Stats & Info: Matt Garza

Top stats to know: Nationals at Brewers

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
Tonight's matchup (8 ET on ESPN2 and WatchESPN) features a pair of first-place teams that rank tied for second (Nationals) and fourth (Brewers) in run differential in the National League this season.

LHP Gio Gonzalez at RHP Matt Garza
Matt Garza
Gio Gonzalez

Gonzalez has struggled this season, posting a 4.62 ERA thus far. His ERA has jumped in consecutive seasons after his 2.89 ERA mark in 2012, when he finished third in Cy Young voting. He's looking to earn his first win since April 18.

His biggest issues have come versus lefties; they're hitting .316 with a .913 OPS against him this year after he held them to a .217/.613 line over the previous two seasons.

On the other hand, Garza is on a roll, having thrown five straight quality starts, tied for the third-longest streak of his career. With one more quality start, he'll match his total from all of last season (11).

Garza's dominance has waned in recent years -- both his strikeout rate and percentage of opponent swings whiffed on have declined for three consecutive seasons. In 2011, his strikeout rate ranked 12th among qualifiers; this season it's down to 69th.

Ian Desmond's Power
Desmond leads the Nationals with 14 HRs this season -- only Troy Tulowitzki (18) has hit more among shortstops. Desmond's 59 HRs since 2012 are four more than any other shortstop.

He also has five more RBIs than any shortstop in that span, but his production has come at a cost: His 347 strikeouts (23 percent of plate appearances) are by far the most of any player at his position.

Carlos Gomez Continues to Improve
In terms of Wins Above Replacement, no player in the National League has been more valuable than Carlos Gomez since the start of last season. Gomez has produced a 12.0 WAR in that time, half a win more than Andrew McCutchen.

Gomez has become increasingly aggressive on the first pitch, and to great effect. He’s gone from hitting .234 with a .383 slugging percentage on the first pitch (while swinging 39 percent of the time) back in 2009, to hitting .441 and slugging .763 with on a 55 percent swing rate on those pitches this year.

Ryan Braun Decline
Ryan Braun

Through his first 58 games this season, Braun is batting just .278 with a .815 OPS, both on pace to be career lows.

He simply isn't punishing pitches in the strike zone with anywhere near the authority he did in 2011 and 2012. He is slugging .595 on pitches in the zone over the last two seasons with a 5.3 home run percentage. He slugged .722 on pitches in the strike zone with a 8.4 percent home run rate in 2011 and 2012.

Shifting Perspectives
The Brewers have shifted their defense on 342 balls in play this season, fifth most in the majors. They are on pace to shift 720 balls in play, 182 more times than they did last season.

The Nationals are on the opposite side of the shifting spectrum. They have shifted on only 84 balls in play this season, the second-lowest total in baseball.

Jered Weaver adjusts to declining velocity

July, 29, 2013

AP Photo/LM OteroHe's pitching well of late, but Jered Weaver has had little success when's he's started at Texas.
Two of baseball’s hottest starting pitchers take the hill as the Los Angeles Angels’ Jered Weaver faces Texas Rangers’ newcomer Matt Garza, Monday at 7 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.

Weaver goes off-speed
The last time Weaver made a start in Arlington was April 7, when he fractured his elbow dodging a Mitch Moreland line drive. When Weaver returned from the injury he had a 4.55 ERA in his next five starts but since then he's pitched extremely well.

Weaver is 4-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his past six starts and has found success by increasing the use of his curveball and keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate.

In his first seven starts of the season, Weaver threw his curveball about 10 percent of the time, but has nearly doubled that rate since.

An increased use of the curveball coincides with Weaver’s declining fastball velocity, which has dropped from 89.8 mph in 2010 to 86.6 this season. His recent success indicates that Weaver has found a way to pitch around his declining velocity.

Although Weaver has pitched well of late, he has struggled on the road in his career against the Rangers, going 4-8 with a 5.07 ERA. That’s a stark contrast to the 9-0 record and 2.28 ERA he’s posted against the Rangers at home.

Garza’s red hot
In his first start since being acquired by the Rangers, Garza allowed five hits over 7.1 innings in a win over the Yankees.

Garza has won a career-high six straight starts -- only Bartolo Colon (eight) and Patrick Corbin (seven) have longer such streaks this season. Garza is also riding another career-best streak, allowing two earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts.

A key for Garza's success has been his slider, widely regarded as his best pitch. Over his previous seven starts, opponents are hitting .157 without an extra-base hit when he throws his slider.

However, Garza has struggled against the Angels. His 5.83 career ERA against Los Angeles his fourth-worst against any team.

