10 June 2013

A Closer Look at the Freddy Garcia Experiment

On May 30 against the Nationals in a 2-0 win, Freddy Garcia put up this surprising line: 8.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K. In fact, he has only pitched two other such games (at least 8 innings, no runs, no walks, and at least six strikeouts) in his career, and you have to go back to 2002 for the last time he did so.

Rk Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit
1 2001-09-10 SEA ANA W 5-1 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 0 0 8 0 116
2 2002-06-19 SEA CIN W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 0 0 7 0 107
3 2013-05-30 BAL WSN W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 0 0 0 6 0 113
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/7/2013.

It was a dominant start from a pitcher who no longer has dominant stuff (we'll get to that). But that performance led to this comment from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports:
Yes, it's Twitter, and sure, Heyman is probably making a brief comment to start a discussion, but that's both overly optimistic and simplistic. After hitting rock bottom with the Pirates in the first part of the season in 2012, McLouth reversed course to not only become a valuable contributor to the O's playoff run, but now he's hitting even better and is on pace to have one of his best major league seasons. Literally no one saw that coming or predicted that. Regardless, it's important to remember that McLouth's unexpected revival is an anomaly.

After that start against the Nationals, Garcia had a 3.57 ERA in 35.1 innings, which seems pretty good. But he had just 15 strikeouts in those innings, had already allowed seven home runs, and had a BABIP around .200 (suggesting some amount of luck, along with his still-high strand rate). One positive was the low walk rate, but Garcia just wasn't missing many bats, and a large percentage of fly balls against him were leaving the ballpark.

Garcia's next start came last Wednesday in Houston, and he did not fare well. He lasted just three innings, allowing seven hits (including four home runs) and six runs, while walking two and striking out two. Garcia's ERA jumped to 4.70, along with these unsightly numbers: 3.99 K/9, 25% HR/FB, 2.58 HR/9, 6.54 FIP. That's right, exactly a quarter of the total fly balls hit against Garcia have ended up as home runs. Things might be even worse if not for Garcia's low walk rate (1.88 BB/9).

So what are the problems? Like many 36-year-old pitchers, Garcia's dealing with the continued decline of his pitching arsenal. He currently throws six (possibly seven) pitches: a four-seam fastball, a sinker (two-seamer), a slider, a curveball, a splitter, and a changeup (and apparently an occasional cutter)). He's been mixing in all of those pitches, but he's been doing that for a while now.

As you can see above, Garcia has opted to throw his two fastballs the most (both over 20% of the time), with his splitter and curveball each sitting just above 15%. The biggest change for him, though, seems to be the decline in usage of his slider. From 2010-2012, the slider was the pitch Garcia used the most. Last season, he threw it over 40% of the time. This season, though, it's his fifth most used pitch, slightly above his changeup.

Now, let's focus on velocity and movement. Per Pitch F/X, Garcia's average fastball velocity (87.0 mph) is about the same as it was last year (86.8). Still, his velocity has dropped in every season since 2008 (89.6), so he's not going to find any extra miles per hour with his pitches.

Besides the slight decrease in splitter and slider velocity -- and the continued small increases in curveball velocity since 2010 -- there's not much there. On to horizontal movement:

Garcia's slider, oddly enough, is the one pitch that appears to be moving more. His curveball has also held steady. His fastballs and changeup are moving slightly less than 2012, but the biggest change seems to be in his splitter, which is not moving nearly as much as last season. In fact, the horizontal movement on his splitter has been decreasing since 2010 -- not a good sign for the pitch he relies on the third most (along with his curve).

Finally, we have vertical movement:

Here we see slight increases from 2012 in both of his fastballs, and his curveball is moving more as well. But his slider and splitter are both moving less. It's possible that Garcia is relying on his split fastball too much (and maybe not enough on his curveball). His splitter isn't moving as much both horizontally and vertically, yet he's still throwing it over 16% of the time.

As you'd expect with a pitcher with declining stuff, opposing batters are making more contact against Garcia. The contact percentage of 83.3 against him would be the highest since 2007 (86.1), and while batters aren't making quite as much contact inside the zone (from 89.9% in 2012 to 88.1%), they're making much more contact on pitches outside the strikezone (from 58.1% to 70.8%). Considering that they're also swinging less often on those same pitches (27.6% to 25.1%), that's a pretty significant jump.

Picking guys up off the scrap heap is fine. Because the Orioles don't have much organizational depth, there isn't a whole lot of risk involved when it comes to taking chances on players other teams don't want and stashing them at Triple-A for a rainy day. But a platoon-able corner outfielder like McLouth is one thing (McLouth is also 31; Garcia is 36). If Garcia only had to make a handful of starts, he could have been an acceptable fill-in. But he's already made seven starts and is demonstrating why other teams stayed away.

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