Key Stats: After completing his first year in the NL, we found out that Garza is who we thought he was. A strike out pitcher (8.95 K/9) that eats up innings (198 in 2011, 204.2 in 2010) and doesn't hurt our team ERA (3.32). The ERA is particularly encouraging, since the Cubs don’t have a great defense, and Wrigley field tends to give way to a lot of homers. Garza is great for a place like that since he is predominantly a ground ball pitcher. In 2011 he posted a 46.3% GB rate, the second best of his career. Now let me contradict myself. We like a high ground ball rate, but generally like to see good defense behind it, which as previously mentioned, isn't a strength for the Cubbies, and Garza’s FIP and xFIP agree, coming in at 2.95 and 3.19 respectively. His worst BABIP since 2008 (.306) might have had something to do with that too.
Skeptics Say: While we have pointed out that Garza is a ground ball pitcher, and has a bad defense behind him, we have not yet mentioned that last year saw his highest line drive rate since 2008 (when he started across a full season). So a “career high” line drive rate of 21% (line drives generally equal hits which obviously can't be fielded for outs, leading to the higher BABIP), combined with shoddy defense, more accurately reflect why his ERA was higher than the FIP and xFIP indicate. Combine that with his Home/Road splits (one year in Chicago might be a small sample, but it’s all we have to go on) and you have a guy that might only be worthwhile playing in home starts.
Peer Comparison: Pitchers with high strike out numbers are generally winners. Looking at all 23 pitchers who induced at least 190 whiffs, only 3 have 10 or less wins. Garza was one, rotation mate Ryan Dempster, and Anibal Sanchez were the others, with 10 and 8 Wins respectively.
However, I’ve been stressing Garza’s value as a strikeout pitcher who gets a lot of ground balls and therefore does not give up many runs. So now let’s take all the guys that struck out at least 190 batters AND posted a better GB% than Garza’s 46.3:
CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Yovanni Gallardo, CJ Wilson, Zach Greinke, Gio Gonzalez.
Yeah, that list is much more impressive. The potential is there for very big things.
Team Outlook: Matt Garza could stand to have some better defense behind him (this is me beating a dead horse) but he was also ranked 43rd in run support getting 5.91 runs a game. While there are 51 qualified pitchers on that list ranked lower, it does show us the Cubs need to boost their offense a little as well. In a perfect world, the Cubs sign Prince Fielder or Pujols, trade for David Wright, Soto gets more playing time and Castro develops a gold glove at short, giving Garza awesome run support and superior D on the way to a 15-20 win season. In the more realistic world Soto gets more at bats, the Cubs sign Cuddyer to play 3B and “prospect” Bryan LeHair is at 1B with Castro slightly improving his D. This puts Garza in line for 12 -15 wins.
A Blogger’s Take: Matt Garza looked a lot like a true "number one" in 2011, and there's little reason not to expect more of the same in 2012. (Of course, whether Garza's doing the job on the Cubs or another team remains to be seen.) Garza decreased his reliance on his fastball in 2011, throwing more off-speed stuff, and saw a healthy rise in missed bats. He was solid-to-dominant all year long, and his 2011 season is a testament to the uselessness of win-loss record - Garza won just 10 games, but was repeatedly let down by the bullpen early in the year, and by the offense late in the year.
What They’re Saying: CBS Sportsline: #36 ranked Starting Pitcher; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com: #36 Ranked Starting Pitcher & #137 Overall; RotoChamp: #105 Overall.
2012 Projection: I like Garza more this year than I did last year. He is coming off a year with a great ERA, great K/9, great K:BB ratio, and his WHIP was as consistent as ever. With a FIP, xFIP and SIERA that were all lower than his actual posted ERA, and him coming off a year that saw him throw more variety of pitches than ever before, I think Garza is in line to post better numbers in ’12 than ’11.
14 W, 3.10 ERA, 194 K, 1.28 WHIP in 200 Innings