Why 2015 Should Hint at Fun to Come – Part 2: Homecoming King
Last season, for all the losses, every fifth day meant the magic of Yu Darvish. For this year’s team Jon Daniels and Jeff Banister have taken the right approach, mixing solid veterans with opportunities for some amazingly promising kids. Most of the excitement comes from the limitless hope that is “potential”. From Round Rock to Hickory, the bushes are bustling with talent.
But on Opening Day, a local kid with ace credentials takes the hill. He won’t make you forget Yu. But more often than not this season – if you squint just right, forget the goatee, and give him the benefit of the three inches Yu has on him – Yovani Gallardo’s 4-pitch arsenal, devastating movement, and over-the-top leap at the hitters are likely to fool you. Don’t worry; plenty of opposing hitters should be right there with you.
In a better world, bookended by Darvish and Derek Holland, Gallardo would easily be one of the best No. 2 starters in Rangers history. Even as it stands, the Fort Worth Trimble Tech alumni’s return home as the staff’s standing ace is more a journey of redemption than a pursuit of potential.
Potential became reality for Gallardo before the Rangers had ever tasted October success. By 21, he was 9-5 with a sub-4.00 ERA in 17 rookie starts for a rising Brewers team. In 2008 at the age of 22, he put up seven scoreless innings across two NLDS games against the eventual champion Phillies. Two years later, he was an NL All-Star. By 2011, he was a Top 10 finisher in the NL Cy Young voting and the undisputed ace of a team that went six games deep in the NLCS before falling to the eventual champion Cardinals (Yes, THAT Cardinals team. I’ll pause here to let you get the silent cursing of David Freese out of your system).
To compliment his exploding-at-the-hitter motion, Gallardo has put more emphasis on his cutter and curveball to increase his efficiency in missing the sweet spot. This change in approach has caused his strikeout ratio to trend down (9.0 or higher every season from 2009 to 2012, down to 6.8 last season). But as his strikeouts have gone down, his efficiency has improved; his walk percentage, extra base hit percentage, and pitches per plate appearance have all dropped throughout his career while his groundball to fly ball ratio has gone up (which is good) – but really focus on the last three seasons:
There may be no better pitching coach in baseball more suited to exploit that kind of trend than Mike Maddux.
As this Rangers team builds towards their next pennant winning season, (put my money down on 2019) remember that for all his credentials, Gallardo is the same age (29) as both Holland and Darvish. Assuming they can be kept together, those three should each be ready to bring an optimal mix of ability and experience as this team closes out the decade. While Gallardo can become a free agent at the end of this season, the Rangers may have pocket aces in the game to keep him. First, he and his family still call Ft. Worth home. Second, the Rangers show no signs of letting Gallardo’s favorite pitching coach, Mike Maddux, leave anytime soon.
Finally, Jeff Banister has shown some of the same traits that Ron Roenicke brought to Gallardo’s prime seasons in Milwaukee: a willingness to stick up for his players, an unfailing focus on accepting the reality of a situation, and putting his team in a place to push forward.
If you doubt what Gallardo has left in his repertoire, don’t count strikeouts; look for the guy that spoils solid contact. That’s the secret recipe of aces. We saw it with Lee for far too brief an autumn, and have learned to expect it from Darvish.
While we wait for Holland to shake off a season’s worth of rust and follow Yu’s rehab, remember that every fifth day in Arlington will still bring a certified ace with the potential (and credentials) to dominate.