The Rockies are rumored to be interested in signing starter Yovani Gallardo, as reports from Thursday—and now into Friday—have repeatedly linked the two sides with varying levels of interest. The Rockies are meeting again this morning with Gallardo's agent, according to Thomas Harding of MLB.com.
Gallardo's decision will have Colorado as a finalist, it appears:
Of course, the veteran comes attached to a qualifying offer, and the Rockies are apparently "reluctant" to lose a draft pick should they sign the right-handed pitcher:
Sources: #Rockies plan to talk again today to Gallardo’s reps. First pick protected; Rox reluctant to give up 2nd, currently No. 38 overall.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 22, 2016
Nevertheless, there are those firmly in the corner of Gallardo being a smart move for Colorado:
gallardo would be great play for rox, who do have great lineup. very smart pitcher with big experience in 2 hitters havens— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 22, 2016
Let's set aside the question of whether or not the Rockies should sign a veteran pitcher to a long-term contract, given where the team is right now. Instead, let’s focus on simpler questions that, regardless of everything else, matter: Is Gallardo good and will he be good for the life of the contract?
A surface answer to this question might examine his ERA and FIP (which accounts solely for strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed). The answer to this question is yes, and consistently so. Since 2007, Gallardo has pitched eight seasons in which he threw at least 110 innings. His lowest seasonal ERA in those years was 3.51 in 2014 and his highest was 4.18 in 2013. In that same timespan, his lowest FIP clocked in at 3.02, which he posted in 2010, while his highest FIP was 4.00 in 2015. In each of these seasons, Gallardo was worth between 1.0 and 3.0 wins, using Baseball Prospectus’s model. Based on these figures, Gallardo seems to be a reliable starting pitcher whose only sign of decline is that he's getting older.
Another way to examine Gallardo’s progression over time is to examine his strikeouts. While these figures play a significant role in his FIP, seeing how they have changed over time is instructive. In Gallardo’s first season, he struck out 8.24 batters per nine innings. Over the next four seasons, he was striking out about nine to 10 batters per nine innings. In the past three seasons, however, Gallardo’s strikeouts per nine fell to 7.17 in 2013, 6.83 in 2014, and all the way to 5.91 in 2015. All the while, Gallardo’s fastball velocity has dipped a couple miles per hour, and he's continued to struggle with walks. For his career, he's walked 3.3 batters per nine innings. From this view, he appears to be in the midst of a steep decline.
There’s another layer of the story that needs attention. At Beyond the Box Score, Spencer Bingol recently highlighted a shift in Gallardo’s approach. In particular, Gallardo has changed the type of pitcher he is. He’s not been garnering fewer strikeouts because he’s become worse; instead, it’s because he introduced the sinker into his repertoire. The result has been fewer strikeouts, more groundballs, and sustained effectiveness. Here’s an overview of his pitch selection since 2007:
The important takeaway from the chart is that Gallardo’s strikeout rate has declined because he’s essentially become a different pitcher. His strikeout rate has gone down, and his contact rate has gone up. Additionally, and this is key for explaining why the Rockies might be attracted to Gallardo; his groundball rate has increased over the years. This doesn't mean he would be a success. As we’ve noted here before, the attraction to contact oriented groundballers can easily backfire on the Rockies. Coors Field regularly generates the highest batting average on balls in play, so allowing a lot of contact is not a great way to succeed at Coors Field.
Another lesson from the chart has to do with Gallardo in a more general sense. He didn’t reinvent himself as a pitcher by accident. Instead, it sure looks like he acknowledged the velocity decline that every aging pitcher experiences and tried to manage it with a different repertoire. In other words, the changes illustrate that Gallardo is smart and has a mature approach to the game. He strikes me as a pitcher who wouldn't let Coors Field get into his head. That’s worth something.
If the Rockies do sign Gallardo, a lot of folks are not going to like it because it would be a commitment to a pitcher entering his 30s at a time when the Rockies should be focusing on rebuilding. To boot, the Rockies had to give up the 38th pick in June's amateur draft, which looks to be pretty deep. Those are legitimate criticisms. But that doesn't mean the Rockies are throwing money at a bad pitcher. Despite everything else, Gallardo appears to be a good bet to provide a lot of high quality innings for the Rockies in the upcoming seasons.