Matt Garza, Legitimate Number One Starter

Matt Garza has always had the stuff to be an elite top tier starter, but never quite put it all together until last year. As Dave Allen and Josh Weinstock explained during this past season, a heavier reliance on his secondary pitches was instrumental in his turn around from three consecutive seasons with an FIP between 4.14 and 4.42 to a breakout 2.95 mark last season. I also looked at how his increase in secondary offerings led to a 4.25 K/BB rate against left-handed hitters specifically for RotoGraphs, a heavy improvement over his past marks against opposite handed batters.

Yesterday, Garza dominated a sturdy Brewer lineup as he finished one out away from a complete game shutout. While former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke was his opposition, Garza was the better pitcher yesterday — something that is not out of the realm of possibility of remaining true throughout this season.

Garza’s slider was absolutely dominant yesterday, and was the main reason for his extremely impressive outing. Six of Garza’s nine strikeouts came via the slider, with another coming with a curveball. Garza threw 31 sliders in 119 pitches, good for 26% of his overall pitches. 22 of the 31 sliders, or 71%, were thrown for strikes while 22.58% were swinging strikes. The pitch has become a legitimate out pitch for Garza, something he did not utilize nearly as effectively in Tampa Bay or Minnesota. It helps that the rest of his pitches were rather effective also, specifically his primary four-seam fastball. Even with other solid pitches, he recorded just eight swinging strikes with non-sliders compared to the seven he recorded with his slider. MLB.com’s highlights of his outing are embedded below.

Garza’s small home run issue also subsided last season. After recording back-to-back seasons with a home run per fly ball rate above 10% in a pitcher friendly ballpark, he recorded a 7.7% mark last season in hitter friendly Wrigley Field. His altered repertoire seems to have had an affect on the home run rate. From the data below, I can see two ways this helped his home run allowed rate. First off, he allowed fewer fly balls last season, which helped keep his overall home run allowed total down — he sat at 14 last year compared to 28 and 25 in the two seasons previous. You can see in this chart, taken from Brooks Baseball, that his fly ball per ball in play rate is lower almost across the board. Secondly, since his fastball is his most commonly thrown pitch and he records more fly balls with that pitch over his career compared to his other pitches, the lower reliance on the pitch has made it more difficult for hitters to wait on his fastball. Since a 95 mile per hour fastball is easier to square up than an 86 mile per hour slider, the increased reliance on secondary offerings has helped him lower his home run rate as well as his fly ball rate — a solid formula for success in combination with an improved strikeout rate.

The heavier reliance on secondary pitches has certainly benefited his strikeout rate, but according to pitch type linear weights, his fastball was more effective last year than it has ever been per pitch — both BIS and PITCHf/x agree in this respect. Again, forcing hitters to expect a fastball less frequently seems to have had an added benefit even outside of his slider becoming a top notch pitch.

For some reason, Garza was a fastball-heavy pitcher in Tampa Bay, and he was still an effective starter during his days with the Rays. Since moving to Chicago, he’s evolved into a more complete pitcher and is currently reaping the benefits. While it is just one performance, yesterday’s outing is just more evidence that that his breakout campaign last season was no fluke.



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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.


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matchst1ck
Member
matchst1ck
4 years 4 months ago

The reason he was so fastball heavy was his belief that was the key to his success. From an April 9th article: “I’m a fastball guy, and six of their eight hits were breaking ball pitches, or off-speed pitches, and that’s uncalled for,” he said. “That’s not my style. That’s not who I am, and something is going to change. I haven’t had bad outings. I just don’t give up 20 hits in two games. That’s not me.”

http://bit.ly/HDnI9N

As the season wore on (and the Cubs coaches forced him to throw more breaking balls and off-speed he came around.

Eric
Guest
Eric
4 years 4 months ago

It’s going to be very interesting the first time the Red Sox call Theo asking abotu Garza. That deal almost has to happen this summer.

AL Eastbound
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

My sources (my own brain) still have Garza a Blue Jay by mid-summer!

SenorGato
Guest
SenorGato
4 years 4 months ago

Just like to say to the people at BCB…I told you so. Predicted the fuuuuuuuck out of this way back whenever the trade was made leading to some fun debates. Turns out he’s not Paul Wilson.

Hammer
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

….yabbut no one likes you.

SenorGato
Guest
SenorGato
4 years 4 months ago

Touché.

OTOH…called literally everything, including the ERA, the rise in K rate, and even (though not to what actually happened) the drop in HR rate.

Meanwhile, the great Chris Archer has walked 9 in 8 this year. Matt Garza 2.0 he does not seem to be.