Diminishing returns from Pujols
Another key storyline revolves around Albert Pujols, who was placed on the disabled list on Sunday with a partially torn plantar fascia ligament in his left foot.

If Pujols does not play again this season, he would finish the season with career-lows in games played, batting average, home runs, RBI and runs.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) tell the story of Pujols’ steep decline of late. He led the league in 2009 with a 9.7 WAR on his way to winning the National League MVP. That number has dropped each of the next four seasons to 1.4 in 2013, which ranks outside the top 120 players.

The Angels have gotten a poor return on investment on the Pujols contract thus far, and it does not seem to be getting any better. From 2014-2021, Pujols is still owed $212 million, that's more than any other player except Joey Votto, who is owed $225 million.

Garza comes to Texas pitching his best

July, 22, 2013

The Texas Rangers made a bold move to improve their starting pitching by obtaining veteran Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Justin Grimm and prospects yesterday.

Let's take a look at the statistical angles related to this deal.

Garza has been very good lately
Garza has been at his best of late. He’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his last six starts, the longest streak of his career. Garza had a 6.26 ERA in his first five starts and only went seven innings or more once.

In his last six starts, he has a 1.24 ERA, .567 opponents’ OPS and has pitched at least seven innings five times.

Garza's track record is that he isn't as good as he's been lately, but he isn't as bad as he was early in the season. In sum, he's been a slightly above average pitcher for most of his career. From 2007 to 2012, his ERA hovered between 3.32 and 3.95, with the combined total in that span being 3.74.

One thing to watch in Texas will be Garza's home-run rate. Since 2007, he's allowed a home run every nine innings. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington tends to be a very hitter-friendly park.

It had the highest Park Factor in the majors for home runs in 2011 and seventh-highest in 2012, though that's dropped to 11th this season.

Keys to success
The big reason for Garza’s success in that stretch is his propensity for getting out of jams.

Opponents are hitting .125 with runners in scoring position against him in his last six starts, well below what they were doing prior to that.

He's also been able to get opponents to swing and miss at a much higher rate in those situations, as the chart on the right shows.

Garza has also upped the use of his slider. He was throwing it an average of 16 times per game in that five-start stretch in which he was struggling to an average of more than 25 times per game in his last six starts.

In those six starts, he's netted 38 outs (21 strikeouts) with the pitch, holding opposing hitters to seven singles and three walks.

The Rangers need him
Entering Monday, the Rangers ranked in the top 10 in baseball in OPS, Defensive Runs Saved and bullpen ERA but 20th in starters ERA. Only one World Series champion in the past 15 seasons has finished that low in starters ERA (2006 Cardinals -– 20th).
The Rangers have used nine different starting pitchers this season while trying to fill injuries at the back end of their rotation.

Yu Darvish and Derek Holland have combined for 6.1 Wins Above Replacement; the other seven pitchers have made more than 60 percent of the team’s starts and combined for 0.3 Win Above Replacement.

Did You Know
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Garza has won each of his last five starts while allowing no more than two earned runs in any of them.

Only two Cubs pitchers in the last 40 years had longer streaks of that kind within one season. Kerry Wood (in 2001) and Mark Prior (in 2003) each won six straight starts without allowing more than two earned runs in a game.

Felix rides soft stuff to perfect ending

August, 15, 2012
Maybe it was worth it to buy Seattle Mariners season tickets after all.

Felix Hernandez tossed the first perfect game in the history of the Mariners franchise and the sixth no-hitter overall this season, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 on Wednesday afternoon. Not only was Hernandez's performance dominant in its own right, but it marked yet another remarkable chapter in the history of perfect games and, specifically, the 2012 season.

Felix Hernandez
In tossing the 23rd perfect game in MLB history, Hernandez made more than just Mariners history. This season is now the first in MLB history with three perfect games. The only other instances of multiple perfect games in a season are 1880 and 2010.

It also is the first time in MLB history that there have been two perfect games in the same stadium in the same season. In fact, only three other stadiums have had two perfect games thrown in them in their history, let alone one season (Dodger Stadium, Oakland Coliseum and Yankee Stadium).

Wednesday also marked the second instance in MLB history of three no-hitters being thrown at one park/stadium in one season, joining Sportsman’s Park in 1917.

2012: The Year of the No-No
The six no-hitters thrown this season place it behind only 1884, 1990 and 1991 for the most in a single season. There were seven thrown in both 1990 and 1991, and a record eight thrown in 1884.

