Rays fans got their first look this past Monday at new Rays reliever Edgar Garcia, a 23 year old who the struggling Phillies DFA’d for no reason in particular.
Garcia has options, and the Phillies could have sent him to their alternate site to work things out. But instead they gave up on him. Fast forward a couple hours, and with the Rays bullpen under the duress of injury, Garcia earned his first career save on Tuesday night, pitching in back to back nights.
What were the Phillies thinking?
Garcia has good stuff, in one of the molds the Rays seem to prefer. If we’re looking for under the radar trade targets for the Rays (and you know, maybe we are), I’d have put Garcia right up there on the list.... If I’d have thought the Phillies were selling relievers. Which I wouldn’t have.
Anyway, the point is the stuff. A righty with a mid-90s four-seam fastball that he should be able to throw by batters if he puts it in the right spot, and with a hard slider that has above average break for its speed, and that works well off that fastball.
The Rays collect these guys, and there’s a specific way that they have them pitch. Let’s look at it.
For easy like-to-like comparison, all of the following scatter charts are only four-seam fastballs, against only right-handed batters. These are from the catcher’s perspective, so you can picture the batter standing to the left of the zone.
First let’s look at the 2020 newcomer, John Curtiss:
He’s filling up the top half of the zone with his fastballs, and then he’s bringing that fastball up above the zone and in on the hands in search of whiffs.
Now here’s Andrew Kittredge in 2019:
Like Curtiss, Kittredge filled up the zone (although leaning a little bit more on the outer edge), and then brought the fastball high for whiffs.
Now here’s last year’s closer, Emilio Pagan:
Honestly Pagan probably grooved a few too many fastballs, but he was overpowering people with his explosive arm action and fastball rise, so he got away with it. But the overall story is the same as Kitt: Fill up the zone, lean on the outside, but only belt-high, and bring the fastball up above the zone for whiffs.
Now here’s 2019 trade-target and 2020 featured performer Peter Fairbanks:
This graph is a little bit different than the others, as Fairbanks hasn’t thrown a ton of strikes with his fastball, and it’s tended to fly up and away. I suspect that he would like to throw more strikes and just hasn’t executed, because when he does his fastball is nearly untouchable. But the story is similar. Fairbanks is focusing his fastball middle away, and up.
Now let’s look at Edgar Garcia, from 2019:
So yeah, this one is not like the others.
We know what a pitcher with Garcia’s stuff looks like in the Rays system, but when you come up in the Phillies system you appear to learn something different: “Keep the ball down.”
There’s a certain logic to this type of pitching. If Garcia can establish his fastball on the corner down and away, then when he throws his slider in the same quadrant it will hypothetically look the same, and batters will wave at it while it slips down and away far out of the zone.
One of the problems with this approach is that he’s establishing no other areas of the zone. Batters can concentrate on just the one corner, lean out over the plate, and really focus in on differentiating strike from ball. The other problem is that this location low in the zone isn’t the best spot for that rising fastball Garcia throws. So you have batters who can get comfortable and spit on his slider, and then when they do identify his fastball, are able to hit it hard.
I imagine that Garcia watched his fastball get hammered over and over and maybe started to think it wasn’t a major league caliber pitch (it is). And so he tried harder and harder to paint that corner down and away, as he was being told to do, thinking that if he could just locate better he’d get the groundball out, not the line drive double. Garcia was never a command guy, so trying too hard to clip the outside corner ended up as a sure way to miss down and away.
I think it’s very clear how the Rays are going to ask Garcia to change, but also, changes in approach don’t happen overnight. It’ll take time for this coaching and analytics staff to build trust with him, and for Garcia to build confidence and muscle memory.
In just his second Rays appearance, though, called on to save the game after an injury to Jalen Beeks, Garcia was already working on that new approach. With the count at 0-2, he looked in for the sign.
He definitely shook off Perez once, possibly twice. Then he got the sign he wanted. Perez came half out of his crouch to place the target at the top of the zone.
Yeah, Garcia missed too high. Sometimes that happens, but it’s the intention of going there that we’re looking for.
Then he missed outside with a slider. That happens, too.
Then he tried to go high again (check the catcher’s glove placement), and missed again, this time slightly lower than he intended, belt-high on the outer third.
But putting it differently, one might say that he “filled up the zone with his fastball” instead, and look what happened.
Welcome to the Rays Way, Edgar Garcia.