Sorry, have to pat myself on the back. I’m sure someone will bring up that they didn’t not like Garza, just that blah blah blah. I just “didn’t get it.” Ah well, it was fun. Send my love to Al and friends.

David
Guest
David
4 years 4 months ago

How’s the hair?

SenorGato
Guest
SenorGato
4 years 4 months ago

Still thick and full. How’d my comment get taken on BCB? I swore off the stuff unfortunately.

jim
Guest
jim
4 years 4 months ago

The rays discourage slider usage, we know that much; sounds like a case of Gaza finally being able to pitch unrestricted. of course, more sliders can’t be great for his elbow …

ed
Guest
ed
4 years 4 months ago

Is this slider/elbow thing really a thing? I can’t find that original article now, but I don’t remember the effect being very large or even really different than what you’d expect by chance alone. I feel like this slider/elbow thing is approaching “Verducci Effect” or “Pitcher Abuse Points” territory.

Sandy Kazmir
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

It’s enough of a thing that the Rays are clearly discouraging it throughout the organization. I think that makes me higher on Guerrieri since he won’t have to worry as much about losing a slider when his primary breaking ball is a big hook.

John
Guest
John
4 years 4 months ago

Yes, it’s a really a “thing”. As I gaze down at the scar on my elbow.

Phrozen
Guest
Phrozen
4 years 4 months ago

Sorry about your elbow. How does that demonstrate causation?

jim
Guest
jim
4 years 4 months ago
bpdelia
Guest
bpdelia
4 years 4 months ago

Man. I blew my wlbow up on a spltter but the slider always vould be felt. I meam, dude, just stand up righr now and pick up a ball anf “throw” a fb and then “throw” a cb and then “throw” a slider. Not everything has to be rigorously definitively proven to,be true.

Gravity was a result of mass on space even before it was proved.

Smoking caused lung cancer every puff along the,way even before the peer review was done.

If you just mime the motion youll see.

ed
Guest
ed
4 years 4 months ago

Thanks. So in the “brett anderson” study, I see a difference of 0.08 DL trips over….well, I can’t figure out the time scale exactly. This is not a meaningful difference. Plus, why does the control group have 2 significant digits while the slider group has none? Is that rounded off and the difference is even smaller? That study actually indicates NO effect of throwing more sliders.

In the ‘too many sliders’ study, there is no control group, and a strong possibility of selection bias in the slider group. The data look interesting, but there are too many methodological issues to make any inference. You can’t look at those studies and conclude that there is a problem with throwing more sliders.

Now, there very well may be a problem, but those studies do not provide good evidence of it, and people need to read them closely and either do better studies or stop citing them.

ed
Guest
ed
4 years 4 months ago

Not everything has to be rigorously definitively proven to,be true.

Look, I work in health science research. There have been lots of things people have believed to be true over many years, with good reasons to believe they are true, that have turned out to not only be false, but hugely false. Society has been burned countless times by claims that things are obviously true that have not been backed up by data that have turned out to be unfounded. Forgive me if I am a little skeptical.

Also, the smoking/lung cancer connection is incredibly strong, and was demonstrated clearly well back into the 1950s. Not sure what you’re talking about with “peer review.”

Joe D
Guest
Joe D
4 years 4 months ago

Garza ERA+ last five seasons: 117, 119, 110, 100, 116.
That’s a very, very nice starter.

Sabathia: 141, 157, 137, 136, 147
Haren: 138, 139, 142, 106, 120
Lincecum: 112, 169, 173, 114, 130

These are “legitimate number one starters.”

It’s great to shine a light on how much Garza’s performance improved last season, but it makes him a legitimate number one starter only if we are willing to call Jacoby Ellsbury a legitimate 30-homer slugger. One really nice year (especially one where we have to pick a specific single metric at the explicit exclusion of others to drive our point home) doesn’t make any player a legitimate top-notch anything.

jim
Guest
jim
4 years 4 months ago

FTFY

Garza ERA+ last five seasons: 117, 119, 110, 100, 116.
That’s a very, very nice pitcher defense, umpires, park, weather, and luck relative to the league

Joe D
Guest
Joe D
4 years 4 months ago

Fun fact about ERA over large sample sizes: it does a better job predicting future run prevention ability than any of the metrics (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, tERA, etc.) than have been advanced.

So, Jim, your smarmy comment is duly noted and dismissed.

Mike
Guest
Mike
4 years 4 months ago

But the whole idea of the article is that Matt Garza has (supposedly) improved as a pitcher and reached a new plateau last year. If that’s true, then looking at his performance from 2 – 5 years ago isn’t going to tell you much about what he’s capable of in the future.