The Mariners also became the first team in MLB history to have both a combined no-hitter and a complete-game no-hitter in the same season, while Hernandez (Venezuela) became the second player born outside the United States to throw a perfect game, joining Dennis Martinez (Nicaragua) in 1991.

How Did Hernandez Do It?
He had his breaking stuff working Wednesday; his 25 swing-and-misses on breaking pitches are the most by anyone since 2009. Hernandez also used all four of his pitches to get 27 outs against the Rays but increased his off-speed usage to its highest total of the season -- 59 percent of pitches.

Hernandez worked in the lower third of the zone for most of the game, throwing half his pitches in the lower third of the zone and below. Hernandez used the breaking balls on 42 of the 57 pitches, gaining 15 outs with 11 strikeouts, including six strikeouts on pitches out of the zone.

He also ramped it up when it counted most, averaging a season-high 93.2 mph with his fastball. With the perfect game becoming more of a reality, Hernandez picked up the pace of the heater later in the game, averaging 92.2 in innings one through three, 93.5 in innings four through six and 94.3 in the final three frames, including eight pitches of 95 mph or faster.

Rays Play the Victim
Continuing to dive into the realm of statistical oddities, the Rays have been no-hit five times since the franchise's inception in 1998, more than any other team. They also have been no-hit four times since 2009 alone, making them the only team to be no-hit more than once over the past four seasons.

And of the 23 perfect games in MLB history, six have come in the past four seasons. That means that 26 percent of the perfect games in MLB history have come in the past four seasons. There have been 137 seasons of major league history, meaning the past four seasons represent less than 3 percent of all MLB seasons played.

To top it off, Joe Maddon is the first manager (winning or losing) to get ejected from a perfect game. The previous manager to get ejected from a game in which his team got no-hit was Jim Leyland of the Tigers, who did so in Matt Garza's no-hitter for the Rays on July 26, 2010.

Aces abound in trade deadline market

July, 23, 2012

Getty ImagesZack Greinke and Cole Hamels are two of the pitchers that could be traded before the deadline.
The major league baseball trade deadline is just eight days away (July 31 at 4 ET). We get you ready for all the rumors and deals that will dominate the watercooler talk this week, starting with a preview of the pitchers likely to be moved before the deadline.

Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster
Why trade him?
Dempster is a free agent at the end of the season, and at 35 years old is not part of the Chicago Cubs rebuilding plan. His stock has never been higher.

Why acquire him?
Dempster is having the best season of his career (MLB-best 2.11 ERA), though his performance may not be sustainable with a .245 BABIP and 84 percent strand rate. However, he has significantly reduced his walk rate (career-best 6.9 percent) and had a 33-inning scoreless streak this season.

Matt Garza
Why trade him?
Garza is young and a good pitcher, but there’s the possibility he will become expensive before the Cubs are relevant again. He could help jumpstart the rebuilding process by infusing the organization with much-needed youth and upside.

Why acquire him?
Not only is Garza effective, but he’s one of the few starters on the market a team could control beyond 2012. Garza is also well-tested against the toughest division in baseball, with a 23-15 record and 3.34 ERA in 56 games vs the AL East.

Zack Greinke
Why trade him?
Greinke is a free-agent at season’s end, and will likely be too expensive for the Milwaukee Brewers to retain. He is having his best season since his Cy Young campaign of 2009, and could be the premier pitcher on the market.

Why acquire him?
Though his ERA has fluctuated between a high of 4.17 and a low of 2.16 since 2009, Greinke’s underlying performance has been much more consistent. Over the last four seasons, his FIP of 2.82 is surpassed only by Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.

Cole Hamels
Why trade him?
Hamels is a free agent at the end of the season and could cost north of $125 million to re-sign. That could be a burden for the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a total of $104 million committed to six players in 2013.

Why acquire him?
Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since 2010. No pitcher on the market has been more productive than Hamels over the last two-plus seasons.

James Shields
James Shields
Why trade him?
The Tampa Bay Rays are always watching their payroll and Shields has club options of $9 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. He would be a pitcher with two years of team control left in a market where most of the attractive options will be free agents at season’s end.

Why acquire him?
Shields has been among the most durable pitchers in baseball with the sixth-most innings pitched among major-league pitchers since 2009. Though his 4.39 ERA this season is nearly two runs worst than last year (2.82), he has been hurt by a poor Rays defense behind him. His BABIP of .339 is the third-highest in the AL and well above his career mark of .302.

Floyd's curveball made him no-hit threat

April, 29, 2012
It took a great pitching performance from Chicago White Sox starter Gavin Floyd to end the Boston Red Sox six-game winning streak.

