If the Yankees are going to spend on a starting pitcher this trade season, Matt Garza is the front runner. Unlike Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels, Garza has an extra year of team control, as well as the only one of the three eligible for draft pick compensation following a trade. Garza has also successfully pitched in the AL East, as well as the large market of Chicago. On the negative side, Greinke and Hamels have produced much more consistent numbers of late, while Garza is struggling with homeruns. The Yankees will undoubtedly continue to be connected with all three pitchers this July, so today we’ll tackle the first and most likely candidate.
Last year was somewhat of a breakout year for Garza. Although he posted a strong 3.86 ERA in his three years with the Rays, his 2011 with the Cubs resulted in a 3.32 ERA, a 9.0 K/9, an 8.5 H/9, and a 2.9 BB/9. These are the sort of numbers an ace produces. This year, he’s thus far produced a 4.32 ERA, yet his other numbers look very similar, a 2.8 BB/9, and 8.3 K/9, and a slightly lower 8.0 H/9. The difference here is a double in his homerun rate, from 0.6 HR/9 in 2011 to 1.4 HR/9 in 2012. Overall, his 16.7% HR/FB rate looks poised for regression, and his xFIP is currently 3.69. If the numbers even out, Garza could be a strong compliment to Sabathia a top the Yankees rotation, so let’s take a look at his pitch repertoire.
His four-seam fastball is obviously the goto pitch, throwing it 40.7% of the time. It averages 93.5 mph, a 200 degree spin angle, and just above 2,000 RPM. The variation in the pitch accounts for quite a spread in movement, as you’ll see below. At times, Garza can use a low spin angle and a high spin rate in the upper 2,000′s to create a strong rising fastball. Overall, he’s seen a 7-8% whiff rate, and a batted ball rate of around 43% groundballs, 40% flyballs, and 17% linedrives.
Posted above is the break of the pitch on the left, a bird’s eye view on top, and 3rd base view on the bottom. Graphed on the right is the the movement of the pitch from a catcher’s perspective. On average, Garza’s four-seam has 9.49 inches of vertical “rise” above a no spin pitch, as well a 3.41 inches of horizontal movement in to right handed hitter. While this is the average movement, the right hander has the ability to consistently bring the rise up to a strong 11-12 inch range.
Here are the locations of his four-seam fastball throughout 2012, with right handers on the right, and left handers on the left. There isn’t much method to his approach with the four-seam, and nor should there be. If anything, he’s thrown a few more fastballs into right handed hitters, but not much else.
The slider is his favorite strikeout pitch, and he throws it 24.9% of the time. It averages 84.7 mph, mainly ranges between 60 to 180 degrees in spin angle, and averages around a 500 degree spin rate. While the large range of spin angles creates a wide range of movements, the low spin rate accounts for much of the movement coming close to that of the no-spin pitch. Overall, he has a strong 20.4% whiff rate… on the pitch, and a batted ball rate of 49% groundballs, 39% flyballs, and 12% linedrives.
Looking at the slider movement from the catcher’s perspective on the right, you’ll see that he averages 1.10 inches of vertical rise, as well as 1.07 inches of horizontal movement into left handed hitters. As I noted above, most of these pitches fall around the no-spin origin due to the low spin rate, and the wide span of movements ranges from nearly a 10 inch spread both vertically and horizontally. While some pitcher’s will throw the slider with more horizontal movement away from same side hitters, Garza’s slider looks more like a cutter with standard slider vertical drop. The lack of horizontal movement may be one aspect of the pitch that prevents hitters from differentiating it from the four-seam fastball.
Looking at Garza’s pitch locations to right handed hitters above, you’ll see that he attacks mostly down and away. The decrease in velocity, the vertical drop, and horizontal movement away from right handers forces many to chase this pitch, and they have whiffed more than 1/5th of the time. Most of the sliders to left handed hitters are located down and in, this time to jam lefties. Due to the pitch breaking in on lefties, he’s had slightly less success, but he’s still averaging close to a 20% whiff rate.
