2012 Player Profile: Matt Garza

Matt Garza altered his pitch selection this season, becoming more effective with his slider. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Innings Pitched: 103.2 (18 G-18 GS)
2012 Pitching (all per 9 IP): 4.17 RA, 7.8 H, 2.8 BB, 1.3 HR, 8.3 K
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 1.2
2013 Contract Status: Signed (Arbitration, Third Year)
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): Four-seam (94), Sinker (94), Change-up (86), Slider (85), Curve (76)

Few major league pitchers show Matt Garza’s fire. And it doesn’t matter if he’s fronting the Cubs rotation or being a top-step teammate. Unfortunately, he had to do a bit too much of the latter in 2012.

It could be said that it was an off year for Garza, but a large part of that was in comparison to his lofty first year in a Cubs uniform. He also missed almost the entire second half of the season due to a stress fracture in his elbow and finished with a 3.91 ERA, a few steps off the 3.32 mark he had in his Cubs debut. This will be an important offseason for the Cubs: Garza is under team control for one more year before he becomes eligible for free agency. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have publicly stated that they’d like to continue pursuing an extension with the soon-to-be 29-year-old, while also saying they’ll keep their options open until that happens.

Garza has perhaps been most notable for how he has reinvented himself as a pitcher since being acquired in a trade two winters ago. He’s induced significantly more ground balls, struck out more hitters and issued fewer free passes since coming over from the Rays.

We can deduce some of the reasons by taking a closer look with PITCHf/x data, as tagged by BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus (player card). Our graphs to the right present pitch usage as variants of fastballs (blue) and offspeed pitches (green).

In 2011, his first year as a Cub, Garza threw 62 percent more sliders and twice as many change-ups than he did in 2010. While he more or less went away from the change this season, his slider remains his wipe-out pitch. Garza got swings and misses more than 20 percent of the time with his slider, part of a consistent improvement in the effectiveness of that pitch over his big league career.

Interestingly, this year, Garza also started throwing sinkers to right-handed batters at a much higher rate than he did in 2011. That’s the opposite sort of trend we discussed last week with Jeff Samardzija, who tends to lean on pitches that run away from lefties or righties. Instead, Garza went after righties by busting them inside, and he ended up with the highest ground ball percentage of his career (51%).

He primarily uses his other fastball, a four-seamer, to get ahead of hitters, and he had better control of it (less balls, more called strikes) than he has at any point of his career. Not coincidentally, when the ball wasn’t put into play on the first pitch, he has recorded an 0-1 count 59 percent of the time while in a Cubs uniform—compared to 52 percent with the Rays.

On the flip side, Garza didn’t help himself at all in the field, where he committed 10 errors (eight throwing) in the last two seasons. He also gave up an abnormally high—for him—rate of home runs per fly ball, at 16 percent. That’s a statistic known to fluctuate more randomly than a pitcher’s talent, so we’d expect his rate next year to “regress” back to his 10 percent career rate. A few more long fly balls caught at the wall would lead to a tangible decrease in ERA once again, particularly with Garza’s other components looking solid.

Will Garza be a long-term piece for the Cubs building effort or one used to acquire more organizational depth? One thing is for certain: As Hoyer said in Spring Training, the Cubs “need more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas.” It’s easy to see why.

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