Sunday marked the fourth time in Floyd’s career that he carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, but he’s yet to finish one off. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Floyd’s four such bids are the third-most among active pitchers.

How did Floyd pitch so well?

Our pitch-performance data showed that he got five of his nine strikeouts on pitches that were out of the strike zone. He finished off all 15 hitters on whom he got a two-strike count.

Floyd’s curveball was working in those two-strike counts. He threw 11 curveballs in two-strike situations and got five strikeouts with them.

The White Sox were bidding to become the first team with two regular-season no-hitters in the same season since the 1973 Angels, who got two from Nolan Ryan. The 2010 Phillies are the last team with two no-hitters, if you combine regular season and postseason (both by Roy Halladay).

Floyd is 7-0 with a 2.75 ERA in eight career starts against the Red Sox. He’s the first pitcher to win his first seven career decisions against the Red Sox since former Minnesota Twins right-hander Kevin Tapani.

Other notable performances from Sunday included:

The day’s best pitchers
Johan Santana threw six scoreless innings in his Coors Field debut, in the New York Mets wild win over the Colorado Rockies. Santana has now pitched 22 scoreless innings against the Rockies, which (via Elias) is the longest streak by any pitcher to start his career.

CC Sabathia beat the Tigers to remain undefeated this season. The Tigers right-handed hitters were 1-for-21 against him. Sabathia got five strikeouts with his slider. He’s had at least five with that pitch in all five of his starts this season.

Speaking of sliders, Chicago Cubs starter Matt Garza got 10 outs with his, and notched six strikeouts with the pitch, in a 5-1 win over the Phillies.

Also chiming in with impressive efforts were Arizona Diamondbacks starter Wade Miley, who is 6-1 with a 2.47 ERA in his last eight starts dating back to last season after beating the Diamondbacks, and Cleveland Indians starter Derek Lowe, who beat the Los Angels of Anaheim with an efficient effort- he threw single-digit pitch totals in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings.

The day’s best hitter
Rightfielder Jay Bruce homered for the fourth straight game, the longest streak by a Cincinnati Reds player since Adam Dunn homered in five straight games in May, 2008.
Jay Bruce
The streaky Bruce has had another hot week, hitting .476 with an OPS of 1.685 since Tuesday. His last three home runs have come on pitches over the outer-third of the plate. Bruce has 40 home runs on outer-third pitches since 2009, sixth-most in the majors in that span.

Nationals walk off with wild win over Reds

April, 12, 2012

Most frequent pitch locations for Gio Gonzalez vs Reds on Thursday.
Click here to create your own Gonzalez heat maps
Don’t look now, but the Washington Nationals have zoomed to the top of the NL East following their 3-2, extra-inning win over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday afternoon.

The Nationals improved to 5-2, their best start since moving to Washington, and also win their first home opener since 2008. This is just the second time in the last 15 seasons the franchise has won five of its first seven games. In 2001, the Montreal Expos were 6-1 after seven games.

The Nats took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning but Brad Lidge blew the save, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. Lidge had allowed just one run over his previous 16 appearances dating to August of last year.

The Nationals won it in the 10th inning thanks to a wild outing by Reds reliever Alfredo Simon. Simon hit Ryan Zimmerman to lead off the inning and Zimmerman eventually came around to score four batters later on Simon’s wild pitch with Roger Bernadina at the plate.

This was the Nationals’ fifth win on a game-ending wild pitch since moving to Washington in 2005. Entering Thursday, the Nats had lost their last six extra-inning games against the Reds and were 0-5 in one-run games versus Cincinnati over the last two season.

Gio Gonzalez got a no-decision but deserved the win, tossing seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and just two hits allowed.

Gonzalez had success going low as Reds hitters went 0-for-11 in at-bats ending with pitches down in the zone or below. Gonzalez also did a good job finishing off batters, allowing zero hits in 13 at-bats that reached a two-strike count.

Around The Diamond
• The Minnesota Twins came back from a six-run deficit against the Los Angeles Angels thanks to home runs from both Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. It was the first time that Morneau and Mauer homered in the same game since July 6, 2010.

Matt Garza
• Matt Garza fell one out short of a shutout when he was pulled after 119 pitches in the ninth inning of the Chicago Cubs 8-0 win. Garza had his slider working, throwing 31 of them, as the Milwaukee Brewers were hitless including five strikeouts in nine at-bats ending with the pitch.

• The Detroit Tigers improved to 5-1 this season with a win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Austin Jackson scored a run and has now crossed home plate in all six games this season, the longest streak to start the season by a Tiger since Darrell Evans scored in the first eight games in 1986.