The sinker is his out pitch when he’s looking for contact, specifically the double play, using the pitch 19.1% of the time. The average velocity is 93.1 mph, the average spin angle is 221 degrees, and the spin rate is right around 2,200 RPM. He’s done very well drawing groundballs this year, posting a batted ball rate of 58% groundballs, 22% flyballs, and 20% linedrives.
Looking at the movement, graphed on the right, you’ll see there is somewhat of an issue in Gameday’s identification algorithm. The lower sinkers around the origin are clearly sliders, but there is also a problem with their classification of the high sinker, which is more likely four-seam fastballs. TexasLeaguers, which uses Gameday’s classification, gives Garza 8.27 inches of vertical movement and 6.93 inches of horizontal movement into right handers. In reality, the numbers are closer to BrooksBaseball’s corrected player card, which has the pitch right around 6-7 inches of vertical movement, and 9 inches of horizontal movement. The difference here is considerable, in that Garza’s sinker has very strong movement into same side hitters, as well as around 3 inches of additional sink when compared to the four-seam.
In both cases of location above, the sinker is thrown to take advantage of the it’s drop and movement into same side hitters. Against righties, Garza will jam them with sinkers down and in, that also move down and in. Against lefties, he’ll throw the sinker down and away, and with the pitch moving down and away, lefties will hit the ball into the ground.
The beauty of the curveball, is his ability to surprise hitters by dropping it into the strikezone, as well as the hitter’s inability to drive the ball. Using the pitch 10.5% of the time, Garza gets a below average 8.6% whiff rate on the breaking ball. However, his batted ball rate is an impressive 62% groundballs, 25% flyballs, and 13% linedrives.
The average movement on Garza’s curveball is a strong -9.02 drop below the no spin origin, and 4.04 inches of horizontal movement into left handed hitters. While there isn’t a ton of horizontal movement that will cause many swings and misses, the dropping action is very consistent and strong. A small deviation of spin angles leads to the consistency of the drop, which allows him to throw the pitch for strikes.
As you see above, the curveball is a tool he uses more for left handed hitters. While the slider is still his goto out pitch, the curveball helps neutralize a platoon split that opposite side hitters might have against him. Keeping the ball down and away, he is able to draw plenty of groundballs and a few whiffs. This is an odd feature of Garza, as the curveball isn’t typically a tool used to attack opposite side hitters, but whatever works for him.
Finally we have the changeup, which is definitely a tool for opposite side hitters. He uses it only 4.8% of the time, throwing it at 85.7 mph, with a spin angle of 218 degrees, and a spin rate of 1,946 RPM. The spin rate and angle allow the pitch to match the movement of the sinker, which makes it hard to differentiate the pitch. He averages a 6.7% whiff rate on the pitch, and a batted ball rate of 24% groundballs, 53% flyballs, and 24% linedrives. Nearly half of the flyballs from the changeup have accounted for homeruns though, which is major enough for him to consider losing the pitch all together.
The average movement on the changeup is 8.00 inches of vertical movement above the no-spin origin, and 6.33 inches of horizontal movement into right handed hitters. As I mentioned above, the spread of the pitch matches the sinker almost perfectly, which is done to prevent hitters from recognizing the pitch, however most changeups have considerably higher horizontal movement. This movement might prevent hitters from being tricked, but it also lacks the tailing action that causes lefties to chase the pitch. If Garza plans to use it to neutralize lefty bats, he should be increasing the spin angle.
Although he throws the changeup to a lot of lefties, it’s not an exclusive pitch. While he attacks down and away to opposite side hitters, he seems to throw the pitch right down the middle to righties. Of all the pitches in his repertoire, this is easily the weakest.
Overall, Matt Garza still looks like a solid pitcher capable of being a strong number 2 starter for the Yankees. He’s not without his weaknesses though, and there should be a significant concern bringing in a right handed pitcher with the amount of homeruns he’s given up this year. Eliminating the changeup entirely, or increasing the spin angle and using it exclusively on lefties might help him, but it’s easier said than done. In his 17.0 career innings in Yankee Stadium, he’s held the bombers to a 3.18 ERA and only two homeruns. If Garza can produce like that, I’d have no problem with a deal this July.
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