The Matt Garza/Matt Harvey Connection

You’re going to be reading a lot about Matt Garza, if you haven’t already. This being July, it’s officially trading season, and Garza is probably the best starting pitcher on the market. So, rumors. Let me try to distill what I’ve seen: there’s talk the Cubs might reverse course and sign Garza to a long-term extension, but that probably won’t happen, and Garza will probably be dealt, probably soon. The free-agent-to-be has been scouted by just about everyone with an interest in pitching, because scouting is cheap. Garza’s going to be in demand, and he’s allowed five runs over his last five starts.

Among his opponents over that five-start stretch: the Astros, the Mets, and the White Sox. The Cubs would like to pitch Garza as a top-of-the-rotation ace, but that’s not the right label. By ERA-, he’s been as good as Mat Latos, but by FIP- he matches Scott Feldman, and by xFIP- he matches Yovani Gallardo. Over the rest of the season, ZiPS projects Garza to pitch similarly to Ricky Nolasco and Edwin Jackson. This has all been Matt Garza in a nutshell: he’s a good pitcher and an available pitcher, but he’s a three-month pitcher who isn’t worth torching the farm. He’s unlikely to be a guy who saves a season.

But if you’re interested in Garza’s future, you might be interested in Garza’s performance record. And if you’re interested in Garza’s performance record, you might note something about his platoon splits. I’m going to warn you, this might get kind of gory, but these days, rumors are boring. Analysis is where the magic is, and if you want to better understand Matt Garza, you should understand that he’s a starting pitcher with an established reverse platoon split.

This doesn’t change anything about his overall performance. Overall, Garza is something like a classic No. 2, who has flashes of ace-hood. He’s set himself some pretty consistent whiff and walk baselines. But the color’s in the details, and having a reverse platoon split is unusual. That’s why the word “reverse” is in there, to indicate weirdness.

This season, Garza’s struck out a quarter of lefties and a fifth of righties. Lefties have flailed to a .270 wOBA; righties have flailed a little less, to a .300 wOBA. But that’s one part of one year. Over Garza’s career, spanning more than a thousand innings, he’s whiffed more lefties and allowed a slightly lower wOBA. It’s not just that the wOBAs are less than even — it’s that they’re not lopsided in the ordinary way. Garza gets things done differently.

Since 2008, 248 right-handed pitchers have thrown at least 100 innings against both righties and lefties. Of those, 98 have a reverse split in terms of strikeouts. 69 have a reverse split in terms of FIP. 49 have a reverse split in terms of xFIP. 66 have a reverse split in terms of wOBA. Just 24 pitchers have all four, Garza being among them. His peers run the spectrum from Lance Cormier to Jered Weaver and James Shields. Being in this group doesn’t make Garza particularly good or particularly bad — it just makes him odd.

When people observe something odd, they look for explanations, and when we see a reverse platoon split, we usually assume it has to do with the pitcher having a quality changeup or cutter. That’s why Shields is in that group. David Robertson’s in that group because of his deception and dynamite curveball. Garza throws a curveball, but he doesn’t really throw a cutter or a change, and he throws a bunch of sliders, even to lefties. Sliders are supposed to have a big and normal platoon split. So what gives, as far as Garza’s concerned?

A National League hitter who’s faced Garza pointed to the movement on his slider. Garza’s slider, it was said, moves mostly up and down, with late break and minimal horizontal tail. The downward break makes things more difficult for lefties to see and square up. When asked for a comparable slider, the hitter mentioned Matt Harvey, who might well start next week’s All-Star Game. Harvey’s slider moves in a similar way, and Harvey, like Garza, shows a reverse platoon split, striking out a bunch more lefties than righties.

Below, you’re going to see three sliders. One is a Garza slider, one is a Harvey slider, and one is a Jhoulys Chacin slider, chosen because Chacin’s slider has a lot more horizontal movement to it. That’s the stuff that gives the average slider its average platoon split. That’s the stuff that Garza and Harvey’s sliders are lacking.