• Madison Bumgarner took a no-hitter into the sixth inning as the San Francisco Giants beat the Colorado Rockies 4-2. Bumgarner recorded a career-high 14 ground-ball outs (including a double play) with eight of them coming in at-bats ending in sliders.

Rays attendance leading to financial issues

October, 6, 2011

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Despite making the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and advancing to the World Series in 2008, Tampa Bay's attendance has been at or near the bottom in the majors.

Shortly after the team’s loss to the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series -- which saw only 28,299 fans show -- Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg launched into the troubling financial situation of his franchise:

"The rubber has got to hit the road at some point. We're four years into winning. We're getting to the point where we don't control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model…When I came in here in '05 and '06, I saw the stars, and I was confident that we could put a winning product on the field -- and I was told by you guys and others that all we needed was a winning team. Well, we won. We won. We won. And we won. And it didn't do it."

Sternberg acquired control of the franchise in 2005. Since that point, the Rays have arguably developed into the model organization in the sport, allowing them to compete year after year over the last four years despite a limited payroll.

The team’s success has not translated to sufficient attendance. One would have expected at least a noticeable uptick in attendance with the team routinely winning 30 more games per season than it used to, but that has simply not been the case.

It appears the preseason warnings of a down season and the huge departures via free agency may have kept the fans away.

The Rays have two AL East titles, a World Series appearance and three postseason appearances in four seasons, but have averaged exactly 1,748 more fans per game than they did in 2007, when they lost 96 games.

Unfortunately, the lack of attendance has a direct effect on the Rays’ ability to spend money. After attendance issues last year both in the regular season and postseason, the Rays slashed payroll by around $30 million.

While at first glance it might appear as though the Rays’ 2011 spending situation is actually a non-trivial improvement over the spending from 2005-07, it is actually just a case of context. The team ranked 29th in 2011 and ranked 30th, 29th, 30th, 29th from 2005-08. Payrolls across baseball have risen since 2005 as a whole, so in reality the Rays are still spending at the same fractional amount of competitors. For example, in 2005 the Rays payroll accounted for 24 percent of the Boston Red Sox payroll. In 2011, the Rays payroll increased 38 percent over its 2005 payroll -- was barely more than 25 percent of the Red Sox 2011 payroll, essentially no difference from 2005.

Over the years the team has lost Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Kazmir, Rafael Soriano, either due to unmatchable free agent offers or trades made necessary by salary obligations. It’s entirely possible that the team could once again leak talent this offseason, with James Shields getting more expensive and B.J. Upton due a raise from the nearly $5 million he made in 2011 in the arbitration process.

An organization can only churn out Matt Moores and Jeremy Hellicksons and Desmond Jennings for so long in an effort to paper over holes created from departures. At some point, perhaps the Rays can find themselves a better situation, allowing their on-field success to overshadow their off-field issues.

Mets host Cubs on Sept. 11 Anniversary

September, 10, 2011

Courtesy of Marc Levine/New York Mets
Former New York Mets teammates Mike Piazza (2nd-left) and John Franco (4th-left) will take part in pregame ceremonies honoring the 10th Anniversary of Sept. 11 prior to the Mets-Cubs game.

The New York Mets host the Chicago Cubs on Sunday Night Baseball at 8 ET on ESPN in the rubber game of a three-game series. Prior to the game, the Mets will hold a Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony.

Former closer John Franco will throw the first pitch to Mike Piazza, who hit a dramatic home run in the Mets 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 21, 2001 – the first major league game in New York after the 9/11 terror attacks. In addition, a 300-foot-by-100 foot American flag will be unveiled; Marc Anthony – who sang the national anthem on Sept. 21, 2001 – will repeat the performance; and Queens native (and American Idol finalist) Pia Toscano will sing “God Bless America.”

On the mound
Matt Garza takes the mound for the Cubs, his first career start against the Mets. Garza is having the best season of his career, according to ERA. He has lowered his ERA nearly half a run from 3.91 last year to 3.52 this year.

However, the road hasn’t been kind to Garza this season. In 12 road starts, he’s 3-5 with a 4.84 ERA, more than double his home ERA (2.64). In addition, the opposition is hitting .279 against him on the road, compared to .230 in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

For the Mets, 40-year-old Miguel Batista takes the mound. Batista - playing for his 10th MLB team (tied with Bruce Chen for the second-most teams played for among active pitchers, behind Octavio Dotel, 12) - earned his 100th career win in his first start with New York (Sept. 1).

