Brewers Should Shut Down Gallardo

There have been very few watchable things about the Brewers this year.  Yovani Gallardo turning in a very good season a year after tearing his ACL is one of them.  Unfortunately, it’s time that the Brewers look ahead to next season and shut Gallardo down for the year.

In the first true full season of his career, not only has Gallardo pitched more innings than he ever has in a big league season, but he’s shouldered the load of an entire (disappointing) rotation.  In 175 innings, he’s struck out 192 batters, molded a 3.59 ERA, and has managed a winning record of 12-11 despite some very poor run support and middle relief that’s lost their fair share of his starts.

But if the Brewers aren’t careful, history may repeat itself.


In a lot of ways, Gallardo’s 2009 season is similar to Ben Sheets’ 2004 season
As a 25-year old, Sheets went 12-14 with a 2.70 ERA and 264 strikeouts
in 237 innings.  It was good enough for an 8th-place finish in the Cy
Young voting despite pitching for a horrible 67-94 team. 
Unfortunately, it was the last season where Sheets wasn’t hampered by
some kind of injury.  Due to years of the Brewers overworking Sheets’
young arm as the only good starter on some pretty bad teams, he began
to break down.  In 2005, he was only able to make 22 starts.  In 2006,
he made 17 starts.  In 2007, he took the mound 24 times.  It wasn’t
until last season that Sheets hit the 30-start mark again, starting in
31 games but running into elbow issues at the end of the season.

Ironically,
it was Sheets’ injury last season that contributed to the Brewers
rushing Gallardo back from knee surgery in September.  If Sheets never
gets hurt, Gallardo is probably limited to a bullpen role or perhaps
never comes back at all in 2008.

The Brewers obviously misplayed
their hand when it came to Ben Sheets, but they’re far from the only
organization to put too much stress on a young stud pitcher.  The Cubs
severely altered the career paths of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood through
overuse.  In the past two seasons, the Reds overworked Edinson Volquez
to the point of Tommy John Surgery.  The Rays rode Scott Kazmir hard
until he developed injury problems, and recently traded him for much
less value than they could’ve had a year or two ago.  

On the
surface, it doesn’t look like Gallardo’s been worked too hard.  He
hasn’t hit the 200-inning mark this year, and likely won’t make it
there even if he makes the rest of his scheduled starts this year (and
it’s looking like he won’t, since Ken Macha has said he’s going to give
him extra rest before his next start).  At the most, he may make 30
starts this year.  But it’s not the innings pitched or games started
that has a lot of people worried about Gallardo — it’s the number of
pitches he’s thrown this year.

Baseball Prospectus keeps track of Pitcher Abuse Points, which essentially measures how much stress is being put on a pitcher’s arm.  As of September 6th, Gallardo is 11th
in all of baseball in PAP, trailing the likes of Justin Verlander, Tim
Lincecum, and Zack Greinke.  There are a lot of flaws with PAP –
mainly that you’re likely going to see the best pitchers in the league
near the top of the list every year, due to the fact that they’re
making more starts per year and working deeper into games.  Some
pitchers, like Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia, have proven that they can
take that kind of abuse and not succumb to injuries or
ineffectiveness.  When it comes to young pitchers, however, it’s still
a cause for concern.

More concerning than Gallardo’s PAP
ranking, though, is the average number of pitches he’s throwing per
start.  It’s become pretty clear that he’s been laboring through his
starts lately — he hasn’t had a 7-inning start since August 9th, and
has had only three since the All-Star break.  When he’s been removed
early, it hasn’t been from ineffectiveness…it’s been due to his pitch
count.

While the strikeout numbers are great to see, he’s been
using too many pitches to get those numbers, and has seen a rise in his
walks as well.  The result is an average of nearly 108 pitches per
start, ranking him 5th
in all of baseball.  The only pitchers that have averaged more? 
Verlander (110.9), Ubaldo Jimenez (108.6), Lincecum (108.3), and Jon
Lester (108.25).  

People who study pitcher abuse will tell you
it’s not necessarily the number of innings that does a pitcher in, it’s
the number of high stress (long, high pitch count) innings that’s the
killer.  In the second half of the season, we’ve seen Gallardo have
quite a few of those innings, especially the second time through the
order.  

With the Brewers falling further out of the playoff
race with every series they lose, it only makes sense to shut Gallardo
down for the rest of the season.  He won’t be happy, but hopefully the
front office realizes that this is the future of the franchise — more
so than Prince Fielder or Ryan Braun — and needs to be treated
accordingly.  This is a pitcher that only threw 28 innings last
season.  This is a pitcher who will give you an enormous amount of
value due to his high production at a ridiculously cheap price tag for
the next few years.  This is one of the few pitching prospects this
decade who hasn’t flamed out before reaching the majors.

Fans
won’t be happy, but they’ll be a lot more unhappy if Gallardo misses
time due to injury in the future.  It appears that the organization is
already taking steps towards preserving Gallardo’s arm, skipping his
next start and apparently thinking about only giving him another two or
three starts before the end of the year.  The next step would be
shutting him down for the rest of the year and bringing up Tim Dillard,
Mike Burns, or anyone else to fill those starts to end the year. 

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