Recently, rumors have linked the Orioles to free agent pitcher Yovani Gallardo. It's unclear how much fresh information is in the most recent rumor. Site manager Mark Brown reacted negatively to this rumor on Tuesday. He's not unique among Orioles bloggers in feeling this way.
OK, so why don't we like this guy? I'll admit that he wouldn't be anyone I want the Orioles to sign, but are they wrong to be considering him?
Looking at his career to date, one thing that stands out is this guy is past his best years. He's only 29, but since being named to the All-Star team in 2010 and finishing seventh in Cy Young voting in 2011, he's done very little. He spent most of his time in Milwaukee, but last season was traded to the Rangers. Though he was able to put in 184.1 innings, his stats weren't great last season - a 3.42 ERA, a 4.00 FIP, 1.78 SO/W, 1.416 WHIP. Basically, meh. But then I looked at the WAR column...4.1 WAR!?! That's getting close to All-Star level. Even more surprising was that it was a huge leap of previous years. In fact, he had never before posted a WAR of more than 3, and now it's all the way up to 4.1? Something was going on here.
I decided to check his page at Fangraphs to see if they had similar numbers. As expected his 2015 WAR there was a much more modest 2.5, but it was still an increase over the last few seasons. The gap can probably be explained by one key difference in how Fangraphs calculates WAR. Specifically, they use FIP. For those that don't know, FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a similar statistic to ERA that attempts to better capture a pitcher's "true" performance, considering things that are more under his control - strikeout rate and walk rate - and removing things that aren't under his control, like the quality of his defense.
This past season, Gallardo's FIP was exactly 4.00, over half a run higher than his ERA. That's because of a strikeout rate that has been in decline for several seasons. At Gallardo's best, he struck out 25.7% of the batters he faced. That's a very good number. This past season, he struck out only 15.3% of batters. That's horrible in today's game. His walk rate also jumped considerably this year compared to the past. That means that FIP is not going to like him as much as a results-oriented statistic like ERA.
A pitcher having a WAR of 2.5 is not awful. Then again, take a moment to consider your feelings about Ubaldo Jimenez's 2015 performance. Were you happy with him? Probably not. At best, he was OK. Jimenez was worth 2.7 WAR according to Fangraphs. You probably don't want another Jimenez-caliber pitcher in the rotation, especially considering that Gallardo would cost the Orioles their top draft pick in order to sign him - and will probably cost a comparable annual salary to Jimenez.
Which brings us back around to the key question: Should the Orioles sign him or not? Some other things worth considering:
- Gallardo was very homer-prone when pitching for Milwaukee. According to ESPN's park factors for 2015, the Brewers stadium was the most homer-friendly stadium in all of baseball. The #2 stadium? Oriole Park at Camden Yards. To the extent that his 2015 performance improved, a lot of that improvement would be rolled back by going to another stadium as unfriendly as the Brewers home park.
- The problems with home runs may be somewhat lessened by the fact that Gallardo tends to get a ground ball rate around 50%. That's been fairly constant across the last few years of his career, so one might hope it would continue to Baltimore, where infield defense has been a strength.
- Signing Gallardo would seem to lock in the Orioles to a rotation of five right-handed pitchers. Do they absolutely need a lefty? Maybe not, especially now that Scott Kazmir has signed elsewhere, but it would make for a problem when facing lefty-heavy teams.
- The Steamer projection on Fangraphs and the Marcel projection on Baseball Reference suggest the best case (a mid-3s ERA) and an average case (an ERA in the low-4s range). That second one is not very inspiring. The problem is the Orioles already have a lot of these guys. This isn't exactly an upgrade over last year; if you consider him as a replacement for Wei-Yin Chen, he's not even guaranteed to do as well. Even if the Orioles sign Gallardo, they're still heavily reliant on their existing rotation improving.
Fangraphs projected Gallardo to sign for $56M over 4 years for an AAV of $14M. He would need to average 2 WAR each season to be worth that much, and that's probably his ceiling, especially given that declining strikeout rate problem.
In the end, this doesn't seem like it would be a good signing for the Orioles, and definitely not for the contract Fangraphs projected. It also doesn't seem like the type of contract Duquette would be willing to give out. However, it does seem like the kind of pitcher Duquette may go after, if only in the hopes he could get him cheap.
We've seen this previously over the last couple offseasons. Duquette has gone after guys like Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, and Ervin Santana in recent years, although the only one he ended up signing was Jimenez. Unless the market for Gallardo crashes and he ends up seeking a shorter term contract for only two years, there doesn't seem to be much reason to want the Orioles to sign him, nor to expect that the Orioles will sign him, regardless of what rumors that float around may say.