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:
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.