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Jon Garland the Padre

When the Padres first signed Jon Garland, I wrote that, “For the cost of a little more than a win, the Padres get, well, a pitcher who will produce more than a win.” I then questioned whether this was the best usage of money given the landscape of their roster. A few paragraphs later, I wrote this:

The problem is that the Padres really don’t need another back-end starter. If the season started tomorrow, they would have Chris Young, Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, and Kevin Correia guaranteed rotation slots with a whole host of arms fighting for the fifth spot including Sean Gallagher, Cesar Carrillo, Wade LeBlanc, and even Aaron Poreda. Is Garland better than those options? Probably. Is he worth $4M more to a team that doesn’t figure to have playoff aspirations? It wouldn’t seem so.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Padres have an 82% chance at making the postseason, all but eliminating my point about their non-contender status. Clearly I was mistaken on their team’s ability, but how about Garland himself? Thus far, he’s made 22 starts, racking up more than 130 innings. His groundball rates are actually an all-time high and do not seem to be the result of stringer’s bias because his line drive rate is essentially static from last year.

The run metrics each suggest that 2010 is one of Garland’s best seasons. That his ERA is low should not be a surprise as one of the best defenses in baseball stands behind him, and they all stand within one of the more cavernous parks in the league. Equally as unsurprising is that while Garland’s home run per flyball ratio is essentially his career average the majority of those homers have come on the road.

The largest reason for deflated fielding independent pitching metrics is Garland’s increased strikeout rate. Garland is fanning six batters per nine innings pitched; that may not seem overly significant, but the last time Garland topped five strikeouts per nine innings came before The Game repped G-Unit. The biggest change in Garland’s approach seems to be the one you’d least expect. He is not getting more swings and misses overall, but he’s actually attacking the zone less often. Using our Zone% metric and dividing Garland’s Zone% by the league average, here are the returned ratios:

It’s not a significant amount less than in 2008, but it does alter the perception of Garland being someone who simply pounds the zone without hesitation or alteration. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Garland’s O-Swing% increased as his Zone% decreased; it might not be a shock that this season is his career best for O-Contact% either. Basically: batters are providing Garland with extra strikes outside of the zone by swinging as much as ever and missing more balls than usual.

Worth noting is that StatCorner has PETCO with a high park factor for strikeouts. Many reasons could play into this. Maybe the hitters’ eye is less than optically pleasing, or maybe the shadows are weird. Or, maybe, just maybe, hitters are more aggressive at the dish because of the run environment. All of this is conjecture, but I wouldn’t be surprised if each played a role in the factor.

Nevertheless, Garland is going to earn his money, and you know what, he might earn a little more by pitching well in the postseason.