Matt Garza’s first four seasons in the Major Leagues were all very comparable. His ERA fluctuated between 3.69 and 3.81 while his FIP was between 4.18 and 4.42 in each season. Garza’s performance was becoming easily predictable, until he altered his pitching style last season.
Last year, Garza got away from the fastball and sinker heavy approach that he utilized in Tampa Bay. It seems as though Tampa instills a primary pitch philosophy, in which they utilize their four seam fastball, two seam fastball, or sinker more frequently than most teams. During Garza’s time in Tampa Bay, from 2008-2010, the Rays finished eighth in combined four seam, two seam, and sinker rate at 60.7%.
Garza was one of the biggest examples of this, tallying three consecutive years of exactly 71% four seam fastballs and sinkers thrown. When Garza was traded to Chicago, his rate dropped to 55%. The remaining pitches were distributed between his secondary offerings, with more emphasis placed on his slider and changeup.
Graza subsequently posted a 2.95 FIP, with a 2.36 FIP against left-handed batters. Garza’s previous four FIP marks against left-handed batters were 4.81, 4.02, 4.36, and 4.77. Garza’s 4.25 K/BB rate against lefties marked only the second time he reached a rate above 2.00 in his career. The added usage of his secondary offerings is a huge reason for his breakout year, and led him to become extremely difficult for left-handed hitters. His slider specifically was an extremely effective offering, as he threw the pitch for strikes at a better rate than his fastball and induced above average whiff and ground ball rates.
Projection systems look at his history and factor in that his most recent season was excellent, putting his projected ERA at an average of 3.55 between the five systems used on FanGraphs. I expect his number to be lower than that due to his altered approach since joining the Cubs.
If you expect like I do that Garza will have an ERA comparable to his number last year combined with a strikeout per inning then you would agree that he is being undervalued in drafts. Mock Draft Central has Garza currently being drafted 108.1 overall, behind Gio Gonzalez, Josh Johnson, and Michael Pineda. While I do not necessarily dislike those pitchers, I would certainly take Garza before those three.
Garza’s consistent health is also a valued asset, having made 30 starts in four consecutive seasons. Even though most of his years in Tampa Bay saw him pitch slightly better than league average, he is now the front line starter than many expected him to be. Most have seen this type of talent in him, and while Tampa Bay is often a great place to develop young starters, it seems as though the Cubs have a better grasp for what works for Garza than the Rays ever had.
Not many of your opponents will look deep into Garza’s pitch selection and see what changed for him last season. Many will assume he succeeded simply because he was facing new hitters in the National League, but it seems as though he and his pitching coach found out how to maximize his effectiveness. Garza lessening the load on his primary pitches has proven to be a successful strategy. Targeting him on draft day and acquiring front line numbers for a mid-level cost will also prove to be a strategy worth utilizing.
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