Matt Garza’s Balls (in play)

Matt Garza has had quite the start to his Chicago Cub career.  His first outing ended with 12 strikeouts (woo!) and 12 hits allowed (boo!).  He didn’t allow a free pass and every single one of his 12 hits allowed were singles.  He ended up going 7 innings and allowing only 3 runs all of them earned.

His second start didn’t have quite the same result only going 5 and two thirds, giving up 5 earned runs.  Again though he struckout the same amount of batters that he gave up hits too.  Unfortunately this time a few went for extra base hits, with 3 doubles and a triple.  He did walk 3 but still gave up no home runs.

When Garza came to the Cubs in a trade that sent off Chris Archer and Super Sam Fuld I like many Cub fans biggest concern with Garza was his flyball rate and how that would affect him pitching in Wrigley.  Last year at Wrigley homers left the ball park about 13% more than in the average stadium, where as in Tampa homers left the park at a clip of around 7% less than average.  So the numbers point to more of his flyballs leaving the park, but this hasn’t been Garza’s issue.

Garza is currently striking out a mammoth 14.21 batters per nine innings.  That Carlos Marmol type numbers.  Only one time during his three years with the Rays did his K/9 number sit above 6.6.   That’s not the only number of his that is way off from his career norms.  His ground ball rate is remarkably right in line with his career number, but his line drive percentage is nearly double that of his career average, and in turn his flyball percentage is down quite a bit as well.

Basically what has happened in his two starts is those balls that generally go for fly balls are being hit harder now and turning into line drives.  Line drives fall for hits a much much higher rate than fly balls do.  Last year in the NL fly balls fell for hits in play at a rate of only 13.6%, but on the other hand line drives fall for hits at a rate of 72.1%.  Garza’s balls in play are dropping for hit’s at a little higher rate than that (28.6% and 86.7% respectively), but we can start to see exactly why so much of the contact against Garza is turning into hits, and why his ERA currently sits above five and a half.

So I guess now we ask “Why is he getting hit so hard?”  Matt thinks he is getting hit hard on his soft stuff, and that might be it, but he has always been hit hard on his “soft stuff”.  His changeup this year has been worth 2.1 runs below average, but for his career its been below average at 13.2 runs below average.  His curveball also has been below average for his career at -2.1 runs compared to average and this year its been .8 runs below average.  Now he is getting hit harder on those this year than for his career average, but those pitches aren’t his strengths.  It’s his fastball.

Garza’s fastball has always been his best pitch, and in 2008 it was the second best fastball in baseball behind only Cliff Lee, and from 2008 to 2010 it was the 7th best fastball in baseball.  This year though its been a negative pitch.  It’s got the velocity it always has had, but it’s not being thrown as much.  Garza has religiously thrown his fastball 71-72% of the time the last three years, but this year it’s only being thrown 58% of the time, and the slider is being thrown more.  The slider has been good thus far, but why go away from your best pitch?

Hitters are making less contact this year than in years past but the ball is just being crushed.  Looking at the topical stats it is a cause for concern.  I don’t think its time to freak out yet, I mean his FIP is an amazing .63, but all those line drives are really concerning.  Garza takes the mound tonight against a Rockie’s team with some big bats.  Will we start seeing more of those line drives turn into fly balls?  I sure hope so….. unless the home runs start piling up.

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