There was a lot of activity on this morning's game recap regarding Matt Garza and how well/poorly he has pitched in people's minds. While a lot of the conversation focused on whether you would call him an "ace" or not, it's unfair to say that Garza has performed below expectations* (only a few people mentioned this, but I think it's ludicrous enough to mention here). I just wrote an article about Garza (and posted it on my brand new blog, ball four) a few days ago, and thought I'd share it here as well. Essentially, the article focuses on how Garza has changed his approach to pitching and how that's paid off for him.
* Unless your expectation was for him to get significantly better by moving to a home run friendly park.
Matt Garza has pitched essentially a year for the Cubs, and while some were concerned about his reliance on four-seam fastballs and how his fly ball tendencies would play out at Wrigley, he has pitched exceptionally well. Take a look at Garza's statistics from the past two years:
2010: 6.60 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 1.23 HR/9, 4.42 FIP
2011: 9.32 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, 0.71 HR/9, 3.06 FIP
Despite moving from Tropicana Field - .853 HR Park Factor - to Wrigley Field - 1.068 HR Park Factor - his HR/9 has fallen by 42%. Sure, some of this may be due to the fact that he has the the fortune of facing the likes of Yuniesky Betancourt a handful of times, but I think it has to do with more than the quality of the hitters he's facing. Let's take a look at Garza's batted ball statistics from the past two years:
2010: 0.800 GB/FB, 44.7% FB%, 35.8% GB%, 10% HR/FB%
2011: 1.450 GB/FB, 32.4% FB%, 47.0% GB%, 8.8% HR/FB%
Garza's an entirely different pitcher this year - his FB% and GB% have not only swapped places, but are also more extreme; consequently, his GB/FB rate has increased by over 80% of last year's rate. A lower FB% and a higher GB% would naturally depress a pitcher's HR/9, just as we saw above with Garza. Now the question is, what has Garza done differently this year? Let's take a look at Garza's pitch type for the past two years:
2010: 71.5% FB, 14.0% SL, 9.0% CB, 5.5% CH
2011: 52.5% FB, 23.5% SL, 11.9% GB, 12.1% CH
It looks like Garza reads FanGraphs - primarily Dave Cameron and Albert Lyu's pieces on how his reliability on his four-seam fastball and his fly ball tendencies will translate to Wrigley Field. Garza has thrown his fastball 19% less often this year as compared to last. That is a radical change in pitch selection. According to John Walsh at THT, fastballs result in a fly ball 31.5% of the time - the highest fly ball rate of any pitch - and ground balls 38.8% of the time - the lowest ground ball rate of any pitch. Garza's decreased reliance on the fastball could explain part of the drastic decrease in his fly ball rate.
The other factor comes in the form of his slider. Not only has Garza thrown his sliders more often in 2011 than in 2010, but he has also thrown them with much more effectiveness. Garza's wSL/C is 1.95 - the 14th highest wSL/C rate in all of baseball. In 2010, his wSL/C was .31. In 2011, Garza has increased his slider's effectiveness by over six-fold. Referencing Walsh's work again, sliders result in ground balls 44.6% of the time and fly balls 26.9% of the time. The slider has not only helped Garza bring his FB% down, but has also helped him increase his GB%, essentially making him a ground ball pitcher. Prior to 2011, Garza lacked a dominant out-pitch, it looks like he's found one this year in his slider.
Garza's decreased reliance on his fastball, more effective slider, and willingness to throw the slider more often have helped decrease his FB%, increase his GB%, and consequently decrease his HR/9. This is the largest reason that Garza's FIP has fallen by over 1.30 points.
I have addressed the home run portion of the FIP equation, which would leave the walk and strike out portion of the equation. Aside from the fact that Garza has posted a career high K/9 rate, and a slightly higher BB/9 rate than 2010, I don't have much to say. I've looked at Garza's pitch type by count, and aside from shying away from his fastball on nearly every count, I can't find any other meaningful trends. My guess for his high K/9 rate would be that by employing his other pitches more often, he keeps hitters guessing, resulting in more strike outs. Fortunately, since the coefficients on walks and strikeouts are 3 and 2 respectively, whereas the coefficient on home runs is 13, a change in K/9 and BB/9 would not affect FIP as much as a large change in home runs.
The Cubs are lucky. They traded for 2010 Garza and ended up getting 2011 Garza. Though this has been a horrendous season for Cubs fans, myself included, if Garza continues pitching the way he has this year three or four years from now, Cubs fans will forget about Chris Archer, Robin Chirinos, and maybe even the legendary Sam Fuld.