If you’re like me you turned off the game Friday night feeling pretty dissatisfied with the outcome.  Whether it was not being able to crush a young lefty or the anti-climatic finish after clawing back into the game, there was something for complainers everywhere to bring up.  The thought running through my mind was, “What the hell happened to Matty Garza in this start?”  Everyone with a pulse has seen him look flawless to start the season with three 8-inning, solid performances to start the young year.  Then the Toronto Blue Jays came to town to kick off a 9-game homestand that should have brought the fans out in droves to see their first place Rays look to put on a show.  Those that watched saw a less-than-stellar Rays squad give up 4 in the first.  So what happened?

Using Pitch F/x data courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz, I decided to take a look at Matty’s starts prior to the Toronto game, in addition to, Friday nights debacle.  Here is a look at what the catcher saw in his first three starts:

First off, here’s a legend CH – Change Up, CU – Curve Ball, FF – Four-Seam Fastball, FT – Two-Seam Fastball, SL – Slider

The biggest things to take away from this are that the two-seamer was mostly inside to righties, the slider was generally low and away from righties, and he’s throwing the four-seamer to both sides of the plate.  These are all good things to do as he’s mostly looking to get swinging strikes with the slider, get in on the hands with the two-seamer, keep the change down, and be able to command the four-seamer.  Let’s compare this to Friday night’s start:

The clearest thing that stands out to me is his slider all over the zone.  Take another look above, Garza only had 7 sliders in the strike zone coming into this game, but we can see 14 peppering the zone here.  The two-seamer is still where he wants it and the fastball is generally out of the middle of the plate, though more inside to righties.  Right off the bat you should be wondering what’s going on with the slider. Let’s look at a table that can maybe shed a little more light on the situation:

Both of these sets of data look at his pitch mix, with the first set (Pre) looking at the first three games and the last (Tor) looking at the Toronto game.  Again, the slider stands out almost immediately as Garza basically doubled his use of the pitch mostly at the expense of his fastball.  Garza has always been very reliant on the fastball, so it is interesting to see him go away from it.  Let’s come back to this point later, for now here is a look at the five outcomes of every pitch to see if there might be anything there:

Mostly just pay attention to the percentages, but I included the raw numbers for those that like that sort of thing.  Not only was Garza throwing the slider more, overall, but he was throwing it in the strike zone more.  He got basically the same number of swing strikes, but because he was in the zone so much more there were less balls, more called strikes, and uh-oh more balls in play.  It’s a fine line, but I’d rather see him throwing the slider for a ball than it getting put in play.  This is where it gets a bit interesting, because with this table we can see that Garza couldn’t get a swing strike with any of his other pitches and both fastballs were getting fouled off much more than normal.  This would lead me to believe that Garza didn’t have much confidence in his fastball, especially the four-seamer, and led him to lean on the slider more than he had to in the other starts.  Lastly, I wanted to show this chart that shows the velocity for every one of his four-seam fastballs to date:

The black lines separate each of his starts with the far-right grouping being the Toronto game.  He only had two fastballs north of 95 after being able to dial it up there quite a bit in the other starts.  This could explain why batters were able to foul it off more and why he lacked his usual confidence in the pitch.  You’ll also notice that the floor for the last two games shows a bunch of pitches between 92 and 93 after avoiding it for the most part in the first two.

It’s early in the season so I wouldn’t expect Garza to live between 93-95 at will, but it seems like that is when he’s at his best.  This last start showed that if he lacks confidence in the fastball then it’s not likely that the slider will be able to pick up the slack as he’s closer to optimal when he’s using the two-seamer and slider more equally.  I hope to chalk this up to a bad start and not the beginning of a trend because I was really starting to dig the Matt Garza that was already gaining steam in the Cy Young race.  Hopefully that’s all it was.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask and of course I would love to hear your thoughts on Matty’s start.

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24 Comments

  1. zenny says:

    Nothing personal, Jason, but I don't think this is a good fit on Rays Index. If I want lots of "pretty graphs", I can head over to draysbay. This is supposed to be the less technical, more relaxed blog for cool kids.

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    • Oh c'mon, the graphs take 10-15 seconds to understand, and lead to better analysis than one liners like 'he had his FB working, or his slider wasn't breaking well', when we can see he just threw it for too many strikes. Instead you're allowed to make your own conclusion and see every pitch and not just rely on two or three memorable ones to make a conclusion about the whole nights work.

      Give this type of analysis a chance, it really helps increases the enjoyability of the game, because you don't always have to rely on Kevin Kennedy's expert opinion (unless it's on in flight security, then listen up). You know if Garza is playing to his strengths or struggling with pitch location on pitches that while they are strikes, do not bode well in the long term, which allows for predictive analysis. Anyway Jason's stuff is definitely a change in tempo, but it appeals to a large base of baseball blog readers with its depth, and Corks relaxed and entertaining insights aren't going anywhere.

