Arizona Diamondbacks: Would Acquiring Yovani Gallardo Make Them NL West Favorites?


May 26, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo pitches in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Diamondbacks are in a weird situation.

The Diamondbacks do occupy the top spot in National League West, which isn’t weird at all. It’s quite a feat–maybe.

What’s weird is how they have become owners of the top spot. Or more specifically, how the rest of the NL West has opened the door for the Diamondbacks to stay atop the division despite their 3-7 record over their last 10 games and 7-13 mark over their last 20 games.

With the exception of the surging Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 8-2 over their last 10 games and 12-8 over their last 20 games, every other NL West squad sports a losing record over their last 20 games.

Some may characterize the NL West as a “competitive division.” That’s true, as merely 4.5 games separates the last place team (San Francisco Giants) from the first place Diamondbacks, who own the division’s only winning record (44-41).

The disparity also underscores the overall weakness of the division, though. From second place to last place, none of those four teams would be sniffing contention in, say, the NL Central. But that’s the wild, wild West, where the opportunities are endless.

Jul 3, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Martin Prado (14) congratulates Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Cody Ross (7) after Ross hit a three-run home run against the New York Mets during the sixth inning of a game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The opportunities are endless until one of the five teams gets hot and runs off eight or so wins, that is. The Dodgers are threatening to do just that, but thanks to an extremely slow start to the season, they’ve still got some climbing to do.

Arizona, meanwhile, is in the perfect position to catch a hot streak and run because they’re already at the top. Realizing as much, management is on the look out for starting pitching. I’d say that that’s a good place to start, as their starters haven’t won a game in about three weeks.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Wednesday that the Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers are “talking” about a potential Yovani Gallardo-Tyler Skaggs swap. Nothing is imminent, though, as a person familiar with the talks told Heyman that there’s no “traction at this point.”

Jul 1, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo (49) walks off the field after being taken out of the game in the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Whether there’s traction or not, one must ponder this question: Would adding Gallardo make Arizona the favorite to win the NL West?

On the surface, no. Gallardo has struggled mightily in 2013. In 18 starts, he’s compiled a 4.78 ERA and 4.06 FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage)—FIP measures only what a pitcher can control, such as strikeouts, walks and home runs. In other words, Gallardo hasn’t been a victim of bad luck or bad dense, as suggested by his FIP.

Gallardo’s ERA and FIP, however, are simply the byproducts of deeper, more alarming problems.

We can start with his fastball velocity. That’s where people seem to jump to first, not that velocity will paint the entire portrait.

In this particular case, there is something to be had when pondering Gallardo’s velocity. Take a look at his velocity readings since 2007, courtesy of FanGraphs.

2007: 91.6
2008: 90.5
2009: 92.3
2010: 92.6
2011: 92.6
2012: 91.7
2013: 90.7

I warn you not to put too much credence into 2008 because Gallardo was pretty beat up. He had left knee surgery in Spring Training, which put him on the shelf for 17 games. Then, the hapless right-hander had right knee surgery a few weeks later, causing him to miss 128 games, only to return for one start later that year (September 25).

Gallardo’s injury history aside, there’s more to velocity than what’s on the surface. A pitcher’s velocity could plummet, yes, but such a scenario isn’t the end of the world. Hitting spots and command just become more important–Greg Maddux, anyone?

Gallardo’s fastball is still effective, but it’s only a shade of what it once was. The stats can vouch too. Opponents are hitting .288 against it when it has yielded a .256 career average. That’s a fairly substantial uptick.

To throw in a caveat, the opponents’ average against his fastball has been on the rise since 2010, which is just about when his velocity started wane. Coincidence? Perhaps.

So to briefly recap: the velocity and effectiveness of his fastball have both declined. Commence the red alert.

Gallardo’s fastball deficiencies in 2013 aren’t do to wildness or any of the common factors. You know, fastball command and stuff of that nature.

Consider the table below:

Here, we see no major outliers. Perhaps the nastiness of his fastball dwindled, suggested by the slightly lower Whiff and BIP (Ball In Play) percentages. Nothing major, though.

That leads us to his slider, which, well, hasn’t been a typical Yovani Gallardo slider.

FanGraphs’ linear weights, or essentially how many runs above average a pitch is, gives us a good idea of a pitch’s value. Gallardo’s wSL in 2013 thus far is -2.6. It was 10.1 in 2012, or more simply, the 15th-best slider in baseball. In fact, with the exception of 2011, Gallardo’s wSL has been north of zero since he broke into the majors.

The simple observation to Gallardo’s ineffective slider is that it’s not getting as much movement, perhaps due to a different arm slot (Courtesy of Brooks Baseball).

 Note: VRP stands for Vertical Release Point. HRP stands for Horizontal Release Point. VM stands for Vertical Movement. HM stands for Horizontal Movement. 

That seems to be the only feasible suggestion. Less movement equals more hittable pitches, right?

So with a broken slider, declining fastball and bloated numbers, would Yovani Gallardo help the Diamondbacks? Certainly not at the moment. Dealing Tyler Skaggs for him doesn’t seem wise either.

Hey, maybe Gallardo is one fix away from dominating. But the Diamondbacks aren’t at a point where they can risk anything, especially if the risk involves trading their top pitching prospect.