Pitcher preview: Matt Garza returns to the Trop

Ronald Martinez

Watch out for his slider.

Tonight at 7:10, an ornery, bearded, spitting blast from the past will return to St. Petersburg when Matt Garza starts for the Texas Rangers against Alex Cobb. While some Rays fans might be happy to see him, those warm, fuzzy feelings will probably dry up quickly. The problem is that Garza is very good.

We like to talk about pitching coach Jim Hickey and "The Rays Way." He seems able to improve almost any pitcher he gets his hands on by teaching them to cultivate a changeup and throw it to both sides of the plate. Almost any pitcher. Garza was the exception. He was okay during his time in Tampa Bay, and he flashed brilliance (as demonstrated by his no-hitter, the only one in Rays history), but as soon as he made his way to the Windy City, something changed, and Garza became a dramatically better pitcher. Check out his xFIP in the three years he spent in Tampa compared with the three years after he left.

Year Team xFIP
2008 TB 4.42
2009 TB 4.14
2010 TB 4.31
2011 CHN 3.19
2012 CHN 3.59
2013 CHN/TEX 3.67

So what did he do differently? According to Brooks Baseball, it's pretty obvious.

Ee453f0c0091b728668d5a71d1d0be6e_medium

via www.brooksbaseball.net

Garza's slider is his best pitch, and once he left the Rays' fold, he threw it more often. Sometimes it's really that simple. So how good is Garza's slider? Let me present these stats in a way all Rays fans can understand. Here's a comparison, using Brooks Baseball numbers from 2011-2013, of Garza's slider with James Shields's changeup.

Garza Slider Shields Changeup
Usage 24.1% 26.9%
Strike 34.8% 27.9%
Whiffs/Total 23.0% 21.3%
Whiffs/Swing 43.8% 36.2%

Now am I wrong, or does Garza have the more effective pitch?

Here's what it all looks like.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

The fastball averages a tick above 93 mph, the slider and changeup are both at 85 mph, and the curve flutters in at 75 mph.

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