If you aren’t associated with the Rangers in some way, chances are you haven’t wondered if starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo would merit a qualifying offer. Once a promising pitching prospect, Gallardo now features an unimpressive 90 mph fastball, 5.91 K/9, and 3.32 BB/9. In an age of power and pristine strikeout-to-walk ratios, Gallardo is easy to overlook. The Rangers reportedly plan to make the $15.8MM qualifying offer. But should they?
Statistically, there are a few angles to address. The 29-year-old has posted 2.0 to 2.6 fWAR in each of the last four seasons. That’s right around league average. It may feel off, but a relatively young, league average pitcher is generally worth around $12MM to $16MM a year on the free agent market. For example, Ervin Santana inked a four-year, $54MM deal with the Twins last offseason. Santana isn’t a perfect comp because he was coming off a 2.9 WAR season and has a flashier arsenal. He also had a much shakier track record.
Gallardo doesn’t eat innings like a top pitcher. In some ways, that’s both a positive and a negative. The Rangers were able to able to get the most out of him by removing him early. Only five of his 33 starts lasted more than six innings. Ten of his starts ran just five or fewer frames.
That usage put extra pressure on a shaky Rangers bullpen, but it also probably allowed him to post a solid 3.42 ERA in 184 innings. He had a 4.00 FIP based on his strikeout, walk, and home run rates. FanGraphs also tracks an ERA-based WAR called RA9-WAR. By that measure, Gallardo contributed over four wins to the Rangers’ season.
This brings to mind two important questions. Can Gallardo be easily managed by limiting the length of his starts? Evidence suggests he can, but the results are inconclusive. Additionally, how much does the extra strain on the bullpen detract from Gallardo’s value to his club? Obviously, that’s a very club dependent question. A team with a deep, talented bullpen might like using him in a short outing while clubs with less relief depth will prefer longer starts.
The evidence presented says that Gallardo is an unexciting, automatic qualifying offer candidate. However, there are signs that his stuff is on the decline. His strikeout rate has dropped in four straight seasons from 9.00 K/9 in 2012 to a middling 5.91 K/9 last year. His velocity is also down, and he may have experienced a lucky season with regard to his HR/FB rate. He continues to post a high ground ball rate, but he’s shown no signs of developing the excellent command that allows a Mark Buehrle or Brandon McCarthy to thrive.
Every year, a few players are hurt by the qualifying offer designation (refer back to Ervin Santana). Gallardo is exactly the kind of pitcher who could find it difficult to sign with a new club if he turns down the qualifying offer. He’s entering his age 30 season with a multi-year decline in stuff and peripherals. Despite health and consistent league average production, he doesn’t offer clubs much hope for upside.
Ultimately, I still think the worst case scenario for Gallardo is somewhere around a three-year, $28MM contract. Obviously, he could still sign for much more too. If the Rangers are happy to pay him $15.8MM on a one-year contract, then they have no cause for concern either way. But at some point, a player is going to bet on themselves by taking the higher AAV.