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Freddy Garcia Is Staying Alive

Rare is it when a pitcher’s ERA, FIP, and xFIP are in a state of complete accord. Nearly as rare is Freddy Garcia pitching more than 100 innings in any given season during these twilight years of his career. All together, I suppose that makes Garcia’s 2010 season an exotic bird with colorful – if frangible – feathers. Twenty-one starts into the season, Garcia holds a 4.90 ERA, 4.90 FIP, and 4.70 xFIP with 119 innings pitched.

The last year-plus has been a tortuous path for Garcia. Signed to a minor league deal with the New York Mets, Garcia made starts for their organization before dismissal. Garcia then latched on with the team he spent the 2004-2006 seasons with and eventually made nine starts, pitching well enough for the Sox to exercise his option, worth $1 million with $2 million in additional performance-based incentives.

Garcia’s fastball still lacks life and sits at a career low 87.9 miles per hour. He’s adjusted by using it a career low 30.5% of the time. For comparison, his next lowest usage rate came last season at 43.4%. Garcia is using a combination of his changeup and split-fingered fastball instead and our pitch run values have his changeup as his best pitch and the splitter as his second best – albeit in the negative, as are his other three offerings.

When Garcia gets ahead in the count, his fastball has the tendency to become a rumor. He uses it 15% of the time or less in each of the two strike counts with the exception of 3-2 counts. It’s only when he falls behind that Garcia leans heavily on his heater, which is about as hot as the unthawed. It should come as no surprise that one-third of Garcia’s homers have come when he trails and another 11 on even counts. When he gets ahead, batters have a .373 slugging percentage against him, when he falls behind, batters are slugging .536; league average for those situations is a .306 slugging when the pitcher leads and a .498 slugging when the batter leads. In other words: when Garcia falls behind, his offerings are being smoked, and he is even being hit harder than normal when he does his job.

Those statistics come with the territory for right-handed starting pitchers with Ronald Reagan era fastballs. Not that Tupac Shakur era fastballs guarantee success, but so much of pitching is luck-based already, having a slow fastball just shaves the margin of error a little more. That Garcia himself acknowledges those limitations in an implicit manner is one of the reasons he’s been able to succeed as an above replacement level pitcher this season.

And that’s something all the metrics agree on.