Garcia following in Valenzuela's footsteps?

Nearly 30 years ago, a rookie southpaw from Mexico dazzled fans in Los Angeles, allowing one run or fewer in seven of his first 10 starts, while posting a 1.24 ERA. This year, a similar story is being played out in St. Louis, as another rookie southpaw from Mexico has amazed Cardinals fans by allowing one run or fewer in seven of his first 10 starts, while posting a 1.32 ERA.

Jaime Garcia’s stunning performance this season is surely bringing back memories of Fernando Valenzuela and his brilliant Cy Young Award-winning rookie year in 1981. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Garcia’s 1.32 ERA is the lowest by an NL pitcher in the first 10 starts of his rookie season since Valenzuela’s 1.24 ERA in 1981.

But perhaps the most amazing stat of Garcia’s season so far is his ability to strand baserunners. Garcia has allowed 74 baserunners in 61 1/3 innings, but only 12 have touched home plate. He’s stranded an amazing 83.8 percent of runners on base, the second-highest rate in the majors behind only Ubaldo Jimenez!

What’s been the secret to Garcia’s amazing ability to leave so many “ducks on the pond” and what are the chances he’ll be able to sustain this performance the rest of the season?

One key to his success with runners on base appears to be his ability to induce weak contact. Consider that just two of his 20 hits allowed with runners on base have gone for extra bases and 70 percent of his balls allowed in play have been grounders.

In fact, according to Inside Edge, only 17 percent of his at-bats ending with runners on base resulted in a well-hit ball, much better than the MLB average of 21.5 percent in that situation.

Jaime Garcia, 2010 Season

Another key for Garcia is the timing of his hits allowed with baserunners. He has given up a hit with runners on base in eight of his 10 starts.

But only four times has he allowed two hits with runners on base in the SAME inning. Also, of the 20 hits he’s given up while pitching from the stretch, just 10 came with runners in scoring position, and only four with a runner on third base.

Highest Pct of Runners Left on Base, 2010 MLB Starters

Many sabermetricians may contend that it will be nearly impossible for Garcia to maintain this super-high strand rate, given that historically pitchers have shown little ability to post rates well above the league average (70 percent). However, Garcia does appear have two things in his favor:

First, he has struck out 22.5 percent of the batters faced with runners on base (MLB average is 17 percent), and pitchers that record high strikeout numbers can pitch their way out of jams more easily than a pitcher that relies upon their team’s defense.

Second, Garcia’s batting average on balls in play with runners on base is .279, which is below the league average of .303, but is not absurdly low enough that he is entirely relying on luck and his fielders behind him to get out of jams.

Garcia will try to extend his dominating run this season tonight when he takes the hill against the Brewers on Sunday Night Baseball at 8 ET on ESPN. He faces a Brewers team that is struggling to plate runners, hitting a combined 3-28 (.107) with runners in scoring position during their three-game losing streak, including 1-15 (.067) in the first two games of the series.