ERA from the previous year isn’t more predictive of this year’s run prevention ability than FIP/SIERA/etc. If you only have 1 season’s worth of SP data, you go with FIP-type metrics.

CJ
Guest
CJ
4 years 4 months ago

Fairly sure ERA+ adjust for defense and park, at least. And if you’re going to discredit ERA numbers based on luck, use SIERA or something.

Joe D
Guest
Joe D
4 years 4 months ago

@Mike:

“But the whole idea of the article is that Matt Garza has (supposedly) improved as a pitcher and reached a new plateau last year.”

I can understand and appreciate that point. My issue is with branding him a legitimate number one starter after a single year of this new level of performance, especially when it was reflected much more moderately in the number of runs actually prevented on-field.

RC
Guest
RC
4 years 4 months ago

“ERA from the previous year isn’t more predictive of this year’s run prevention ability than FIP/SIERA/etc”

Actually, in parks with a park factor over 1, it is. FIP only works well in pitchers parks.

Sandy Kazmir
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

It’s not uncommon to see the Rays not let a pitcher throw his slider as much as he wants to (or at all). Seeing Garza with the chains off must be a real delight for Cubbie fans.

greenfrog
Guest
greenfrog
4 years 4 months ago

My guess is that Epstein trades Garza, probably this summer. Sure, they could sign him long-term, but doing so doesn’t make a lot of sense for a rebuilding team. He’ll be relatively pricey and the contract will be risky from an injury/declining performance perspective. It makes more sense for another team (i.e., a contender) to reap the benefits of Garza’s next couple of years (or year and a half) in exchange for prospect talent (which a more pressing need for Chicago).

I think Theo is talking up the potential for a contract extension to maintain Garza’s trade value more than anything.

SenorGato
Guest
SenorGato
4 years 4 months ago

Just need the trade to be highway robbery. Someone that ends someone with TOR potential and etc.

I change my mind everyday on trading him. A trade would have to be a big haul, but someone might pay it at the deadline.

mike wants wins
Guest
mike wants wins
4 years 4 months ago

Man, I wish MN had not traded this guy…..

Joe the Plumber
Guest
Joe the Plumber
4 years 4 months ago

Mister Cat still a profane, clueless punk – nothing to see here.

Paul
Guest
Paul
4 years 4 months ago

Last year about this time Matt Garza was just barely better than a bum whose defense miraculously made him a legit 3rd starter in the toughest division in baseball. How did we get here?

FIP. FTLOG, can we please take into account things that actually matter when evaluating a pitcher’s true talent? Like that he was going into his fourth full season and was 27? Or that his pitch values for the FB were really outstanding despite throwing so many of them? That’s an indication of a talented pitcher. The only year his FB values were not excellent was 2009 when he started adding the two seamer, (the addition of that pitch is something that also should have been taken into account). It was known that his breaking pitches were very good, so it should not have been surprising that he would start using them more as he aged, and he would get better. Remember Josh Beckett’s first year in the AL and his insistence on throwing so many FBs?

Garza is definitely the exception. Most guys who outperform FIP are not nearly as talented, or going into their primes, etc. But instead of trying to eliminate him as an outlier first, based on analyzing a bunch of known variables, he was used as the poster boy for FIP/DIPS theory-based talent evaluation. Sad that that viewpoint expressed with such vigor here at FG. Moving on…

jon
Guest
jon
4 years 4 months ago

Really interesting article here, Ben. I’ve always loved him. Here’s a good question for this year: more legitimate #1 starter for just this season – Garza or Josh Johnson? I have an offer of Garza for my JJ straight up.

You'refckingMAD
Guest
You'refckingMAD
4 years 4 months ago

Isn’t this the same site that declared Garza’s 2011 luck?

You and your stupid stats, you’re morons. You couldn’t even guess talent if it slapped you upside. Stop pretending.

grassyjones
Guest
grassyjones
3 years 5 months ago

How does someone “guess talent”?
Also, how do “stupid stats” become morons?

moronsRus
Guest
moronsRus
4 years 4 months ago

@MAD

You should consider a restraining order against whoever is forcing you to hang out here.

diegosanchez
Guest
diegosanchez
4 years 4 months ago

Someone please show this article to David Price

RC
Guest
RC
4 years 4 months ago

Garza’s increase in K rate surely isn’t because he moved from the ALEast, to the NL Central.

mysharkpenissubmarine
Member
mysharkpenissubmarine
4 years 2 months ago

@RC

I am glad someone finally pointed this out. He may not be a better pitcher at all, but the move from the most offensive division in baseball to arguably the least is naturally going to have an effect on stats.

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