When Matt Garza was acquired by the Chicago Cubs this off-season, he was expected to provide stability to a rotation with some question marks. Garza’s first start with the Cubs was anything but stable, as he likely posted one of the strangest pitching lines we will see this season. Over 7 innings, Garza managed to post 12 strikeouts while allowing 12 hits and no walks. His performance in the game actually led to Garza posting a FIP of -0.48. (Since we are dealing with really small samples here, it’s important to note that this isn’t terribly uncommon early in the season. Still, it’s kind of cool to have a negative FIP, right?) The line is so unique, however, because it’s tough to understand how one pitcher can be so hittable/un-hittable in the same game. Let’s take a closer look at how this could have happened?
As Albert Lyu reminded us in January, Matt Garza has become an extreme fly ball pitcher in recent years. While that type of approach will generally lead to fewer hits and a depressed BABIP, it also leaves pitchers susceptible to home runs. On Sunday, however, you would have sworn there was a different pitcher on the mound.
According to his FanGraphs Game Log; Garza gave up four fly balls, nine ground balls and seven line drives in his start. While this is typically an unusual stat line for Garza, it goes a long way in explaining his performance. The 12 hits Garza allowed can be directly attributed to the amount of grounders and line drives he gave up. Since we expect pitchers with higher GB% to post higher a higher BABIP, and we expect line drives to be hit really freakin hard, it’s easy to see why Garza would give up so many hits in this particular start. That doesn’t necessarily explain why Garza was so hittable, though.
Again, Garza’s Game Log helps shed some light on this situation. Of the 106 pitches Garza threw on Sunday, 80 of them were strikes. This approach affected Garza in two very different ways. Since he pounded the strike zone early and often, he was able to get ahead of hitters and rack up strikeouts at a high frequency. However, that same approach also led to more pitches in the strike zone for the Pirates (obviously), which meant more hittable pitches. Because Garza was pounding the zone, opposing hitters could be aggressive at the plate knowing he was going to throw a strike.
While it doesn’t fully explain the nuances behind Garza’s crazy pitching line, his Game Log at least provides some insight into how he arrived at the final result. We can’t come to conclusions about every aspect of his start (like how he was able to induce so many ground balls), but we spot a correlation between his approach and his stat line. Based on his career numbers, however, we shouldn’t expect Garza to post a similar line any time soon. This is one of those starts where you just sit back and marvel at the absurdity of the final line. You’re not going to see this one very often.