To Brewers fans’ disappointment, the oft-controversial and seemingly replacement-level veteran right-handed starting pitcher Matt Garza will likely open the 2017 season in the Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation at the expense of sexier, younger options in Josh Hader, Jorge Lopez, and Brandon Woodruff. The idea isn’t that Garza is likely to be a big piece on the next winning Brewers club, in fact it is unlikely he is still with the team following the July 31st deadline. The idea is that he will build up some value in the first three months of the season and possibly net the next Keon Broxton or Junior Guerra in a deadline deal. In a roundabout way the Brewers are investing in their future by plugging Garza into the Opening Day rotation. A quick glance at his numbers from the past couple seasons, and taking the $12.5 million he is due to make in 2017 into account, one might think there is no possible way he will bring anything of value back, so why waste a valuable rotation spot on an aging pitcher? A closer look into his 2016 season shows that there still something left in the tank for the 33 year-old veteran.
It is not always wise to look at first half/second half splits but in Garza’s case for the 2016 season, there is reason to believe he was a different pitcher post all-star break. He spent the first two and a half months of the season on the disabled list with a strained right lat. His first five starts before the all-star break were miserable, posting a 5.54 ERA in 26 innings, which make his end of the year numbers look much different than his second half numbers alone. He posted a 4.16 ERA in 75.7 innings after the all-star break. Take any pitcher’s worst five starts out of the equation and they will all come out smelling like roses, but when examining Garza’s 2016 it is obvious he was going through an adjustment period early-July 2016.
Matt Garza survived the 2016 season all while facing the toughest competition among National League starters with over 100 innings pitched. His oppOPS of .748 was the highest. His oppRPA+ was three points higher than the next. If he had as much luck as his teammate Junior Guerra, who was third from the bottom in oppOPS, his ERA and FIP possibly could’ve snuck under 4.00. Out of his 19 starts, he faced the Cubs, Cardinals, and Nationals twice each, the top three National League offenses according to TAv. He had five starts against the Pirates who were no offensive slouch themselves. Garza would be incredibly unlucky to face the same type of competition in the first half of 2017.
Even while recovering from a serious injury and facing the stiffest competition in the National League, the career fly-ball pitcher turned himself into one of the most prolific groundball pitchers in the league. His GB% shot up to 57 percent, a whole seven percentage points higher than his next single season total way back in 2012. The high groundball rate will keep him away from his home run problem that plagued him in his 2015 campaign and throughout his major-league career. A full season of Orlando Arcia at the shortstop position will ensure that most of the groundballs are turned into outs.
There are various other small hints at Matt Garza’s potentially successful 2017. His velocity crept up every month in 2016. He kept the ball in the bottom half of the strike zone more often than he ever has in his career. His slightly high BABIP should come down with an improved Brewers infield. All of this is without taking into consideration his attractive $5 million club option for the 2018 season. The option could potentially be a huge value if he performs. David Stearns and the Brewers front office wouldn’t put up with the off-field antics if they didn’t think they could get something of value out of Garza. With a weak free agent class this winter and the never ending and increasing demand for competent 5th, 6th, or even 7th starting pitchers, the veteran right-hander should net a contributing piece to the Milwaukee Brewers future if he builds on his promising second half of 2016.