Matt Garza Needs A Rabbit’s Foot

Cubs starting pitcher Matt Garza was acquired this past offseason to fill the shoes of the departed Ted Lilly, in hope that he would shore up the front of the rotation. Many Cubs fans thought that he would put up number one starter-worthy numbers, mainly due to his post-season success and former top-prospect status, although his number would suggest that he would be a solid number two starter due to his fly ball tendencies and average strikeout rate.

This season, Garza has given up a total of eight earned runs in only 12.2 innings (5.68 ERA), although there is evidence that he has just been simply unlucky.

Looking past his outstanding fielding-independent pitching (0.59 FIP), Garza has more than doubled his strikeout rate (6.60 K/9 in 2010 to 14.21 this season) and ground ball to fly ball ratio (from .80 to 2.00 GB/FB), while lowering his walk rate – all keys for a dominating starting pitcher.

Garza’s struggles lie within his fielding-dependent profile. Hits are falling for a .541 average, more than 250 points than his career norm. This can be attributed to a spike in his line drive percent, a
lthough the way he is accumulating swings and misses should point to batters getting weaker contact against him.

The most obvious reason for the high amount of hard-hit balls is due to the fact that Garza has been too predictable this year. Garza is pumping first-pitch strikes at a 71% rate, a frequency far higher than his 57% career norm. In addition, he is throwing his fastball as his first pitch 81% of the time. Hitters are simply attacking the first-pitch fastball, knowing they can’t hit his off-speed offerings.

The key for Garza in 2011 is to change his philosophy. He needs to throw more of his 12-6 curveball in general, since he relies heavily on his four-seam and two-seam fastballs and sliders primarily. Mixing in his curve, which has been his third or fourth pitch offering for much of his career, would keep hitters off-balance and provide Garza an avenue to improve on his success.


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