According to PITCHf/x, Garza’s slider has about an inch of horizontal movement. Harvey’s slider is the same in that way. Chacin’s slider, meanwhile, comes in at a little over eight inches. A glance at the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards shows that Garza and Harvey have sliders near the bottom of the list in terms of horizontal movement. Or near the top of the list, if you sort the list in the opposite way. Because of the way those sliders move, you can see them as being either less effective against righties, or more effective against lefties. Or both, because it’s probably both.

Over Garza’s PITCHf/x career, righties have slugged .311 against his slider, while lefties have slugged .301. Lefties have posted a comparable whiff rate. Over Chacin’s career, righties have slugged .282 against his slider, while lefties have slugged .381. There’s a substantial difference in whiffs. This year, more than half of Garza’s strikeouts of lefties have come on his slider, and he’s thrown the pitch 41% of the time in two-strike counts.

That’s something that’s developed over time:

Garza against lefties in two-strike counts:

  • 2008: 20% sliders
  • 2009: 25%
  • 2010: 20%
  • 2011: 37%
  • 2012: 36%
  • 2013: 41%

Matt Garza is a right-handed starting pitcher who throws a lot of sliders to left-handed hitters. Matt Garza is a right-handed starting pitcher with an established reverse platoon split. Lefties see more sliders than curveballs, and they almost never see a change. In fairness, it’s not all about Garza’s slider. His four-seam fastball has been a real weapon against lefties, which is a factor in its own right. Maybe it deserves its own due. But it’s rare that a guy throws a slider that works against opposite-handed hitters, and from this we can learn about Garza, and about sliders and platoon splits. Our understanding of how these things work is probably too simplistic.

None of this changes the fact that Garza is good without being great. He just gets to his own performance level by an unusual route. Maybe Garza could stand to be better when he pitches against righties. But as a righty, he faces a lot of lefties, and there he can’t be exploited.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

17 Responses to “The Matt Garza/Matt Harvey Connection”

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  1. amoc21 says:

    Very interesting article.

    I’m wondering what the grips looks like for guys like Garza and Harvey versus the grip of a pitcher with a more traditional slider. Is it the same? What makes the ball break vertically instead of horizontally?

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    • josh says:

      Was my first thought after watching the 3 gif’s, I wonder how differently all 3 hold them?

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    • Rambo's Ghost says:

      While grip definitely matters, the break is based on arm slot and how you turn your wrist over when releasing the ball. For more vertical movement, your fingers would stay more on top of the ball and your wrist would twist down and glove-side. For a more horizontal movement, your fingers would stay more on the side of the ball and your wrist would turn mostly glove-side.

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  2. Gregory says:

    And now you know the rest of the story!

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  3. Jon says:

    I think the main take away is how much nastier the Harvey slider is than either Chacin’s or Garza’s.

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  4. Amie says:

    I would imagine we should all forget that Garza was on the mound in Oakland and defeated the A’s, during this same time. Oh, that didn’t fit in well with your story line of downplaying Garza’s abilities? If you’re going to tell a story, tell it all.

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    • jruby says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Whoa, angry much?

      I didn’t read this article at all as downplaying Garza’s abilities. He said “Garza’s not a top-of-the-rotation ace” and “Garza’s good but not great.” If you think that’s unfair to Garza, you’re probably delusional.

      This article did what all good Jeff Sullivan articles do: Noted a phenomenon (Garza’s reverse platoon split), explained why it’s important (he’s on the trading block), provided reasons for the phenomenon (funky slider that he’s throwing more and more often) and gave it some color (hey: turns out the vaunted Matt Harvey throws his slider the same way).

      Also: “If you’re going to tell a story, tell it all.” srsly? First. Not a story. Not a narrative of Garza’s career. An article analyzing a particular pitch and how it influences his numbers/value. Also: so, now, every time anyone writes about a batter with a -.8 WAR, they have to mention that time they hit a HR in the 9th?

