 0.47 ERA in six starts in Arizona before the promotion. Gallardo spent all of 2005 with Class-A West Virginia making 18 starts in 26 appearances, mostly with the idea of limiting his innings. Gallardo’s progress was accelerated after that, at least in comparison to most Brewers minor leaguers these days. He split 2006 between Class-A Advanced Brevard County and Class-AA Huntsville. He made 13 starts for each and posted very similar lines at both despite the talent difference at Huntsville. Gallardo started 2007 in Nashville until his mid-June callup to Milwaukee. He hasn’t looked back accept for a short rehab assignment to begin the 2008 season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee that March. He did lose almost all of 2008 anyway to an ACL tear in his right knee (which coincides exactly with the beginning of my sports-hate for Reed Johnson), but had pitched very well since then.
What’s more, Gallardo was a model of consistency in the two years prior to last year. He struck out between 200 and 207 hitters in each of the four years between 2009 and 2012. He pitched 207.1 innings in 2011 with 207 strikeouts and 204.0 innings in 2012 with 204 strikeouts. He allowed 27 home runs in 2011 and 26 homers in 2012. There are more examples, but the only thing with a wild fluctuation between the seasons was Gallardo’s walk total. It was just 59 in 2011 but ballooned to 81 in 2012. But in 2013, Gallardo cut his walks back down to a total of 66 (3.3 BB/9) which wasn’t as good as 2011 (2.6) but still better than 2012 (3.6).
So if it wasn’t the walk rate that torpedoed Gallardo last season, what exactly did happen in 2013?
Part of the answer if that we really don’t know for sure. Despite the advances in metrics, measurements, analysis, and the like, these are still human beings trying to live up to numbers. A couple of things with potential impact did happen that we know about for sure. First, Gallardo agreed to participate in the World Baseball Classic for Team Mexico which led to an shorter off-season, earlier ramp up times, and possibly impacted his preparations from a regular season standpoint. It has been mentioned multiple times this off-season, when prompted, that the WBC may have had some impact on Gallardo. Of course, all of last season when Gallardo was struggling it was consistently dismissed as a possible cause. We’ll see what a regular off-season does for Gallardo’s fortunes in 2014.
The other things we know of, although we have no idea how long it may have continued to be a problem or what caused it to happen in the first place, but there was the matter of an off-the-field issue when Gallardo was arrested for DUI in April. It was in the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 16th. Gallardo pitched on the 13th and was scheduled to toe the rubber again on the 18th. That’s not to excuse the timing of the DUI, but at least to offer the factual context.
Gallardo was cited, fined, and admonished for the act. It’s not only poor form, but in a world of multi-million dollar contracts, clubhouse attendants, personal assistants, and a league-sponsored program to provide drivers for players who have had too much to drink on a given night, it’s fairly hard to understand how it could have happened at all. Then again, alcohol has been known to impair judgment a time or two.
The bottom line for Gallardo is that he’s got a job in Milwaukee for 2014 in the starting rotation. Beyond that, he certainly has a lot to prove for someone with his track record. He needs to refind his ability to miss bats, while maintaining the control that he’s demonstrated in the past. If he sacrificed strikeouts in an odd attempt to decrease his walks and reduce his pitch counts, it worked to some degree but he lost much of his effectiveness along the way.
All that said, let me reiterate one point in conclusion: Gallardo has a lot of influence over his 2015 with his results in 2014. One would think that his calm and relatively reserved demeanor would lend itself to his wanting to pitch well so he could stay in Milwaukee.
Let’s just hope he pitches like it.
Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:
- #50 José De La Torre
- #51 Wei-Chung Wang
- #52 Jimmy Nelson
- #53 Brandon Kintzler
- #54 Michael Blazek
- #58 Ariel Peña
- #59 Zach Duke
- #60 Kevin Shackelford
- #61 Jason Rogers
- #63 Brooks Hall
- #64 Mike Fiers
- #65 Irving Falu
- #66 Robinzon Diaz
- BONUS COLUMN: #77 David Goforth, #76 Kevin Mattison, #75 Mitch Haniger, #74 Michael Olmstead, #73 Kentrail Davis, #72 Cameron Garfield, #71 Adam Weisenburger, #70 Dustin Molleken, #67 Eugenio Velez