Texas Rangers Starting Pitcher Yovani Gallardo: Buy or Sell?

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It is a good time of the year for fantasy baseball managers to take a look at the team they have and figure out what they need. Pitching is often at the top of the list of needs, as you can almost always improve your fantasy rotation. AJ Andree takes a look at Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo to see if he is worth targeting in the second half of the season.

In 2011, Yovani Gallardo had a K/9 of 8.99 and a BB/9 of 2.56, resulting in an ERA of 3.52. Here we are in 2015, at baseball’s annual midpoint, and Gallardo is sitting on rate stats of 6.35 K/9 and a 3.01 BB/9. However, he now boasts an ERA of 2.67. So what has happened this season to propel Gallardo back into ace territory, even with his mediocre underlying numbers?

In 2014, Gallardo made a change to his pitching mix, moving away from his 4-seam fastball, and increasing his sinker usage to around 20% of the time. He has continued this trend this season, throwing the sinker just a shade over 22% of the time. This has lead to a career high ground ball rate of 51.4%. 

What’s interesting is that even though that is only a slight increase over his GB% last season, he’s giving up far fewer home runs than he did last season at .59 HR/9 compared to .98 HR/9 in 2014. This suggests that even though he’s been progressing towards a GB pitcher over the last couple seasons, the biggest impact might have actually come from switching home parks to Globe Life Stadium after being traded to the Rangers. According to ESPN park factors, in 2014, Miller Park (which Gallardo had called home) gave up an above average amount of HRs compared to Globe Life, which actually suppressed HRs even though it’s traditionally thought of as a hitters’ haven. This trend has continued into 2015, a fact which is surely helping Gallardo. All this leads to the question of: What we can expect from Gallardo in the second half of the season?

Though I would expect him to continue to be an above average pitcher in the second half, there are some warning signs that this level of success is unlikely to continue. The main problem is that Gallardo is simply walking too many batters. In his last 3 starts, Gallardo walked three, two and four batters, respectively. He also walked more batters than he struck out in each of those starts. He can not afford to give up free passes, as he no longer has the strikeout rate to balance it out. That’s not a recipe for success, especially with his above-average BABIP. His BABIP is about .030 below his career average, but without any massive shift in the type of contact he’s allowed. His hard-hit % is under his career average, but that doesn’t adequately explain the difference in BABIP this season.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Even with his warning signs, his FIP is still just 3.54, suggesting the expected regression won’t be as dramatic as one might expect. His decreased home run rate is likely the biggest factor driving his FIP, and if he’s able to keep that up, I would expect him to match or exceed his FIP over the rest of the season.

The bigger question is whether or not the Rangers trade him as the deadline approaches. The Rangers are currently only 6 back of the division lead, and 5.5 games out of a wild card spot. Even though their W-L record stands under .500, they may fancy themselves as contenders. If that’s the case, even though some regression is likely to come, I would expect Gallardo to continue to be an above average pitcher for the Rangers and to not be traded.

It’s clear that the move to Globe Life Park has helped drive some of his success, and I’d recommend buying if he sticks around. He’s not an ace, but I expect him to beat his projections and end up with an ERA near his FIP by season’s end. Currently, a 3.50 ERA would be a top 30 AL starting pitcher, and a top 50 SP in MLB. That’s a valuable pitcher, even if he’s not worth selling the farm for.

If he moves, look to see which team acquires him. If he moves to another home park that suppresses home runs, I’d stick with my recommended buy. If he moves to a home park that allows an above-average amount of HRs, he becomes a little riskier and I’d recommend staying away. I still think he ends up being a solid pitcher in those home parks, but there’s going to be some blowups as his HR rate adjusts, and it’ll be frustrating to deal with that if you expected someone closer to an ace. Overall, I think we’ll get a clearer picture on how to price Gallardo in the next couple weeks, so I wouldn’t recommend panicking and overpaying for him right now. He’s likely to continue to be a good pitcher over the rest of the season, but until the dust settles it’s hard to say how good he’ll be.

*Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com and Brooksbaseball.com

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