An Entirely Different Matt Garza?

In yesterday’s One Night Only Carson Cistulli observed that Matt Garza is throwing his two-seam fastball, slider, and changeup about twice as often this year as previously — making him entirely different pitcher. Pitch F/x-guru and Cubs-fan Harry Pavlidis, with his own reclassifications of the Pitch F/x data, came to Carson’s aid and found that Garza is indeed throwing more sliders and changeups, but not any more two-seam fastballs. There are improvements in the Pitch F/x’s internal classification system during the offseason and that is probably responsible for the shift Carson saw in two-seam fastball frequency.

All those changeups and sliders are coming at the expense of Garza’s fastballs. During his three years with the Tampa Bay Rays Garza threw about 71% fastballs, over that time his fastball percentage was fourth highest among starting pitchers. This year his 53% fastball use is solidly below average among starting pitchers. That is a fairly dramatic shift.

I wanted to see whether this shift was just start-to-start fluctuation and whether Garza had gone through a run of starts in 2010 when he threw this few fastballs. I also reclassified all of Garza’s pitches from the Pitch F/x data. To the right is a graph of Garza’s secondary pitch fraction by start using the FanGraphs Pitch F/x color scheme: orange for changeups, red for sliders, and purple for curves. In each of his last four starts Garza has thrown over 40% non-fastballs. In all of 2010 he did that just three times. So it definitely looks like Garza has dramatically shifted his pitch breakdown, throwing many fewer fastballs.

Garza is pitching ridiculously well so far in 2011 — his 1.93 xFIP leads the league — though he has been very unlucky. Like all early season outliers a huge part of this is just the small sample size. But if I had to guess I would say that fewer fastballs makes Garza a better pitcher. Most pitchers who throw upwards of 70% fastballs are ground-ball pitchers throwing mostly a two-seam fastball. Garza doesn’t fit that profile, so I think these additional sliders and change ups make a lot of sense for him.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

25 Responses to “An Entirely Different Matt Garza?”

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  1. mike says:

    Wouldn’t it make sense that Garza pitched to his teams strengths (ballpark & defense w/TB) and now can’t rely on that so he is pitching purely on stuff?

    How about expanding further than 2010 numbers all the way back to MIN numbers and early TB numbers to see if he is just pitching to the team factors?

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  2. Dave says:

    Ha. I seriously thought “organe” was some exotic color I had never heard of. Then I thought that’s ridiculous, it’s probably just orange spelled wrong. In terms of the change-up color.

    Interesting that he has shifted his approach so dramatically. Different pitching coach? Different park? Did he become a reader of FanGraphs and surmise fewer fastballs may lead to more success for him? I’m also curious to see how much may be a lack of adjustment from hitters or them being given essentially wrong scouting reports and if his “successes” taper off because of it. Seems right now Garza is a real anomoly

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  3. Chuck says:

    I believe a lot of this can all be attributed to pitching coach Mark Riggins stressing Garza’s use of his off-speed stuff:

    The article makes it sound like Garza isn’t on board, but the numbers show he’s throwing less fastballs.

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    • Mario Mendoza says:

      Hopefully Garza isn’t put off by the “results” and go back to his old ways. Hopefully he’s aware those are luck-based results, and if he sticks with this plan, he should end up with decent numbers in the long run. Quick, somebody tell him what his xFIP is.

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    • Dave says:

      That article does sound like Garza wants little to do with the changes. I played and was around college baseball for 6 years and the unwillingness of most of my teammates and the players I coached to change astounded me. Like them, it doesn’t seem like Garza realizes he can be better because of it. Whether it’s arrogance and/or ignorance it seems some players think how they do things is the best way and refuse to make adjustments or believe in those adjustments. Garza has good stuff and has had reasonable success with it during his career but why not try to use that good stuff in a different way that could lead to better results?

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        this is why halladay continues to impress me. he has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball for over a decade, and yet he still changes things, tweaks things, and develops new strategies. even though he is one of the best, he doesn’t sit on his laurels and is willing to develop his slider, throw more cutters, etc and it makes him an even better pitcher.

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  4. SF 55 for life says:

    I was able to get Garza in a trade last week in my keeper league for De La Rosa and David Freese (back up). This article definitely makes me feel good about the trade.

    The big question I have is does this change in pitching approach and repertoire have any connection with his switch to a different league? That would be interesting to look into, if it hasn’t been done already.

    Does anyone think Garza can finish with about a K per inning? I

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  5. David says:

    Yet according to Pitch type weights, Garza’s fastball has been overall an effective pitch. His slider is his best pitch so it makes sense he is increasing his slider usage. But increasing his curveball and changeup usage at the expense of his fastball seems like a poor idea.

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    • chel says:

      the reason that Garza’s fastball is producing better results may be explained due to hitters not seeing it as much as past years and not being able to sit on the heat and, cascading a little more, the fastball looking harder because of it

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  6. Ryan says:

    not relying on it so heavily could and probably is the reason it’s been so much more effective. Like Verlander who relies so much on his fball that his other pretty avg offering play up so much.

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  7. Toz says:

    Garza is an intriguing package this year. While we talk about how unlucky he is by looking at his xFIP and his ERA/FIP differential, he has certainly been lucky as well. His LOB% is 13th lowest among major league starters (60%). His HR% is currently “0%.” His LD% is second highest among major league starters.

    What does it mean? Well, in the context of using his fastball less, and given that every pitch except his slider has a negative value, every pitch with which he misses his spot is being punished. It is not being hit out of the park, but it is being put in play hard.

    The question is whether Garza will begin to walk more batters to keep the ball out of the meat of the zone.

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    • Paul says:

      You’re relying on a bunch of components that typically need a very large sample to use in drawing any conclusions. I’ve watched parts of at least three of his starts and he is not getting hit hard. There’s a lot of fluky stuff going on, including an error by himself and 3 by Starlin last night. It’s been like that pretty every game, which is why the pitching coach told him to throw more offspeed. The defense is a disgrace, no more pitching to contact and letting the track team go get it.

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      • Kevin Wilson says:

        I agree with Paul’s premise, but it depends on why you are relying on small sample sizes. For the purposes of fantasy baseball, particularly deciding whether to buy or sell Garza, that is the name of the game: identifying hidden information, deciding if you believe in or not, and reacting. But Paul is right, I wouldn’t try to decide whether Garza’s true talent level is changed based on a handful of starts.

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  8. Matty Brown says:

    Still not worth the bounty the Rays swindled for him.

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    • prospectslol says:

      You mean 29yr old Sam Fuld the 4th OFer at best? Chirinos who is hitting sub 200 and has taken a step backwards defensively at catcher this year? Or Chris Archer who lost the little control he flashed for 1/2 a season at A-ball last year?

      The only loss is Hak-Ju Lee and even then he’s just going to be a leadoff hitter whole steals bases (sadly, exactly what the cubs need, but not more than a SP); yet he’s still 3+ years away and blocked by Starlin Castro.

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  9. slash12 says:

    I can’t help but wonder if his incredibly high BABIP has everything to do with his new pitch usage. It would make sense, with people on base, that he’d rely more on his strikeout pitches, and less on his fastballs. He still could revert back to normal Matt Garza if people aren’t getting base hits 40% of the time against him.

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  10. cs3 says:

    what do you guys think is a realistic K rate going forward?
    Im obviously not buying anything near the 12k/9 hes currently sporting, but do you think a lesser (but still drastic) increase in strikeouts is sustainable?

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