The Call-Up: Matt Garza

Tonight, Brewers veteran righty Matt Garza makes his 2016 debut against the San Francisco Giants. Garza faces no small hurdle in Madison Bumgarner for the Giants, who enters the game with a 2.81 DRA in 86.0 innings. Yet, there is a sense that the start offers no pressure for Garza, who is replacing struggling righty Wily Peralta in the Milwaukee rotation. The opportunity not only gives Garza the chance to stabilize a rotation that is trending upward, but the veteran also has the chance to erase his 2015 campaign from memory. One can imagine that the righty is champing at the bit to prove 2015 a hiccup rather than the beginning of a career trend.

Garza and the Rotation:
About that Brewers rotation: if one glances at the full picture, one will see that through starting and relief innings, the primary and emergency starters have racked up 360 innings at approximately 30 runs below average (in terms of both DRA and actual runs allowed). Incidentally, those issues can largely be isolated to Peralta, Taylor Jungmann’s rough start, and Tyler Cravy’s truncated stint as swingman.

DRA vs. Miller Park IP Miller Park R DRA R DRA Runs Prevented (Actual Runs Prevented)
Jimmy Nelson (13 GS) 81.3 40 44 -4 (5)
Chase Anderson (13 GS) 71.3 35 34 1 (-6)
Wily Peralta (13 GS) 66.0 32 60 -28 (-20)
Zach Davies (11 GS) 62.7 31 30 1 (-1)
Junior Guerra (8 GS) 49.0 24 21 3 (5)
Taylor Jungmann (5 GS) 20.7 10 13 -3 (-12)
Tyler Cravy (6 G) 9.7 5 5 - (-2)
Rotation 360 177 207 -30 (-31)

The rotation core that Garza joins has been thoroughly trimmed: Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Junior Guerra, and Jimmy Nelson boast 264 innings of rather solid work. In terms of both DRA and actual runs allowed, this group is basically average against Miller Park / National League. The difference between DRA and runs allowed simply frames the story one might tell: Davies and Anderson potentially trending upward, Nelson struggling at the periphery without breaking, and Guerra as the rightful leader of the staff. Garza’s role in this rotation cannot be understated: while no one would necessarily notice a poor performance since Jungmann and Peralta had such rough campaigns, the veteran can appear at exactly the right time to keep the rotation trending upward.

Contrary to popular belief, a core of the Brewers rotation is not bad whatsoever, and in this light an improved Garza would make things even better for Milwaukee’s surprising start to the season.

Garza and Pitching Approach
Unfortunately, analysts might point to Garza’s development last season as troubling signs for his future, as the righty basically struggled with his bread-and-butter in 2015. The slider pitcher laid off that primary breaking pitch last season, nearly sharing equal time with the curve, and this strategy did nothing to keep batters from squaring up on either of his fastballs.

Here is a look at Garza’s four primary offerings, according to Brooks Baseball:

Matt Garza 2014 Swing % Whiffs % BIP % GB / FB / LD
Primary Fastball 50.4 6.05 21.8 8.4 / 5.65 / 5.57
Secondary Fastball 50.8 5.7 23.1 13.8 / 2.95 / 5.0
Slider 47.2 21.0 12.7 5.15 / 3.7 / 2.8
Curve 22.1 9.2 8.4 4.8 / 2.0 / 1.2
Matt Garza 2015 Swing % Whiffs % BIP % GB / FB / LD
Primary Fastball 49.2 5.8 22.4 8.7 / 4.5 / 7.3
Secondary Fastball 51.4 6.65 23.0 11.2 / 4.3 / 6.35
Slider 52.15 16.7 19.35 10.2 / 3.5 / 4.6
Curve 29.1 8.6 11.9 6.23 / 1.78 / 2.7

Across the board, Garza simply was hit hard: he elicited, in general, more swings on almost every pitch, more batted balls in play, fewer swinging strikes, and more line drives. The lack of swinging strikes hurt Garza when he needed to get out of 3-0 holes, which BPMilwaukee’s Ryan Romano featured as one particular culprit for the righty’s climbing walk rate. On this site, Michael Schwarz also worked through a detailed analysis that showed some issues with the fastball and potential secondary pitch strategies. Schwarz generally remained optimistic about the primary fastball, noting that whiff rate is not simply the main metric that explains that pitch’s success (or lack thereof). More specifically, Garza has his work cut out for him in terms of strike zone command (which should hopefully limit hard contact).

Scouting Garza
At BPMilwaukee, I am thrilled to announce that we will be working with BaseballProspectus Scouting to offer more information about prospects throughout the season. Luckily, while working on one such feature, a BP scout caught Garza’s rehab outing at Class A Wisconsin.

Here are the main notes on Garza against A-ball, from BaseballProspectus Scouting:

  • Rocking quite the beard.
  • Fastball: usual velocity, sitting 92-94. Garza touched some 5’s with sink, but he struggled to command it down in the zone at times.
  • Fastball approach: Worked side to side well but left several fastballs up and they were hammered.
  • Both breaking balls made an appearance with the Slider being the more effective of the two in this outing. Snapped several 55-60 grade sliders with tilt and late break sitting 85-88mph.
  • The Curveball was inconsistent and you could tell he lacked feel for it. Still showed quality rotation on one that made me think it’s still in there.
  • Curveball strategy: Look for Garza to use curveball to steal strikes early in the count during his upcoming start.
  • Garza didn’t throw the change up much, but it did feature the normal tumble we are used to with him.
  • Outlook: Garza was his usual self on the mound, yelling into his glove and such, but I would be cautious with any optimism for his first start. The key for him will be keeping the fastball/sinker down in the zone. If he can do that he will provide value for the Brewers going forward.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the uniforms that Garza was privileged to sport in Wisconsin:

Overall, one might expect Brewers fans to be hungry to grade early returns for Garza. At this point in the season, Garza could help to solidify a solid rotation. Yet, if the veteran struggles, one can still expect him to receive ample time to recover, with the organization potentially standing at a point where further rotational moves are unnecessary. For example, although lefty Josh Hader was just promoted to AAA Colorado Springs, the surging prospect remains off the 40-man roster, meaning that Hader will really need to force his way onto the big league roster. Jorge Lopez is improving his peripheral performance in terms of groundballs and flyballs, but is still struggling with his walk rate in Colorado Springs, which means that the “next in line” prospect may not be knocking down the door yet. The same can be said for Adrian Houser, who is also improving along the edges of his game; in his case, the Brewers may see him as a reliever, as well, which means a Houser call-up might not disturb the rotation.

Since the Brewers have already graduated Guerra and Davies to the MLB level this year, and optioned Jungmann and Peralta, one might expect the Anderson / Davies / Garza / Guerra / Nelson rotation to be set for a while. Now it’s simply a matter of whether this upstart gang of arms can continue their ascension against the Senior Circuit.

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