COMMENTARY | The best word that can be used to describe Milwaukee Brewers' starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo would be "steady." Just like all players, Gallardo has his moments and gets roughed up every now and then, but when you look back at his body of work at the end of the season, his numbers are good, year after year after year.
In the past four seasons, Gallardo's ERA has remained between 3.51 and 3.85 -- not groundbreaking numbers by any means, but he only turns 27 this month and has yet to enter the prime of his career. Gallardo's only significant injury history since joining the Brewers was a freak ACL tear in 2008 when covering first base.
In other words, Gallardo has maintained a healthy arm in his rather brief career as a big leaguer as he enters his sixth full season. Still, the Brewers are waiting for him to emerge as a top-tier pitcher in the National League, and this season, he will be the unquestioned ace of the pitching staff.
In the past few years, Milwaukee has brought in Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf to take some of the pressure off of Gallardo. It's not entirely due to the team being afraid to hand over the No. 1 spot in the rotation to Gallardo, but more because the Brewers were making a strong push for the postseason.
But there's no going back now -- Gallardo enters spring training as the leader of the pitching staff, and he's ready to run with that role. After the Brewers dealt Greinke in late July last season, Gallardo essentially assumed the role of team ace and went on a tear to end the season, going 8-1 and chopping over .40 off his ERA. It's not as if Greinke was holding him back, but the bullpen began holding on to leads and Gallardo only allowed more than three earned runs in a game twice after July 26.
Something clicked for Gallardo, and he was even able to find success against the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that has been his arch nemesis throughout his career. What is crucial for Gallardo's success is locating his fastball and mixing in his slider and curveball as his changeup has slowly fallen out of favor.
When Gallardo allowed fly balls in 2012, they left the ballpark at a 15 percent rate, but he also dramatically improved his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio. Should that trend continue in 2013, his luck is bound to improve with his FB/HR ratio, which was over 2 percent higher than it had ever been in Gallardo's career (stats courtesy of Fangraphs).
Gallardo saw his average fastball speed drop nearly a full mile-per-hour last season, but there's a reason for that -- he began using the two-seam fastball more. He also saw his slider velocity gradually rise, a pitch he is slowly becoming more comfortable with and willing to throw on any count. Gallardo hasn't completely abandoned his changeup, but by including a moving fastball -- and even a hint of a cutter -- in his repertoire, he doesn't need to be as dependent on the change of pace.
Then there are the concerns regarding Gallardo playing in the World Baseball Classic. However, as mentioned before, Gallardo hasn't had any serious issues with his arm and got stronger as the season went along last season. By getting a head start, so to speak, by playing in the WBC, he should be more prepared for the early portion of the MLB season, so it should be to Gallardo's advantage to play in the tournament.
Gallardo logged over 200 innings in the past two seasons and is still young, so fatigue and injury shouldn't be a concern towards the end of the season. As noted by Brewers' MLB.com beat writer Adam McCalvy, rules will limit pitch counts and there is evidence that playing in the WBC actually helps players stay healthier during the regular season.
So we assume that the direction Gallardo is heading with his pitch selection and his involvement in the WBC will benefit him in 2013, but then there is the competition in the National League. Starting pitchers who made the all-star team last season were Matt Cain, R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, Lance Lynn, Wade Miley and Stephen Strasburg.
Of those players, Dickey is now in the American League, Gonzalez faces allegations regarding performance enhancing drugs due to his reported link with the Biogenesis clinic, Lynn may very well return to the bullpen for the Cardinals and Miley, while coming off a strong season, was selected as the Arizona Diamondbacks' only representative.
There are certainly several other worthy candidates that pitched better than Gallardo in 2012, but the competition will be weaker in 2013 even though his former teammate Greinke has returned to the NL with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That's good news for Gallardo, and it's not as if he is a stranger to the All-Star Game himself, being selected back in 2010.
Now it's time for Gallardo to return to the Midsummer Classic three years later.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
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- Yovani Gallardo
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