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Friday, January 7, 2011
Chicago's hope is for a good Garza

By Mark Simon & Katie Sharp

Other blogs have already weighed in on the reported trade of that would send Matt Garza from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Chicago Cubs. With Garza leaving the AL East, our friends in New York and Boston look into how it affects their clubs.

The primary strength that Matt Garza brings to the Cubs is consistency.

In his three seasons with Tampa, Garza’s ERA, innings pitched, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio were similar each season. He didn’t rank among the top 10 percent of pitchers in any of these statistical categories, but he still rated above average.

Over the last four seasons (his last year with the Twins and his time with the Rays), he has bore down with runners in scoring position. Opponents have hit .213, .218, .214 and .197 against him in such situations. The combined .210 opponents’ batting average ranks among the very best in the sport, just ahead of Josh Johnson and Tim Lincecum.

The one thing that may make Cubs fans a bit wary is Garza’s penchant for giving up home runs. The 28 he allowed last season ranked fourth-worst in the American League. Switching home ballparks from one that is about average for power hitters to one that’s more power friendly (Wrigley Field’s Park Factor for home runs ranked fifth-highest in the National League) may increase that total slightly.

Garza has historically been a flyball pitcher. According to Fangraphs, over the last two seasons his flyball percentage of 43.7 percent was the fifth-highest among AL pitchers.

While Garza overall was consistent with the Rays, there are some inconsistencies that might be of concern for the Cubs. His ability to miss bats and generate strikeouts fell significantly from 2009 to 2010. He struck out just 17.5 percent of batters faced last season compared to 22 percent the previous year, while his contact rate rose from 80.9 percent to 83.7 percent, according to Fangraphs.

The most troubling decline was his ability to put hitters away with his fastball. In 2009, he got 75 strikeouts on 511 two-strike fastballs thrown (a 14.7 percent “putaway rate”). Last season -- while throwing nearly the same number of two-strike fastballs (507) -- he recorded 52 strikeouts on those pitches, a putaway rate of just 10.2 percent.

Matt Garza
Garza
When he struggled in September, Garza got hitters to miss on only eight percent of their swings against fastballs, according to our Inside Edge video scouting data, well below his typical rate of 13 percent.

Garza also struggled last season with his breaking pitches (you might remember that in his no-hitter, he threw almost exclusively fastballs).

According to Inside Edge, Garza allowed nine home runs with his curveball and slider last season, but a positive sign was that he yielded only one such homer in his last 12 starts.

There is one significant benefit to switching from the AL East to the NL Central. Take out Garza’s 35 earned runs in 51 2/3 innings against the Yankees and Red Sox last season and you get a pitcher with a 3.18 ERA against the rest of the league. If Garza can put up that sort of number in 2011, the Cubs and their long-suffering fans figure to be very happy with today’s deal.