The main component of the Padres’ surprise first-place standing has been its pitching. The team has seen excellent performances from Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc, Clayton Richard, and especially Jon Garland. It was only a few years ago that Garland was a revered innings eater. During the past few winters, though, he hasn’t seen many attractive offers. His $5.3 million salary represents his lowest since 2005, when he was a second-year arbitration player.
Last night the Dodgers knocked around Garland, putting 11 runners on base in five innings and bringing four of them around to score. This tends to happen while on the road, where he has allowed 31 percent of baserunners to score. He has kept up decent peripherals, though — a 7.39 K/9 and 3.54 BB/9, which have helped suppress run scoring a bit. His 3.54 road ERA comes somewhat close to this 4.13 FIP and 4.05 xFIP. It’s at home that Garland becomes a completely different beast.
Garland has allowed plenty of runners to reach base while pitching at Petco, 35 of 104, almost half of which have come via the walk. Yet few of these runners have come around to score, six to be exact, meaning Garland has stranded 82.4 percent of them. Combined with a .224 BABIP and zero home runs allowed, it adds up to a pretty lucky pitcher. He might not be the luckiest man alive, but he’s close.
What strikes me as peculiar is the juxtaposition of Garland’s home BABIP and home strikeout rate. He has struck out just eight of 104 batters faced, which amounts to a 2.88 per nine rate. Garland has never been a strikeout pitcher, just 4.74 per nine in his career, but his 2010 home rate appears a bit extreme. His home walk rate is also ridiculous, 5.76 per nine, which is nearly three per nine more than his career rate of 2.96. That does mean fewer hitters putting the ball in play, but it also means tons of baserunners. But, again, Garland has done an excellent job of preventing them from scoring.
Part of this can be credited to his own approach. Of the 79 hitters who have put the ball in play against Garland at Petco this year, 41 of them have hit it on the ground. Not all of those will turn into outs, but few, if any, will go for extra bases. The groundballs and walks mean that most of the baserunners he allows are moving station to station. Eventually a number of those grounders will turn into outs, some of them double plays, which certainly goes a long way in Garland’s high strand rate. It’s luck in a way, but if he keeps the ball on the ground at this rate he can probably keep his strand rate pretty high.
When taken as a whole, Garland’s 2010 season in some ways resembles his career year in 2005. His overall strand rate, 75.6 percent, is the highest since that season, and his BABIP is the lowest since. Of course, his other peripherals are all out of line. His overall strikeout rate, 5.26 per nine, is about 0.50 above his 2005 mark, while his walk rate, 4.58 per nine, is multiples larger than his 1.91 mark from 2005, and his home run rate is about half. Since all of his numbers are a bit out of line with what we’ve come to expect from Garland in his career, it’s tough to get a real read on what he’s doing this year.
While many of his numbers suggest a steep statistical correction, there are some mitigating factors. The Padres, for their part, play excellent defense (Kyle Blanks in left and Jerry Hairston Jr. at short are their only below-average defenders with more than 100 defensive innings), which helps Garland’s contact tendencies, especially at home. Both FIP and xFIP, 4.25 and 4.75, suggest that he’s been incredibly lucky on balls in play, but part of that is his groundball rate. He also benefits from Petco’s homer-suppressing nature.
There is little chance that Garland ends the year with a 2.38 ERA. A few more balls will find their ways into the seats, and while he’s likely to cut down on the walks, the increase in homers will likely hurt him to a greater degree. The number of groundballs he induces might help his strand rate and BABIP, but it’s still unlikely that they remain at their current levels. Few pitchers, after all, finish the year with a strand rate north of 80 percent and a BABIP at nearly Garland’s level. Even so, he’s setting himself up for a quality season. The Padres are certainly getting their $5.3 million worth.
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