      Good article.

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      • Wolf359 says:

        If the article is supposed to be about the reverse platoon split, then why did Jeff feel need to point out the 3 offenses in the first place? The first three paragraphs are a hatchet job on Garza and if Jeff had any credibility whatsoever, one would wonder why anyone would trade for a pitcher like Garza.

        Just another data point of Jeff’s innate bias against the NL …

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        • jruby says:
          FanGraphs Supporting Member

          I see what you did there. I think. It’s hard to read sarcasm on the Internet.

          To paraphrase a widely circulated response to a cease and desist letter, “if you *were* being serious I’d have to answer in the following manner”: I still have no effing idea what you’re talking about. Quotes from the article: “he’s a good pitcher… Garza is something like a classic no. 2 with flashes of ace-hood.” There’s literally no way to read that other than as praise. Saying his recent hot-streak has been against some pretty objectively weak offenses is not undermining Garza’s ability, it’s putting it in context. It’s the exact same as saying “pitcher x has been hit around this last month, but he faced the Red Sox twice, the Cardinals twice, and the Tigers.”

          That’s what I’d say if you weren’t being sarcastic. But I’m pretty sure you were.

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    • jruby says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I notice that one, if one is being kind, could construe Amie’s comment as a response to Jon’s comment rather than the article itself.

      If that’s the case, it makes the comment less bad (still a little angry) but raises the question: why not use the “Reply” option?

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    • JamesDaBear says:

      The A’s are the 20th ranked team in wOBA at home. Nothing impressive there, except for making it through the 8th inning without his arm falling off.

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  5. llellolovesace says:

    What makes this vertical slider different from a curve? What is it that makes it a slider?

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    • Rambo's Ghost says:

      Differing wrist action.

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    • Bip says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I’ll have to disagree with Rambo’s Ghost. We base most of our pitch classifications on PitchFX profiles, which factor in movement and speed, not grip. This make sense because these factors have a bigger impact on how a pitch is received, and grips vary widely anyway.

      Most sliders have about the same amount of vertical movement as Garza’s, Harvey’s and Chacin’s. They seem to be lumped into the same category because they’re usually thrown in the mid-eighties (freaks like Harvey excluded) and have glove-side break and somewhat neutral vertical movement (typically about 1-2 inches of rise vs. a spinless ball, the PitchFX baseline.)

      A curveball, on the other hand is usually a pitch with strong downward break. Garza’s slider is “vertical” because it lacks horizontal movement, but a typical curveball will move 6 or more inches downward compared to a spinless ball; Garza’s slider moves 1 inch “upward”. Even hard curveballs like those thrown by Kimbrel and Harvey have around 3 inches of downward movement.

      Just like sliders, however, curveballs vary widely in their horizontal movement, though most all have gloveside movement, like a slider. Wainwright and Darvish are examples of guys with curveballs with more than 8 inches of horizontal movement, while Kershaw has a more traditional 12-6, with less than three inches of horizontal movement.

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      • Rambo's Ghost says:

        Sorry if I was unclear, but I was not referring to “grip” by saying “wrist action.” I meant from a pitcher’s point of view on how to throw a curve versus a slider. The pitcher changes their wrist action which changes the amount of horizontal and vertical break. Grip can affect the speed of the pitch as well as the break, but there are many different grips for a curve or slider. Many pitchers even use the same grip but throw both a distinct slider and a distinct curve.

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        • Bip says:
          FanGraphs Supporting Member

          I meant to say wrist action. Either way though, as far as the fan and analyst is concerned, pitches are distinguished mainly by their velocity and movement, which is how pitchfx works, regardless of what the pitcher considers that pitch to be.

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  6. Charlie says:

    Garza has a screw in his elbow. The magnetic force from the screw is contributing to such a sharp break.

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