Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, but he certainly wasn't as sharp as his eight innings of one-hit ball would suggest.
On a smaller scale, Gallardo was on the "Liriano no-no" pace, walking three batters before the eighth inning and then starting that inning by walking Lance Berkman. When all was said and done, Gallardo had thrown 118 pitches in eight innings with 69 strikes to 41 balls (or a 1.7 strike-to-ball ratio). Compare that with Justin Verlander, who threw 73 strikes to 34 balls during his nine innings of no-hit ball, for a 2.1 strike-to-ball ratio. However, Gallardo did strike out six and managed to keep the ball on the ground for most of the day (11:4 ground outs-to-fly outs).
In many ways, this outing was a microcosm of Gallardo's major league career to date. He has ace-level stuff, including a career 9.1 K/9, but his inability to command his pitches continues to hold him back. That lack of command within the strike-zone in particular has hurt him this season.
If we compare Gallardo's pitch location through his first seven starts last season to this season, we find a striking difference. First, the difference in pitch location over his first seven starts to right-handed batters from 2010 to 2011. Through his first eight starts the difference between left-handed batters in 2010 to 2011. Clearly, Gallardo is leaving pitches over the plate way too often so far in 2011. As a result, he has been paying the price.
Has a bit of randomness played a role? Perhaps more than a little, based on a .358 BABIP against, the second-highest mark in baseball by a starting pitcher (minimum 40 IP). That being said, Gallardo isn't missing bats as frequently. His current 6.7 K/9 is well below his career average. Opposing batters have been able to make contact on their swings about 83 percent of the time, which is slightly higher than his career average of about 79 percent.
Gallardo just doesn't have his fastball or slider working consistently so far in 2011. Using PitchF/X data, we can see the drop-off so far in his whiff rate from both his fastball and slider from 2010 to the early part of the 2011 season so far. Last season, Gallardo induced opposing batters to whiff on his fastball about five-percent of the time and his slider about 12 percent of the time. The whiff rates on those two pitches are down to about three percent for the fastball and about seven percent for the slider.
Data from BrooksBaseball.net shows that Gallardo's rates were higher on Saturday against the Cardinals. He had four swing-and-misses out of 64 fastballs (6.3 percent) and three swinging strikeouts on 16 sliders (14 percent). On the bright side, Gallardo’s 49 1/3 innings represents a small sample size. It wouldn't be out of the question to see his numbers change radically as a result. Gallardo has a track record of striking out opposing batters at a feverish pace, and once he finds what he has lost in his fastball and slider, we should see those strikeouts come in bunches once again.
It's always exciting to watch the drama of a possible no-hitter unfold, no matter how many walks -- whether Francisco Liriano's six this past week, or Edwin Jackson's eight last season. The term “no-hitter” means something special within the baseball universe, something historic. No matter how ugly or how lucky, or even how good the pitcher is or was, it's something that will stand forever.
However, it does not mean that a struggling pitcher has suddenly solved all of his problems. Gallardo's effort, while highly entertaining, does not mark a turning point in his season. Such a turning point may indeed be on the way, but one near-no-hitter won't be the catalyst. Instead, the turning point will come when (or if) Gallardo stops leaving his pitches out over the plate and starts working the outer edges -- as he has done in the past. If he can get back to that form, the strikeouts should start to come. The more strikeouts, the less his walk rate hurts and the less he will have to rely on the results of balls in play.
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