Batista is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in three starts this season (including one start with the St. Louis Cardinals on April 22). Batista’s last loss as a starter was July 19, 2008. He is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in eight starts since then.

Matchup to watch
Jason Bay is hitting just .218 (19-87) since August 13, despite hitting .452 (14-31) during his current nine-game hitting streak. Bay is 5-20 (including postseason) in his career against Garza, but hasn’t faced him since 2009, when he went 3-15. However, those three hits were all for extra bases (double and two triples).

Stat of the game
Starlin Castro leads the NL with 186 hits and is projected to finish with more than 200 this season. He would be the first Cubs player to have a 200-hit season before turning age 22.
How the St. Louis Cardinals handle two former Tampa Bay Rays will be one storyline worth watching as the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs play on Wednesday at Wrigley Field (8 ET on ESPN).

Carlos Pena -- who signed a one-year, $10 million contract in December -- is hitting just .213, but is showing signs of life. In his past six games, he's 8-for-19 (.421) with three home runs. And on Wednesday, he'll face Jake Westbrook, a pitcher he's had success against in his career.

Pena is 10-for-32 with five doubles and four home runs against Westbrook, but he's also struck out 10 times.

While Westbrook has struck out Pena once every 3.2 at-bats, he has not had similar strikeout success against the free-swinging Alfonso Soriano. Although he's just 3-for-21 (.143) against Westbrook, Soriano has struck out only twice. That means Soriano's batting average on balls in play against Westbrook is just .158 (3-for-19). A typical batting average on balls in play usually is around .295 to .300.

Opposing Westbrook will be Matt Garza, who's winless at Wrigley Field this season (0-2 in four starts) despite a 3.25 ERA. Garza has struck out 58 batters in his seven starts this season, and he's allowed only one home run. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other National League pitchers in the past 25 years had at least that many strikeouts while giving up no more than one home run in their first seven starts of a season: David Cone in 1992 with the Mets and Tim Lincecum in 2009 with the San Francisco Giants.

Garza, who came to Chicago in January in trade and is 1-4 overall, has not fared well against No. 4 and 5 hitters in his seven starts. He's allowed 18 hits in 43 at-bats (.419 BA), although the four-five hitters have yet to hit a home run off him.

And it would be somewhat of a surprise if the Cardinals' No. 4 hitter, Matt Holliday, took Garza deep. Holliday has three extra-base hits and just one home run -- which came in 2006 -- in 91 at-bats at Wrigley Field.

Lance Berkman, who hits behind Holliday, will be playing in his 162nd career game against the Cubs -- the equivalent of a full season. He's a .249 hitter against them with 30 HRs, 88 RBIs and 147 strikeouts. However, Berkman does have eight home runs on the road this season, after hitting just four in 57 road games in 2010.

As for Albert Pujols, who hits in front of Holliday, he's coming off his first four-hit game of the season on Tuesday. And although he hasn't hit a home run since April 23, Pujols has hit 47 home runs against the Cubs (25 at Wrigley), the most he's hit against any team.

Pujols, however, has had some struggles early this season.

He's accounted for almost 25 percent of the double plays that St. Louis has hit into this season. The Cardinals have hit into a major league-leading 45 double plays, including 11 by Pujols. (Only Torii Hunter has hit into more, with 12.)

He's also drawing fewer walks per at-bats (one every 9.8 plate appearances) compared to recent seasons, and is hitting just .238 on outside pitches. In 2009 and 2010, he hit .320 on those pitches.

-- Jon Kramer and Mark Simon contributed to this report.

Facts on AL surprising starts

April, 6, 2011
Today’s Trivia: Set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July, Bert Blyleven turns 60 today. Among those who have already been up for a vote, who now has the most career strikeouts for a pitcher not in the Hall of Fame?

Quick Hits: A quick look at the numbers behind the four most surprising starts in the American League.

Tampa Bay Rays
• Ian Kinsler and Jose Tabata have both scored more runs (7) than the Rays (6).
• In innings 4-6, the Rays are 2-for-38 (.053).
• It’s tough to start rallies when you are hitting .098 with no outs.
• The Rays are batting .105 in at-bats lasting longer than one pitch.
• Last season, the Rays were 86-36 when allowing five runs or fewer. This season? 0-4.

