Matt Garza‘s three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays were good ones. In those three seasons he averaged 197 innings of 109 ERA+ ball to go along with his 8.2 H/9, 7.1 K/9, and 2.32 K/BB rate. Garza was worth 9.0 rWAR and 7.9 fWAR but he always flashed signs of better things to come.
Garza is now a Chicago Cub and many, myself included, thought the windy airs of Chicago would hurt his flyball tendancies that were on the rise, going from 39.9%in 2008 to 42.5% in 2009 to 44.7% in 2010. The results, so far, have been a bit unexpected. Garza has not allowed a single homerun to the 137 batters he has faced in his 30.2 innings pitched. Not only has he not allowed a homerun but he has only allowed 18 flyballs to those 137 batters. Is this due to a new approach? I think so. Check out his pitch selection over the years:
Another thing I noticed in his pitches was that his slider, curve, and change all were a bit faster than years prior while his fastball was a tick slower. I believe this is due to him throwing more Two-Seam Fastballs and that would explain his large jump in grounballs hits from 35.8% last season to 50.6% this season. Take a look at his pitch selection from his last outing:
You will notice from the plot (thanks to brooksbaseball.net) a large number of light-blue squares (Two-Seamers) from Garza’s last outing. His approach (looking at other outings as well) has been to throw Two-Seamers away to left-handed batters (check out his chart from 4/20 ) and in to right-handed batters, his slider away to RHB, his change away to LHB, his curve away to LHB, and his Four-Seamer up to both batters. Down in the zone and down out of the zone looks to me Two-Seamers, Curves, Sliders, and Change-ups, with a few Four-Seamers but not many.
His new approach has led to a league-leading 12.03 K/9, a league best 1.25 FIP, a league best 1.95 xFIP, and a league low zero homeruns allowed, tying him with a league best 1.6 fWAR. His defense behind him has been the reason he has a 4.11 ERA as his BABIP is a league high .414, 30 points higher than the next pitcher and 125 points higher than the league average.
Garza’s early season success is in large part due to his new approach to pitching. Cubs fans who were happy to have Matt Garza the thrower in thier rotation will be thrilled to know that they now have Matt Garza the pitcher fronting the rotation.