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.
So what did he do differently? According to Brooks Baseball, it's pretty obvious.
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.
Now am I wrong, or does Garza have the more effective pitch?
Here's what it all looks like.
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.