Boston Red Sox
• Much has been made about the Red Sox having a lefty heavy lineup, but consider this: Red Sox lefties are batting .300 against southpaws, while right-handed hitters are just 3-for-32 (.094).
• From the sixth inning on, the Red Sox are hitting just .125 (7-for-56).
• Boston’s 7-to-9 hitters are a combined 4-for-38 (.105).
• The first time through the lineup, opponents are hitting .171 off Red Sox starters. After that, they’re hitting .417.
• The Red Sox have allowed 12 runs in the fourth inning alone. That’s more than four teams have allowed all season.
• No team in MLB history has rebounded from a 0-4 start to win the World Series. Only the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals reached the World Series after starting the year with four straight defeats and they lost to the Kansas City Royals in seven games.

Baltimore Orioles
• Opposing 3-5 hitters are 4-for-45 (.089) this season.
• Through four games, the opposition has a total of two hits in the first two innings and a .077 batting average.
• The Orioles were 39-88 in 2010 when scoring less than six runs. This season? 4-0.
• Opponents are hitting .136 against the O’s starters, who have allowed a total of 12 hits. Matt Garza allowed that many in his first start for the Cubs.
• At 4-0, the Orioles are looking for their first 5-0 start since 1970, a year they won the World Series.

Kansas City Royals
• Kansas City’s relievers are 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA. Last season, the bullpen went 21-27 with a 4.46 ERA.
• Opponents are actually hitting .288 against the Royals, the fourth highest in the majors. But with runners in scoring position, they have a .180 batting average. That means opponents are hitting .323 when there aren’t runners in scoring position.
• The Royals have won consecutive games lasting longer than 11 innings for the first time since April 1969.

Trivia Answer: Among those that have already been up for a vote, Mickey Lolich‘s 2,832 strikeouts are the most for a pitcher not in the Hall of Fame.

One Step Forward, One Step Back for Cubs?

January, 17, 2011
With the report from Bruce Levine that the Chicago Cubs have traded left-hander Tom Gorzelanny to the Washington Nationals in exchange for three (as of yet unnamed) prospects, the natural reaction would suggest that the Cubs are dealing from depth after the acquisition of Matt Garza.

However, it would be a mistake to overlook this trade from the Cubs perspective. While, at face value, Gorzelanny’s 2010 contributions were modest -- 7-9, 4.09 ERA in 136 ⅓ IP -- he was actually quite an important cog for the team. Gorzelanny ranked fourth among starting pitchers on the team in Wins Above Replacement, just slightly behind nominal staff ace Carlos Zambrano.

But perhaps the more pressing issue is whether the recently acquired Garza is even an upgrade on Gorzelanny. That question might seem ridiculous at first glance -- the Cubs gave up a rich package of prospects to acquire Garza while trading Gorzelanny for a much lesser return -- but the numbers seem to suggest otherwise.

As the chart shows, despite throwing roughly 70 fewer innings, Gorzelanny was actually more valuable in 2010 than Garza. Gorzelanny recorded a higher strikeout rate, had stronger peripheral numbers overall and, when looking at Fielding Independent Pitching, actually pitched better in the areas that were under his control.

The argument that Garza is young and will be under team control for several seasons beyond 2011 is also muted when one considers that Garza is less than a year and a half younger than Gorzelanny.

In fact, Garza is nominally younger but also set for a much larger payday in 2011 and beyond -- Garza made $3.35M in 2010 while Gorzelanny made just $800K. Both those numbers will go up in 2011, but obviously Garza’s will increase much more substantially.

The set of deals becomes more puzzling when a look at the Cubs rotation reveals it now consists of five right-handed starters: Zambrano, Garza, Randy Wells, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Silva. Gorzelanny might have been a back-end member of the rotation, but he provided some semblance of balance. That, along with the affordability of his contract, is gone.

All in all, Garza is likely a preferable option to Gorzelanny -- he has a much stronger track record, has proven to be more durable and will have the benefit of pitching in the National League in 2011 rather than the American League East -- but the public perception of the difference of the two pitchers is not reflected in what happened on the field in 2010. 2011 is no guarantee, either.

Chicago's hope is for a good Garza

January, 7, 2011
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
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.

ALDS Game 3 Preview: Rays at Rangers

October, 9, 2010

Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
It will be up to 2008 ALCS MVP Matt Garza to keep the Rays pennant hopes alive in Game 3 of the ALDS

The Texas Rangers might have the fourth-best regular-season record of the American League teams in this year’s postseason, but so far they’ve come out looking as stellar as the best of the best.

Rangers pitchers have held the Tampa Bay Rays to a .125 batting average, and this Tampa Bay team can’t do the harm on the bases that it did during the regular season if it can’t get on the bases in the first place. The Rays haven’t hit well and they haven’t pitched well. They’ve managed just one run in two games this postseason, a combination they had only once all season, in May. They’ll turn to 2008 ALCS MVP Matt Garza, whose previous postseason performance earned him a reputation for being a big-game pitcher. Garza went 2-0 against the Rangers this season, one of only two pitchers to win at least twice without losing to them (Ricky Romero was the other).