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      • zenny says:

        Oh, I understand it, and it's actually an interesting read. It just doesn't fit the style of raysindex.com, imo. There are already other Rays blogs that are dominated by this kinda stuff.

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    • C'mon. It's not like I have never thrown out graphs or progressive stats or pitchf/x charts.

      http://www.raysindex.com/2008/06/andy-sonnanstine-andy-sonnanstine-struggles-when-he-changes-arm-angles.html

      I understand this kinda of stuff is not for everybody and I know there are other places that do it. If you don't want to read it, just skip over them.

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      • Steve says:

        I have to agree with Zenny. Draysbay is the dry website where you can get all this tech stuff. Let's have fun and talk about the Rays. If you want to grab someone from Draysbay why don't you grab the kid who does the funny pregame polls. He is much more up your alley Professor.

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    • Kyle says:

      There is nothing wrong with getting a little technical here and there, if you want to call it that.

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  2. Amanda says:

    Er, yeah ... maybe it's that he's human and had a bad day. That's something you can't quantify as a stat.

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    • Steve says:

      What stats are actually listed in the above article? It's all scouting information, just looking at how his pitches performed. Yes, he had a bad day and those happen to everyone, but with this information we can begin to understand why.

      The most complicated statistics above are %s, and I hope everyone understands those.

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  3. Don says:

    After my personal observation here is my professional analysis of "Mattys" performance:
    "He couldn't throw the damn ball over the plate, and when he did... they hit the shit out of it!"

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  4. Kelley says:

    I like having Jason on here, even though I didn't even try to make sense of all the numbers, graphs, etc. It's a bit of a change and I like new perspectives. And like the Prof said, I can just skip right over that part. Welcome, Jason.

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  5. Chris says:

    Love the post. Is Prof over at DRaysBay for the weekend?

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  6. So umm... yeah, I echo all the other stuff people have said about DRaysBay. I like it, and I understand it perfectly, but I hope I don't see the same analysis on the same subject on the same day on both sites now.

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    • Jason Hanselman says:

      Jordi, this isn't some kind of infiltration or cross-marketing or anything like that. I was thrown off drb for making a reference to the show Eastbound and Down that didn't go over well. I'm not going to go into it, but Cork has been nice enough to give me an outlet for my work. I thought this audience would be more my speed as I like to joke around as well as analyze. Don't get it twisted I'm no longer affiliated with that site and only wish to fit in over here.

      For everyone with the kind words above, thanks it's not easy to go somewhere foreign and be taken in, that is appreciated.

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      • ramedy says:

        I can't possibly imagine a scenario in which that's an acceptable reason for kicking someone out of anything. But I won't dare ask what the details are, as you're clearly ready to move on.

        Honestly this is right up my alley - I'm right there with you in liking equal parts analysis and joking around. I love the advanced stat analysis, but a lot of statheads could definitely stand to loosen up a bit.

        As far as this particular post goes, I think people need to understand how to look at it. I don't think it's about overanalyzing one bad start - I think it's just a very handy primer for what to look for from Garza in future starts. It's stuff like this that can make watching a game a richer experience, knowing what to look for other than the usual obvious "keys to the game" they spout off on TV (you know, like "throw strikes" or "don't curse so much").

        Looking forward to more good stuff.

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      • Jason, as someone who has been thrown off a site or two, I didn't mean that to be offensive in any way. You don't seem as pretentious as those guys. If anything, having you here might mean the end of my drb RSS subscription. And there is nothing wrong with that.

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  7. leningan says:

    Appreciate the analysis Jason, and welcome. I'm wondering, in the first three starts Garza seemed to save his Curve for the third time through the order. Has that been the case? On days when his fastball isn't lighting it up, I'd like to see him mix in the curve earlier to help give his fastball life.

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  8. smelpy says:

    Great work/article... Always good to see something new. I enjoyed reading it.

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  9. Brixology says:

    I'm a fan of this post and I look forward to more like it. And I totally agree with Steve above. You don't have to be a sabermetrician to understand this. It's scouting info that quantifies the difference between Matt's previous starts and what happened Friday. I left the game blaming the ump and the Jays seemingly intentional campaign of fouling off pitches just to run up the pitch count. Now it looks like maybe it was more a case of a velocity drop that let the hitters catch up. The cause of the velocity drop is now up for debate. Mechanical problem? Physical problem (please no)? Simple off night (please yes)? At any rate, this post meaningfully informs the debate without being...obtuse, like DRaysBay often is. Obtuse is a nice way to say it, right?

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  10. John says:

    I prefer words to pretty pictures, but that's just me. Welcome, Jason. Hope the boys at the other site don't give you too hard a time about blogging for a bunch of troglodytes.

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