by Nathan Petrashek
I decided Yovani Gallardo was our ace last year before Zack Greinke had thrown even one pitch for the Brewers. The day was April 5, 2011, just five days after the start of the season. The Brewers were already sliding, having lost every single one of their first four games. But there was hope. Gallardo, having been forced to watch his bullpen blow a three-run lead on opening day, would once again toe the rubber. What he gave us was a two-hit complete game shutout, and the first Brewers victory of the 2011 season.
Take your pick of what was most impressive that night. Gallardo walked two batters and allowed only two hits. Two of those four base runners were eliminated by double plays, while a third was caught stealing. In all, Gallardo induced 16 ground balls, one off his season-high of 17, which came in a 1-run, 7-inning lockdown performance on June 25.
Perhaps my declaration was incredibly foolish. It was quite possible that Zack Greinke would return to his dominant 2009 form. Fellow writer Ryan Smith makes the case that Zack Greinke’s peripherals indicate Greinke was every bit as good as he was during his 2009 Cy Young campaign. In general, that’s a true statement, and Greinke deserves much more credit than he gets from many Brewers fans, as I laid out here and here and here. But if you’re forcing me to make a completely subjective choice about which is the “ace” of the staff, my vote goes without hesitation to Gallardo.
Gallardo was the best we’ve yet seen last year. He reduced his K/9 for the third consecutive season (from 9.89 in 2009 to 8.99 in 2011), which allowed him to pitch deeper into games (career-high 207 IP in 2011). He induced more weak contact and ground balls than he has at virtually any other time in his career. And his durability can’t be questioned; 2011 marked his third consecutive season starting 30 or more games. Gallardo shows up when it counts, too; he’s 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 4 postseason starts. While Ryan believes 2012 represents, at least in some aspects, Gallardo’s ceiling, I see it as a baseline for his continuing growth.
Ultimately, Ryan is right about this: it doesn’t really matter who you consider the ace. This whole exercise is really a luxury, having two guys you can go either way on. I fully expect that in 2012 Greinke’s traditional stats will reflect his excellent peripherals, but I also expect Gallardo will easily log another 200 IP/200 K season. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to watching this friendly competition play out, because the real winners are the Brewers and their fans.
Oh, but before I go, did I mention that Gallardo had a career-low 2.56 BB/9 last year?