The Rangers have never won a postseason series. They’re the only team in the major leagues who can make that claim. They’ll send Colby Lewis to the mound to go for the sweep and will try to become the first team since the 2003 Yankees to hold an opponent to one run or fewer in three straight games.

The game will turn on …
Rays starter Matt Garza’s ability to prevent the Rangers from crushing his fastball in a ballpark in which he’s allowed 16 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings over his last three starts. Garza allowed only one home run with his fastball in August, when he posted a 1.27 ERA in five starts. He allowed six with it in September, when his ERA was 5.88 (though in his last two starts, he was much sharper). The Rangers, who hit fastballs better than any team in baseball, crushed fastball-happy David Price in Game 1 en route to victory. Garza throws his fastball 72 percent of the time, fourth-most among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title this season.

Or perhaps Colby Lewis’s slider will be the difference-maker. It was a considerably more effective pitch for Lewis in his last five starts. According to our Inside Edge video database, hitters chased it when it was thrown out of the strike zone 57 percent of the time in that stretch (compared to 47 percent prior to that). The slider netted Lewis 32 outs in those last five starts, while yielding only six hits.

Matchup to Watch Josh Hamilton is 2-for-15 career against Matt Garza and 0-for-his-last-8 against him. Of the 27 right-handed pitchers whom Hamilton has faced at least 15 times, his .133 batting average rates third-worst (better only than the 0-for-16 against Zack Greinke and the .083 average against James Shields). Garza has struck Hamilton out six times, including two in three clashes with him this season.

Stat of the Day
Four different Rangers have already hit home runs this postseason: Nelson Cruz, Bengie Molina, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young. Prior to this year, only two Rangers had ever hit a postseason home run - Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer.

Braden, Beckett and the speed of games

September, 18, 2010
The clock. It controls so much of our everyday lives -- what time to wake up, what time to be at work or school, what time we can leave work or school.

In sports, baseball is one of the few that's not beholden to the clock. There's no 60- or 48- or 40-minute limit. There aren't timeouts to stop the clock. We could care less about tenths of a second. When you start a game, there's no telling when it will end. To some, it's the beauty of the game; to others, it's the biggest frustration.
Braden Beckett
In these days of commercials and warmup pitches and elaborate player routines (both at the plate and on the mound), even a two-hour game is the exception. Although most games come in under three hours, you can't bank on that. Rule changes to speed games up have largely been ignored. Seriously, have you ever seen a pitcher charged with an automatic ball for violating the "12-second rule" with nobody on base? Go ahead, we'll wait.

Here at Stats & Information, we've tracked the game times of every Major League Baseball contest this season. We can recommend some pitchers and teams to see, regardless of which side of the "clock argument" you fall on. For example, it's not a myth that the Chicago White Sox's Mark Buehrle pitches quickly. Or that the Boston Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka takes forever. Or that you will get a marathon out of nearly any New York Yankees game.

While the official game times do adjust for rain delays, power outages and the occasional tornado outside Citi Field, there are obviously a few other factors at play. The speed of the pitcher's opponent isn't taken into account. A starter might get roughed up and turn things over to a slow- (or fast-) moving bullpen, but when you think of fast workers and slow workers, the list is pretty accurate.

Random fact: The total number of minutes consumed by all the games this season (through Thursday) is 383,639. That's more than 266 days. If you watched every game back-to-back, starting on Opening Night (April 4), you'd already have enough baseball to last you until Dec. 27. With no breaks.

Anyhow, this got us to thinking, which teams give you the most baseball for your money? If you want to watch as much baseball as possible in terms of time, which team's season tickets should you buy? Similarly, which teams are "cheating you" by playing really short games all the time?

Adjusting for extra innings, we can get the average length of a nine-inning home game for each team this season. We didn't adjust for home victories where the bottom of the ninth doesn't get played. (We figure you'd sacrifice those extra seven minutes in exchange for seeing the home team win.)

The Cleveland Indians have been involved in both the shortest and longest nine-inning games this season. The Detroit Tigers' Armando Galarraga's near-perfect game against the Indians on June 2 was the fastest nine-inning game played this season -- one hour, 44 minutes. As for the longest? The Indians and Yankees combined to score 24 runs on May 27, a game the Yankees won 13-11. That game lasted four hours and 22 minutes. There have been just four games this season played in less than two hours, compared with six games that have lasted longer than four hours.