The Detroit Tigers and their general manager, Al Avila, have not been shy about the direction they are taking this offseason. They were linked to anyone and everyone at the general manager meetings last week, a stark contrast from years past when former president Dave Dombrowski took a cloak and dagger approach to his team's business.
Avila, who also hasn't been afraid to use more colorful language with the media, was very open about the Tigers' desire for a mid-tier starting pitcher, along with some bullpen help. They have inquired on just about every reliever on the free agent market, poked around the Craig Kimbrel tree until Dombrowski chopped it down, and have even tried to pry Hisashi Iwakuma away from the Seattle Mariners.
Who is he?
Gallardo was originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers way back in 2004. He made his major league debut in 2007 as a 21-year-old, tossing 110 1/3 innings with a 3.67 ERA. He tore his ACL in April of 2008 and missed the rest of the season, making just four starts. Since then, Gallardo has made 30 starts and logged at least 180 innings in each of the past seven seasons. He was an All-Star in 2010, and finished seventh in the NL Cy Young voting in 2011, when he was 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA.
Gallardo isn't a very overpowering pitcher, averaging just over 91 miles per hour on his fastball in 2015. His primary offspeed pitch is his slider, which sits in the high 80s, and he also throws a curveball and changeup. None of those pitches have been all that good at generating swings and misses in recent seasons. His whiff percentage has declined steadily, from 9.2 percent in 2011 to just 6.5 percent in 2015. His strikeout rate has declined as well, bottoming out at a paltry 15.3 percent this season.
Why should we care?
It makes sense, really. The Tigers sustained several injuries to their starting rotation in 2015, throwing them into a horrible alternate universe where Alfredo Simon led them in innings pitched. In order to prevent this terrible fate from repeating, the Tigers are going after one of the most durable starters on the market in Gallardo. He only has two DL stints on his résumé since missing nearly all of the 2008 season, and both were for lower body injuries.
There is some value in taking the ball every fifth day, but it means a lot more if you can do so without getting lit up in every other start. Gallardo was a rock in this regard last season, never allowing more than five runs in a single outing. Despite some wonky peripherals, he was able to prevent runs by keeping the ball low in the zone and inducing a lot of ground balls. Gallardo only allowed 15 home runs last year, the lowest total of his career, and his ground ball percentage has hovered around 50 percent over the past three seasons.
Why should we stay away?
Photo credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Captain Barbossa goatee aside, there are a few reasons to be leery of Gallardo. His 3.42 ERA in 2015 was a career-best, but his 4.00 FIP was his worst in a full season of work. His strikeout rate has plummeted from 18.6 percent in 2013 to 15.3 percent last season, and his once-awesome strikeout-to-walk ratio fell to 1.78 this season. He isn't particularly old, approaching his age-30 season, but has a fair number of innings on his arm already and doesn't appear to be aging well. Plus, the Tigers would cough up a draft pick for Gallardo, who declined a qualifying offer from the Rangers this offseason.
The biggest knock on Gallardo is something that affects all pitchers: the "times through the order penalty," or TTOP. As pitchers face the opposing lineup multiple times, hitters tend to fare better against them. Makes sense, right? Gallardo seems particularly susceptible to the TTOP, allowing a .754 OPS the third time through the lineup for his career. It was even worse in 2015, when opponents hit .298/.356/.466 the third time through the order. The Rangers tried their best to mask this in the second half, when Gallardo did not work more than six innings in a single start. Improving the bullpen is a must if the Tigers sign Gallardo.
Will he end up in Detroit?
It's a bit odd to see the Tigers interested in Gallardo given his sharp drop-off in strikeout rate, but there may be more to it than "he's not good anymore." Gallardo's batted ball profile has changed significantly over the past three years, and acquiring a starter focused on ground ball contact (a) fits with the Tigers' stellar middle infield defense, and (b) costs less than a dominant strikeout pitcher. It's not an ideal solution, but they could do much worse.