The incredible resurgence of Bartolo Colon in 2011 has been one of the great stories of the Yankee season (as well as his all-too-quick demise, if you believe this idiotic Grantland post). However, Freddy Garcia’s strong season has been just as important to the Yankees’ success in 2011, as he has gone above and beyond anything that could have been expected from a veteran on a minor league deal. While Colon has done it with surprising fastball velocity and movement, Garcia has succeeded by using his full repertoire of pitches to make up for his diminished fastball velocity. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at our good friend Fangraphs to see what Garcia has done well this season.
Despite declining fastball velocity (averaging 87.4 mph, down 0.4 from 2010), Garcia has successfully been able to mix five pitches to the tune of a 3.21 ERA (4.13 xFIP) season thus far, with 5.99 k/9 and 2.69 bb/9. He has averaged about 6 innings per start, a solid number for a 5th starter.
In fact, Garcia has actually been using the fastball more than he did in 2010, throwing it about 37 percent of the time (compared to 30 percent in 2010). It has been a below-average pitch for him (-1.12 runs above average/100 pitches), not surprising considering his lack of velocity and exceptional movement.
His slider usage has been similar (a little over 20 percent of the time), but he has actually increased the average velocity of the pitch by about one mph, to 81. It has been worth 1.66 raa/100. He has also mixed in a changeup (8% of the time, 0.13 raa/100), splitter (22% of the time, 0.43 raa/100), and a curveball (10% of the time, 1.17 raa/100). The curveball is averaging 72 mph, an increase of two mph over last year’s version, which may be contributing to his success with the pitch.
The change, curve, and splitter have all become more valuable pitches for Garcia in 2011, while his changeup has become less valuable. Interestingly, the reduced effectiveness of the changeup and the increased effectiveness of the other offerings bring up an interesting chicken/egg question: is Garcia reducing his changeup usage because it has not been as effective, or is the pitch less effective because it is not being used as often? We may never know the answer, but it is interesting that Garcia has been able to command four secondary offerings that have all been above-average (according to fangraphs values), and be successful despite a clearly mediocre fastball.
Aside from his pitch mix, an interesting aspect of Freddy’s performance in 2011 is his home run/flyball rate, which at 6.7% is one of the lowest rates of his career. Playing half of his games in Yankee stadium (plus other hitter-friendly parks in the AL East), one would have expected Garcia to surrender more than 9 homers on the season thus far. He may be getting a little lucky in that regard, as he is actually giving up more flyballs than he did in 2010 (when his HR/FB rate was 11.6% in another hitter-friendly park). The lower home run rate may be reason to expect some regression, and is a big reason for why his xFIP is significantly higher than his actual ERA thus far. He could certainly go on a cold streak and give up a bunch of homers because of his flyball tendancies and low fastball velocity, but its a credit to him that he has been able to limit the longball damage this season.
Freddy Garcia has been a very valuable addition to the Yankees in 2011, worth 1.7 WAR on the season. He doesn’t have the typical repertoire one would expect from a successful pitcher, but his ability to throw 5 pitches in any count is a real advantage even though his fastball may have trouble breaking a window. He has not had the dominant outings that Colon has put together, but he has done a good job of limiting the damage, giving up more than four runs just once (July 15), and four runs only 3 times. He has done a great job of keeping the Yankees in the game in his starts, and I’m hoping he can continue his success going forward. Not since Orlando Hernandez can I remember a soft-tossing Yankee pitcher be as interesting to watch, and it will be fun to see if he can keep this up down the stretch against a tough schedule.
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