Can Matt Garza Return to First-Half Excellence of 2013?

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Can Matt Garza Return to First-Half Excellence of 2013?
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In spite of Matt Garza’s struggles to stay healthy and the fact that he’s already been traded three times in his eight-year career, there’s no questioning that the 30-year-old has been one of the more consistent starting pitchers in baseball since the 2007 season.

On Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers paid Garza like one of baseball’s more reliable starters, signing him to a four-year, $52 million contract, with a vesting option for the 2018 season, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

The Brewers' deal with Garza obviously involves a high level of risk, as the right-hander has made only 42 starts in the last two seasons as a result of an elbow injury in 2012 and a lat injury that delayed the start to his 2013 campaign.

However, in reality, Garza’s performance last season, which he split between the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers, wasn’t as poor as his numbers suggest.

 

2013 in Review

After opening the year on the disabled list with the aforementioned lat injury, Garza rejoined the Cubs' starting rotation in late May and ultimately enjoyed a solid first half of the season, posting a 3.17 ERA in 71 innings. Furthermore, Garza proved that he was fully healthy, showing velocity and durability in line with his career averages, and sufficiently resuscitated his trade value in time for the July 31 deadline.

As expected, the Cubs opted to move Garza prior to the deadline, sending him to the Rangers in exchange for a slew of young players. Yet, the right-hander was unable to repeat his first-half success with his new club, as he posted a 4-5 record and 4.38 ERA in 84.1 innings while pitching in the heat of a playoff race.

Matt Garza's 2013 Season By Team
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
Cubs 71 7.76 2.54 1.01 .266 3.17 3.78
Rangers 84.1 7.84 2.35 1.28 .308 4.38 3.96

FanGraphs.com

Aside from the slight jump in BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and HR/9 (home runs per nine innings) with the Rangers last season, Garza’s splits between both teams aren’t all that different.

Another encouraging sign to emerge from Garza’s time with the Rangers in 2013 was his slight uptick in velocity over the final two months of the regular season. Garza also recorded his best average fastball velocity (93.91 mph, according to Brooks Baseball) per month in Sept., which indicates that the right-hander was still getting stronger after the delayed start to his season.

Photo courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net
Garza's 2013 velocities

 

2014: Looking Ahead

Nearly all of Garza’s ratio statistics from the 2013 season are relatively close to his career averages:

Matt Garza's 2013 Season vs. Career
K/9 BB/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2013 7.88 2.43 .290 3.82 3.88
Career 7.62 2.99 .288 3.84 3.98

FanGraphs.com

Plus, by looking at his pitch velocities over the course of his career, Garza hasn’t shown any overt signs of breaking down physically, as he’s still throwing at a similar speed to when he first arrived in the major leagues.

Photo courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net
Garza's velocity during eight-year career

However, in spite of proving to be a consistent, mid-rotation force when healthy, Garza’s colorful medical history is impossible to ignore and will presumably continue to influence his success. One slightly concerning trend to emerge in the last three years pertains to Garza’s inconsistent and declining release point (per Brooks Baseball), which is likely a result of his various elbow injuries.

So, it’ll be interesting to make note of the right-hander’s arm slot at the beginning of next year, if only to use it as a gauge relative to his success over the duration of the regular season.

Lastly, Garza will be returning to the National League next season, where he’s posted better numbers compared to his time in the American League and he’s more familiar with the opposing hitters.

Matt Garza: NL vs. AL
IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA
NL 372.2 8.6 2.8 0.9 3.45
AL 809.2 7.2 3.1 1.1 4.01

Baseball-Reference.com

Granted, it’s a significantly smaller sample considering he’s played only three seasons on the Senior Circuit (all with the Cubs) in his eight-year career, but it does speak to his effectiveness and confidence when pitching against less offensive-oriented lineups.

All signs point to Garza being his same old self in 2014. And if the 30-year-old right-hander can stay healthy and approach the 200-inning threshold as he did during his best years, he should regain the title as one of baseball’s better No. 2 or 3 starters.

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